11 November 1935: During a record-setting flight from England to Brazil, Jean Gardner Batten ¹ became the first woman to fly solo across the South Atlantic Ocean, flying her Percival D.3 Gull Six, G-ADPR, from Dakar, Afrique occidentale française (French West Africa, now, Senegal) to Natal, Brazil. Her elapsed time of 13¼ hours was the fastest for the Atlantic crossing up to that time.
On 7 May 1935, Jean Batten was honored with the distinction of Chevalier de la légion d’honneur at Paris, France. At Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 21 November 1935, Getúlio Dornelles Varga, the President of the Republic of Brazil, conferred upon her its Ordem Nacional do Cruzeiro do Sul (Order of the Southern Cross). The following year, Jean Gardner Batten of the Dominion of New Zealand was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) in the King’s Birthday Honours List, 19 June 1936, for general services to aviation. Twice Batten was awarded the Britannia Trophy of the Royal Aero Club, and three times she won the Harmon Trophy of the International League of Aviators. The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) awarded her its Gold Medal.
“This young woman, gifted with the finest of qualities, has made a great contribution, both through her daring and her patience, to the progress of aviation in the world. This year, she is worthy of receiving the Gold Medal, very few holders of which are still alive,” said George Valentin, Prince Bibescu, the president and one of the founders of the FAI, when awarding Jean Batten the medal.
A biographical article about Jean Batten can be seen at:
Batten’s Percival D.3 Gull Six, c/n D55, was a single-engine, low-wing monoplane, with fixed landing gear. It was flown by a single pilot and could carry two passengers. On 29 August 1935, the airplane was assigned Great Britain civil registration G-ADPR (Certificate of Registration 6242).
The airplane was 25 feet, 0 inches (7.62 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 0 inches (10.973 meters) and height of 7 feet, 3 inches (2.210 meters). The D.3 had an empty weight of 1,632 pounds (740.26 kilograms) and gross weight of 2,450 pounds (1,111.30 kilograms).
The Gull’s fuselage was constructed of spruce stringers and struts, covered with a three-ply skin. The wings were designed to be able to fold back alongside the fuselage. The resulting width of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.912 meters) required considerably less storage space.
The Gull Six was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 9.186 liter (560.573-cubic-inch-displacement) de Havilland Gypsy Six I, an inverted inline six-cylinder engine which produced 184 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., and 205 horsepower at 2,350 r.p.m. for takeoff. The engine turned a two-bladed fixed-pitch metal propeller via direct drive. The engine weighed 432 pounds (196 kilograms).
The Gull Six was capable of reaching 178 miles per hour (286.5 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 16,000 feet (4,876.8 meters) and range was 700 miles (1,126.5 kilometers).
On 17 July 1940, Batten’s Percival Gull was impressed into military service and assigned a military identification of AX866. The airplane was returned to the civil register in 1946. It is now on display at the Jean Batten International Terminal, Auckland Airport, New Zealand.
26 October 1958: Pan American World Airways opened the “Jet Age” with the first commercial flight of an American jet airliner. Pan Am’s Boeing 707-121 Clipper America, N711PA, departed New York Idlewild (IDL) on an 8 hour, 41 minute flight to Paris Le Bourget (LBG), with a fuel stop at Gander, Newfoundland (YQX). (The actual flight time was 7 hours.) The distance was 3,634 miles (5,848 kilometers). Aboard were 111 passengers and 11 crewmembers.
A Pan Am company publication explained the need for the stop at Gander:
The Jet could not be fully loaded with fuel before takeoff because of weight restrictions imposed at Idlewild. Fuel capacity of the jet is 17,398 gallons, allowing a cruising range of 4,400 miles. But with a full pay load of passengers, only 9,731 gallons could be taken aboard in New York.
—Pan American Clipper, Vol. XV, No. 11, November 1958, Page 6, Column 5
The Boeing 707 was developed from the earlier Model 367–80, the “Dash Eighty”. It is a four-engine jet transport with swept wings and tail surfaces. The leading edge of the wings are swept at a 35° angle. The airliner had a flight crew of four: pilot, co-pilot, navigator and flight engineer. The 707-121 is 145 feet, 1 inch (44.221 meters) long with a wing span of 130 feet, 10 inches (39.878 meters). The top of the vertical fin stands 42 feet, 5 inches (12.929 meters) high. The 707 pre-dated the ”wide-body” airliners, having a fuselage width of 12 feet, 4 inches (3.759 meters).
