Tag Archives: Transatlantic Flight

20 May 1927

Charles A. Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

20 May 1927, 7:51:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (11:51:30 G.M.T.): In his effort to advance the Art and Science of Aviation, to win the $25,000 Orteig Prize, to fly from New York to Paris, 25-year-old aviator Charles A. Lindbergh takes off from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York, United States of America, and heads north-eastward over the Atlantic Ocean on his solo, record-breaking flight to Paris, France, and into History.

The Spirit of St. Louis is pushed into position for takeoff at Roosevelt Field, 20 May 1927. (Underwood and Underwood. National Air and Space Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution)
The Spirit of St. Louis is pushed into position for takeoff at Roosevelt Field, 20 May 1927. (Underwood and Underwood, National Air and Space Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution)
Lindbergh taxis away from the crowd of spectators.

“I buckle my safety belt, pull goggles down over my eyes, turn to the men at the blocks, and nod.”

The Spirit of St. Louis, by Charles A. Lindbergh, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953, at Page 185.

Spirit of St. Louis begins its takeoff run at Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York, 20 May 1927.

As he circles to gain altitude after takeoff, Lindbergh scans his instruments.

“On the instrument board in front of me, the earth-inductor compass needle leans steeply to the right. I bank cautiously northward until it rises to the center line — 65 degrees — the compass heading for the first 100-mile segment of my great-circle route to France and Paris. It’s 7:54 a.m. Eastern daylight time.”

— The Spirit of St. Louis, by Charles A. Lindbergh, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953, at Page 189.

Great Circle route from the location of the former Roosevelt Field to Le Bourget, Paris: 3,145 nautical miles (3,619 statute miles/5,825 kilometers). (Great Circle Mapper)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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12–13 May 1930

Latécoère 28-3 F-AJNQ at Saint-Louis du Sénégal, May 1930, with Gimié, Mermoz and Dabry (Keystone)

12–13 May 1930: In an effort to connect the North African and South American air mail routes, Jean Mermoz, the chief pilot of Compagnie générale aéropostale, along with co-pilot and navigator Jean Dabry, and radio navigator Léopold Martial Émile Gimié, departed Saint-Louis, on the western coast of Senegal, French West Africa, enroute to Natal, Brazil.

Mermoz, Dabry and Gimié at Saint-Louis, 12 May 1930. (Musee Air France)

Their airplane, a pontoon-equipped Latécoère 28-3, was carrying 122 kilograms (269 pounds) of mail and fuel for 30 hours of flight. The crew had named the airplane Comte de la Vaulx, after an early French aeronaut and the founder of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.

The aviators flew southwest across the South Atlantic Ocean. Natal was approximately 2,000 miles away. [3,178.879 kilometers; 1,975.264 statute miles; 1,716.595 nautical miles]

Gimié transmitted a radio message: “19º Frame-A.J.N.Q. Mermoz, Dabry, Gimié, partis pour Natal à 10 h. 56 locale.”  (“19º Frame-A.J.N.Q. Mermoz, Dabry, Gimié, left for Natal at 10:56 a.m., local.”) Gimié was an expert in radio-navigation. The airplane was equipped with radios that could be used to triangulate their position using nine land stations and several ships along their course.

A contemporary United Press wire service news report stated that they arrived at Natal at 6:15 a.m., local time. The actual duration of the flight is difficult to determine. Sources very from as few as 17 hours to as many as 21 hours, 24 minutes. The U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission reported that the flight took 19 hours, 35 minutes.

This was the first non-stop flight to cross the South Atlantic.

(Left to right) Jean Dabry, Jean Mermoz and Léopold Gimié. (le Figaro)

Antoine Saint Exupéry, a fellow Aéropostale pilot, described a portion of Mermoz’s transatlantic flight in Wind, Sand and Stars:

And yet we have all known flights when of a sudden, each for himself, it has seemed to us that we have crossed the border of the world of reality; when, only a couple of hours from port, we have felt ourselves more distant from it than we should feel if we were in India; when there was a premonition of an incursion into a forbidden world whence it was going to be infinitely difficult to return.