The first versions were powered by four Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp JT3C-6 turbojet engines, producing 11,200 pounds of thrust (49,820 kilonewtons), and 13,500 pounds (60.051 kilonewtons) with water injection. This engine was a civil variant of the military J57 series. It was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet engine with a 16-stage compressor and 2 stage turbine. The JT3C-6 was 11 feet, 6.6 inches (3.520 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.9 inches (0.988 meters) in diameter, and weighed 4,235 pounds (1,921 kilograms).
The airliner’s empty weight is 122,533 pounds (55,580 kilograms). Maximum take off weight (MTOW) is 257,000 pounds (116,573 kilograms). At MTOW, the 707 required 11,000 feet (3,352.8 meters) of runway to take off. Its maximum speed is 540 knots (1,000 kilometers per hour). It had a range of 2,800 nautical miles (5,185.6 kilometers).
The Boeing 707 was in production from 1958 to 1979. 1,010 were built. As of 2011, 43 707s were still in service.
Boeing delivered N711PA to Pan American on 17 October 1958. The airliner was named Clipper America, but was later renamed Clipper Mayflower. It was leased to Avianca (Aerovías Nacionales de Colombia S.A.) from 1960 to 1962. In April 1965 the 707 was upgraded to the –121B standard. This included a change from the turbojet engines to quieter, more powerful and efficient Pratt and Whitney JT3D-1 turbofans, producing 17,000 pounds of thrust. The wings were modified to incorporate changes introduced with the Boeing 720, and a longer tailplane installed. Pan Ayer of Panama purchased Clipper Mayflower 21 February 1975. It was later leased to Türk Hava Yolları, the Turkish national airline, and went on to serve with Air Asia Company Limited (an Air America aircraft service unit) and E-Systems. After 26 years of service, in August 1984 Clipper America was scrapped at Taipei.
4 October 1958: The first regularly scheduled transatlantic passenger service with jet powered aircraft began when two British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) de Havilland DH.106 Comet 4 airliners, civil registrations G-APDB and G-APDC, left nearly simultaneously from London Heathrow Airport (LHR) to Idlewild Airport (IDL), New York, and from New York to London.
The west-to-east flight, (G-APDB) commanded by Captain Thomas Butler (Tom) Stoney, D.F.C., departed New York at 7:01 a.m., local time, with Basil Smallpiece and Aubrey Burke, managing directors of BOAC and de Havilland, respectively, on board. Benefiting from more favorable winds, the eastbound flight took just 6 hours, 12 minutes, averaging 565 miles per hour (909 kilometers per hour).
The east-to-west airliner, G-APDC, departed Heathrow at 8:45 a.m., London time, under the command of Captain R.E. Millichap, with Sir Gerard d’Erlanger, chairman of BOAC, and 31 passengers aboard. The westbound flight took 10 hours, 20 minutes, including a 1 hour, 10 minute fuel stop at Gander Airport (YQX), Newfoundland.
These two airliners had been delivered to BOAC on 30 September 1958. They were both configured to carry 48 passengers.
The DH.106 Comet 4 was operated by a flight crew of four: pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer and navigator/radio operator. It could carry up to 81 passengers. The airliner was 111 feet, 6 inches (33.985 meters) long with a wingspan of 115 feet (35.052 meters) and 29 feet, 6 inches (8.992 meters) to the top of the vertical fin. Maximum takeoff weight of 156,000 pounds (70,760 kilograms).
Power was supplied by four Rolls-Royce Avon 524 (RA.29) turbojet engines, rated at 10,500 pounds of thrust (46.71 kilonewtons) at 8,000 r.p.m., each. The RA.29 was Rolls-Royce’s first commercial turbojet engine. It was a single-spool, axial-flow jet engine with a 16-stage compressor and 3-stage turbine. The Mk.524 variant was 10 feet, 4.8 inches (3.170 meters) long, 3 feet, 5.5 inches (1.054 meters) in diameter, and weighed 3,226 pounds (1,463 kilograms).
The Comet 4 had a maximum speed of 520 miles per hour (837 kilometers per hour), a range of 3,225 miles (5,190 kilometers) and a ceiling of 45,000 feet (13,716 meters).