Thus, when Mermoz first crossed the South Atlantic in a hydroplane, as day was dying he ran foul of the Black Hole region, ² off Africa. Straight ahead of him were the tails of tornadoes rising minute by minute gradually higher, rising as a wall is built; and then night came down upon these preliminaries and swallowed them up; and when, and hour later, he slipped under the clouds, he came out into a fantastic kingdom.

Multiple waterspouts.

Great black waterspouts had reared themselves seemingly in the immobility of temple pillars. Swollen at their tops, they were supporting the squat and lowering arch of the tempest, but through the rifts in the arch there fell slabs of light and the full moon sent her radiant beams between the pillars down upon the frozen tiles of the sea. Through these uninhabited ruins Mermoz made his way, gliding slantwise from one channel of light to the next, circling round those giant pillars in which there must have rumbled the upsurge of the sea, flying for four hours through these corridors of moonlight toward the exit from the temple. And this spectacle was so overwhelming that only after he had got through the Black Hole did Mermoz awaken to the fact that he had not been afraid.

Atlantic Ocean waterspouts. (NOAA)

Wind, Sand and Stars, by Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger comte de Saint Exupéry, translated by Lewis Galantière, Harcourt Brace & Company, New York, Chapter 1 at Pages 16–17.

Latécoère 28-3 (Late 28.org)

The airplane flown by Mermoz, Dabry and Gimié was a Latécoère 28-3, registration F-AJNQ, built by Société Industrielle d’Aviation Latécoère at Toulouse, France. The airplane’s serial number is reported as both “Nº 909” and “Nº 919.” It was a large, single-engine, high-wing monoplane with an enclosed cabin. Also known as the Laté 28, the airplane could be equipped with fixed landing gear or pontoons for water operations. The airplane’s fuselage was constructed of duralumin, a hardened alloy of aluminum, with a duralumin sheet skin. The wings were also of metal construction, covered with fabric.

The Latécoère 28-3 was 44 feet, 4 inches (13.513 meters) long with a wingspan of 62 feet, 6 inches (19.050) and height of 10 feet, 7½ inches (3.24 meters).

Latécoère 28-3 F-AJNQ, Comte de la Vaulx.

The pontoons were also constructed of Duralumin. Each had ten floatation compartments. They were 26 feet, 4 inches (8.026 meters) long, 4 feet, 5 inches (1.346 meters) wide and 2 feet, 9 inches (0.838 meters) deep.

The Latécoère 28-3 had an empty weight of  5,720 pounds (2595 kilograms), and gross weight of 11,044 pounds (5,010 kilograms). Its fuel capacity was 556 gallons¹ (2,528 liters).

The pilot’s station was an enclosed cockpit at the leading edge of the wing, behind the engine, while the navigator and radio operator were in a cabin below and behind the cockpit. The air mail cargo was placed in a separate compartment.

Latécoère 28-3 floatplane. (late28.org)
(The Art of the Airways, by Geza Szurovy)

The Latécoère 28-3 was powered by a single right-hand-tractor, water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 31.403 liter (1,916.351 cubic inches) Hispano Suiza 12Lbr single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 6.2:1. This engine was rated at 630 cheval vapeur (621.4 horsepower) at 2,000 r.p.m. The two-bladed, fixed-pitch propeller was driven through a gear reduction unit. The 12Lbr was 1.85 meters (6.07 feet) long, 0.75 meters (2.46 feet) wide and  1.02 meters (3.35 feet) high. It weighed 440 kilograms (970 pounds).

The airplane had a maximum speed of 140 miles per hour (225 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 13,000 feet (3,962 meters).

F-AJNQ departed Natal on 8 June for the return flight to Africa. After about 14 hours, the engine developed a serious oil leak. Mermoz made a forced landing near the despatch boat Phocée, approximately 900 kilometers (560 miles) from their destination. The three crew members and the mail were transferred from F-AJNQ to the Phocée. The airplane was set adrift.

Compagnie générale aéropostale timetable, May 1930. (Air Ticket History)

¹ The source of the fuel capacity was a contemporary British periodical. Though not specified, TDiA assumes that the capacity was given in Imperial Gallons.

² The “Black Hole region” refers to “the doldrums” or Intertropical Convergence Zone.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 May 1927

Charles Nungesser and François Coli, Paris, 8 May 1927. (Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum SI 92-3634)

8 May 1927: At 5:18 a.m., famed World War I aviators François Coli and Charles Eugène Jules Marie Nungesser departed Le Bourget Airport, Paris, aboard their single-engine Levasseur PL.8 biplane, L’Oiseau Blanc (“The White Bird”). Their destination was New York City, non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean.

In 1919, New York hotel owner Raymond Orteig offered a $25,000 prize to the first aviator(s) who flew non-stop from New York to Paris or the reverse. It was several years before the technology had progressed far enough that this became possible.

By 1927, a number of people on both sides of the Atlantic had begun preparations for just such a flight. Coli had begun planning a transatlantic flight as early as 1923. He and a wartime friend, fighter ace Paul Tarascon, were interested in the Orteig Prize, but after being injured in a crash, Tarascon was replaced by Charles Nungesser. Coli was in charge of the flight.

Cne François Coli - Pilote de l'escadrille N 62 - Né le 5 juin 1881 à Marseille
Cne François Coli – Pilote de l’escadrille N 62 – Né le 5 juin 1881 à Marseille

François Coli, a former sea captain, had enlisted as a private in the French Army at the start of the War when no position was offered to him as captain of a French naval vessel. By 1915 he was a commissioned officer and soon promoted to the rank of captain. Severely wounded and no longer able to serve in the infantry, he became a pilot in 1916, and later a squadron commander. In 1918, Coli lost his right eye in an airplane crash. He was considered to be an excellent leader and was known as an expert navigator.

Ltt Charles Nungesser - Né le 15 mars 1892 à Paris
Ltt Charles Nungesser – Né le 15 mars 1892 à Paris

Charles Nungesser was the third-leading French fighter ace of World War I. His was a flamboyant personality. He didn’t like military discipline and was punished for it several times. But he was a highly successful fighter pilot, with an official record of 42 aerial victories. Like Coli, he had been seriously wounded on numerous occasions. He was awarded the Officier de la Legion d’Honneur, Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur, and the Médaille Militaire, as well as many foreign decorations for valor.

The Sociéte Pierre Levasseur Aéronautique PL.8 was a modified naval reconnaissance airplane, built especially for the Atlantic crossing. The wings were lengthened and the fuselage reinforced. It was 9.7 meters (31 feet, 10 inches) long with a wingspan of 14.6 meters (47 feet, 11 inches) and height of 3.9 meters (12 feet, 9.5 inches). The single-bay biplane had an empty weight of 1,905 kilograms (4,199.8 pounds) and gross weight of 5,030 kilograms (11,089.25 pounds). Three large fuel tanks were installed with a total capacity of 4,000 liters (1,057 gallons) of gasoline.

The White Bird

L’Oiseau Blanc was powered by a liquid-cooled, normally-aspirated 24.429 liter (1,490.751-cubic-inch) Société Lorraine des Anciens Establissements de Dietrich & Cie de Lunéville (Lorraine-Dietrich) 12Ed “broad arrow” (W-12) single overhead camshaft (SOHC) engine which had three banks of four cylinders spaced at 60° angles and driving a single crankshaft. It had a compression ratio of 6:1 and produced 450 chaval vapeur (443.8 horsepower) at 1,850 r.p.m. Reduction gearing reduced propeller r.p.m. by a ratio of 1.545:1. The two-bladed forged duralumin propeller had a diameter of 3.80 meters (12 feet, 8.5 inches). The 12Ed was 1.374 meters (4 feet, 6.10 inches) long, 1.210 meters (3.970 feet, 11.64 inches) wide and 1.138 meters (3 feet, 8.81 inches) high. It weighed 363.874 kilograms (802.205 pounds).

Sociéte Pierre Levasseur Aéronautique PL-8, L’Oiseau Blanc.