De Havilland DH-106 Comet 4 G-APDB (“Delta Bravo”) made it’s final flight on 12 February 1974, having flown 36,269 hours, with 15,733 landings. It is part of the Duxford Aviation Society’s British Air Liner Collection at RAF Duxford, Cambridgeshire, England.
G-APDC did not fare as well. It was scrapped in April 1975.
Captain Stoney had served in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve during World War II. In 1942, as a Pilot Officer assigned to No. 58 Squadron, Bomber Command, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and promoted to Flying Officer. Ten years later, Captain Stoney was in command of BOAC’s Canadair DC-4M-4 Argonaut, Atalanta, G-ALHK, when it brought Queen Elizabeth II home from Kenya to accede to the throne.¹ Captain R.E. Millichap was also a member of the flight crew. Later that year, Stoney flew the new Queen back to Africa aboard a DH.106 Comet 1. T.B. Stoney was appointed Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1960.
4–5 September 1936: At 6:50 p.m., British Summer Time, Beryl Markham departed RAF Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England, aboard a turquoise blue and silver Percival P.10 Vega Gull, registration VP-KCC. Her intended destination was New York City, across the Atlantic Ocean in America.
The airplane flown by Mrs. Markham, serial number K.34, was brand-new, built for John Evans Carberry (formerly, 10th Baron Carbery) for his entry in The Schlesinger air race from London, England, to Johannesburg, South Africa. He loaned the airplane to her for the transatlantic flight on condition that she would return it to England by mid-September, in time for the start of the race.
Designed by Edgar Percival and built by Percival Aircraft Limited at Gravesend, the P.10 Vega Gull was a four-place, single engine monoplane with fixed landing gear. Known as the K-series, it was a development of the previous D-series Gull Six. The airplane was 25 feet, 6 inches (7.772 meters) long with a wingspan of 39 feet, 6 inches (12.040 meters) and height of 7 feet, 4 inches (2.235 meters). The standard airplane had an empty weight of 1,740 pounds (789.25 kilograms) and loaded weight of 3,250 pounds (1,474.2 kilograms). K.34, the airplane flown by Markham, carried two auxiliary fuel tanks in the passenger compartment, for a total capacity of 255 gallons (965.3 liters).
The Vega Gull was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 9.186 liter (560.573-cubic-inch-displacement) de Havilland Gypsy Six I, an inverted inline six-cylinder overhead valve (OHV) engine. The engine had a compression ratio of 5.25:1. It was rated at 184 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., and 205 horsepower at 2,350 r.p.m. for takeoff. The direct-drive engine turned a two-bladed Ratier variable-pitch propeller. The Gypsy Six I weighed 432 pounds (196 kilograms).
The Vega Gull had a cruising speed of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 174 miles per hour (280 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 17,000 feet (5,181.6 meters). Estimated range with the auxiliary fuel tank was 3,800 miles (6,115.5 kilometers).
John Carberry was a resident of Colony and Protectorate of Kenya so the new airplane received the civil registration marking, VP-KCC. It was named The Messenger.
Beryl Markham was an experienced airplane pilot who had most recently been employed as Chief Pilot, Air Cruisers Limited, owned by a French financier, François Dupré. She was certified both as a pilot and an aircraft mechanic, and had recently had her pilot’s license endorsed for “All Types.”
Mrs. Markham and the airplane were ready for the solo transoceanic flight by 1 September, but were delayed by bad weather, with worse forecast. Captain Percival had recommended that she start from RAF Abingdon because its 1 mile runway (1.6 kilometers) would give the overweight airplane a longer takeoff run.
By the 4th, however, she was impatient with waiting and decided to takeoff regardless of the weather. She arrived at the airfield at about 5:00 p.m. Her takeoff was delayed while the runway was cleared of a wrecked bomber that had been overturned by the high winds.
Because of the high winds, the Vega Gull was airborne in just 600 yards (550 meters).
From the start, Markham encountered heavy rain, low clouds, fog, and gale force winds. Almost immediately, her carefully-prepared chart was blown out of a cockpit window. She flew most of the distance at an altitude of about 2,000 feet (610 meters). If she climbed higher, the rain turned to ice. If she flew lower she was in danger of the winds forcing her into the sea below. She had hoped to have the light of a nearly full moon as she crossed the Atlantic at night but the weather was so bad that she flew by reference to her instruments for the entire crossing.