The two aviators planned to land on the water in front of the Statue of Liberty, so they had the PL.8’s landing gear modified so that it could be dropped after takeoff, saving the unneeded weight and decreasing the airplane’s aerodynamic drag. The White Bird‘s maximum speed was 193 kilometers per hour (120 miles per hour), with a cruising speed of 165 kilometers per hour (103 miles per hour). Its range was 7,000 kilometers (4,350 miles). The service ceiling was 7,000 meters (22,966 feet).

When The White Bird left Paris, it was carrying enough fuel for 42 hours of flight. It was escorted as far as the English Channel by several airplanes and crossed the coast at about 7:00 a.m.

Nungesser and Coli never arrived at New York. They were never seen again, and their fate is a mystery.

P. Levasseur PL-8, L’Oiseau Blanc.
The White Bird. (Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace, Paris – le Bourget)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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28 April 1927

Charles Lindbergh watches as the Spirit of St. Louis is towed from the Ryan factory to Dutch Flats for testing. (Donald A. Hall Collection)
Charles Lindbergh watches as the Spirit of St. Louis is towed from the Ryan factory to Dutch Flats for testing. (Donald A. Hall Collection)

“This morning I’m going to test the Spirit of St. Louis. It’s the 28th of April — just over two months since I placed our order with the Ryan Company. . . Today, reality will check the claims of formula and theory on a scale which hope can’t stretch a single hair. Today, the reputation of the designing engineer, of the mechanics, in fact of every man who’s had a hand in building the Spirit of St. Louis, is at stake. And I’m on trial too, for quick action on my part may counteract an error by someone else, or a faulty move may bring a washout crash.”

The Spirit of St. Louis, by Charles A. Lindbergh, Charles Scribner’s and Sons, 1953, Chapter 35 at Page 120.

Ryan NYP N-X-211, Spirit of St. Louis, front view, at Dutch Flats, San Diego, California, 28 April 1927. (Donald A. Hall Collection)
Ryan NYP N-X-211, Spirit of St. Louis, front view, at Dutch Flats, San Diego, California, 28 April 1927. (Donald A. Hall Collection)
The Ryan NYP N-X-211, Spirit of St. Louis, right front quarter view, at Dutch Flats, San Diego, California. (Donald A. Hall Collection)
The Ryan NYP N-X-211, Spirit of St. Louis, right front quarter view, at Dutch Flats, San Diego, California. (Donald A. Hall Collection)
Ryan NYP N-X-211, Spirit of St. Louis, right side view, at Dutch Flats, San Diego, California, 28 April 1927. (Donald A. Hall Collection)
Ryan NYP N-X-211, Spirit of St. Louis, right profile, at Dutch Flats, San Diego, California, 28 April 1927. (Donald A. Hall Collection)

The Ryan NYP, registration N-X-211, has been towed from the Ryan Airlines Company factory in San Diego, California, to nearby Dutch Flats for its first test flight. Air Mail pilot Charles A. Lindbergh, representing a syndicate of St. Louis businessmen, has contracted with Ryan to build a single-engine monoplane designed for one man to fly non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean, from New York to Paris.

“I signal chocks away. . . and open the throttle. . . I’ve never felt an airplane accelerate so fast before. The tires are off the ground before they roll a hundred yards. . . .”

And the rest is History.

Spirit of St. Louis takes to the air for the first time at Dutch Flats, San Diego, California, 28 April 1927. (Donald A. Hall Collection)
Spirit of St. Louis takes to the air for the first time at Dutch Flats, San Diego, California, 28 April 1927. (Donald A. Hall Collection)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 April 1961

Jackie Cochran in the cockpit of The Scarlett O'Hara, a record-setting Lockheed L-1329 JetStar, N172L. (FAI)
Jackie Cochran in the cockpit of The Scarlett O’Hara, a record-setting Lockheed L-1329 JetStar, N172L. (FAI)

22 April 1961: Jackie Cochran set 18 Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) records in one day flying a Lockheed L-1329 JetStar, construction number 5003, FAA registration N172L, and named The Scarlett O’Hara. The route of her flight was New Orleans–Boston–Gander–Shannon–London–Paris–Bonn, with refueling stops at Gander and Shannon.

According to the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission, Jackie Cochran “…set more speed and altitude records than any other pilot.”

The following are the FAI records that she set on 22 April 1961:

4609, 4615: Speed over a recognized course, Gander, NF (Canada)–Shannon (Ireland): 829.69 kilometers per hour (515.546 miles per hour)

4611, 4616: Speed over a recognized course, Gander, NF (Canada)–London (UK): 749.11 kilometers per hour (465.475 miles per hour)

4612, 4617: Speed over a recognized course, Gander, NF (Canada)–Paris (France): 746.22 kilometers per hour (463.680 miles per hour)

4613, 4618: Speed over a recognized course, Gander, NF (Canada)–Bonn (FRG): 728.26 kilometers per hour (452.520 miles per hour)

4638: Speed over a recognized course, Boston, MA (USA)–Gander, NF (Canada): 816.32 kilometers per hour (507.238 miles per hour)

4639, 4640: Speed over a recognized course, Boston, MA (USA)–Shannon (Ireland): 565.45 kilometers per hour (351.354 miles per hour)

4641, 4642: Speed over a recognized course, Boston, MA (USA)–London (UK): 558.50 kilometers per hour (347.036 miles per hour)

4643, 4644: Speed over a recognized course, Boston, MA (USA)–Paris (France): 564.88 kilometers per hour (351.000 miles per hour)

4645, 4646: Speed over a recognized course, Boston, MA (USA)–Bonn (FRG): 562.56 kilometers per hour (349.559 miles per hour)

12322: Distance, New Orleans, LA (USA)–Gander, NF (Canada): 3,661.33 kilometers (2,275.045 miles)

The first production Lockheed JetStar, c/n 5001, in service with the Federal Aviation Administration, registered N1. (bizjets101)

The Lockheed L-1329 JetStar was the first in a category of small-to-medium-sized jet transports that would become known as the “business jet.” Like many Lockheed airplanes, it was designed by a team led by Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, and he retained the first prototype as his personal transport.

The JetStar is operated by two pilots and can be configured for 8 to 10 passengers. The airplane is 60 feet, 5 inches (18.41 meters) long with a wingspan of 54 feet, 5 inches (16.59 meters) and overall height of 20 feet, 5 inches (6.22 meters). The leading edge of the wings are swept to 30°. The JetStar has an empty weight of 24,750 pounds (11,226 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 44,500 pounds.

The two prototype JetStars were powered by two Bristol Siddeley Orpheus engines, but the production models were powered by four Pratt & Whitney JT12A-8 turbojets engines which produced 3,300 pounds of thrust, each. The JetStar 731 was a modification program to replace the turbojet engines with quieter, more efficient and more powerful Garrett AiResearch TFE731 turbofan engines which increased thrust to 3,700 pounds per engine. New production JetStar II airplanes were equipped with these turbofans.

Lockheed L-1329 JetStar (FAI)

The JetStar’s cruise speed is 504 miles per hour (811 kilometers per hour) and its maximum speed is 547 miles per hour (883 kilometers per hour) at 30,000 feet (9,145 meters). The service ceiling is 43,000 feet (13,105 meters) and range is 2,995 miles (4,820 kilometers).

The Lockheed JetStar was in production from 1957 to 1978. 204 were built as civil JetStars and military C-140A Flight Check and C-140B and VC-140B JetStar transports.

The JetStar flown by Jackie Cochran on her record setting flight from New Orleans to Bonn, construction number 5003, eventually was acquired by NASA and assigned to the Dryden Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California. It was reregistered as N814NA, and used the call sign NASA 4. No longer in service, NASA 4 is on display at the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California.

Lockheed L-1329 JetStar, N814NA, NASA 4, on static display at Edwards Air Force Base, California. (NASA)
Lockheed L-1329 JetStar, N814NA, NASA 4, on static display at the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark, Palmdale, California. (NASA)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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