During the transatlantic flight the Percival Vega Gull was sighted by several ships which reported her position. Although the airplane had a cruising speed of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour), because of the headwinds, Markham estimated her rate of advance at just 90 miles per hour (145 kilometers per hour). With the airplane running on fuel from the final tank, which should have lasted 11 hours, the gauge indicated that it was being consumed at a higher rate. She estimated her position as nearing Newfoundland but with rain, clouds and fog, she was only able to see brief views of the ocean below.
“The dawn broke through the clouds. The wind changed and I stopped being so silly. I wouldn’t have imagined that there was an expanse of desolation so big in the whole world as the waste of sky and water I saw go past me since I left Abingdon. . . It was fog, rain, sleet for hours on end. If I climbed it was sleet, if I dropped it was rain. If I skimmed the sea it was fog. I couldn’t see anything beyond my wingtips. . .
“That tank, on which I was banking my all, didn’t last eleven hours. It lasted nine hours and five minutes. . . I watched that tank getting emptier and emptier and still saw nothing but sea and clouds and mist. . . I could see nothing to save me. Good old Messenger was going to stop any moment and I said to myself, ‘If I’m going to go, now is the time to get ready for it.’ The only thing anywhere around was fog, great hefty banks of it. And then I saw the coast. The beautiful coast. I’ve never seen land so beautiful. . . But then the engine began to go ‘put, put, put.’
“. . . I knew then that I had to come down and made for the beach. I couldn’t land there; there was nothing but great big rocks and Messenger and I would have been dashed to pieces. I went inland.
“My engine was missing badly now. It was sheer agony to watch my petrol gauge . . . I peered around for a field to land on. I was still peering when the engine stopped.”
—Beryl Markham, quoted in Straight on Till Morning, by Mary S. Lovell, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1987, Chapter 9 at Pages 177–178.
The field turned out to be a peat bog at Baliene Cove on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. The airplane nosed over in the soft surface. Beryl Markham struck her head and was briefly knocked unconscious. She soon climbed out of the damaged Vega Gull and was taken to a nearby farm where help soon arrived.
Beryl Markham did not reach her intended destination of New York City. But what she did accomplish was the first East-to-West solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by a woman. Although Amelia Earhart had flown solo across the Atlantic in her Lockheed Vega four years earlier, her crossing was West-to-East. Because of the prevailing weather patterns, the westerly crossing is considered much more difficult.
Beryl and The Messenger returned to England aboard the passenger liner RMS Queen Mary. Although the damage was repaired, it was not in time to compete in The Schlesinger. John Carberry sold VP-KCC to Dar-es-Salaam Airways. It was written off in Tanganyika in August 1937, and de-registered in March 1938.
Beryl Markham was a remarkable woman whose exploits are too great to touch on here. She wrote West with the Night, which was considered by author Ernest Hemingway to be “a bloody wonderful book.” She died at her home in Nairobi, Kenya, 3 August 1986, at the age of 83.
The rigid airship Graf Zeppelin, LZ 127, under the command of Dr. Hugo Eckener, departed Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey, 8 August 1929, heading east across the Atlantic Ocean on the first aerial circumnavigation by air. The flight was sponsored by publisher William Randolph Hearst, who had placed several correspondents aboard.
Graf Zeppelin was named after Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin, a German general and count, the founder of the Zeppelin Airship Company. The airship was constructed of a lightweight metal structure covered by a fabric envelope. It was 776 feet (236.6 meters) long. Contained inside were 12 hydrogen-filled buoyancy tanks, fuel tanks, work spaces and crew quarters.
A gondola mounted underneath contained the flight deck, a sitting and dining room and ten passenger cabins. The LZ-127 was manned by a 36 person crew and could carry 24 passengers.
LZ-127was powered by five water-cooled, fuel injected 33.251 liter (2,029.1 cubic inches) Maybach VL-2 60° V-12 engines producing 570 horsepower at 1,600 r.p.m., each. Fuel was either gasoline or blau gas, a gaseous fuel similar to propane. The zeppelin’s maximum speed was 80 miles per hour (128 kilometers per hour).
After refueling at the Kasumigaura Naval Air Station, Tokyo, Japan, Graf Zeppelin started east across the Pacific Ocean on 23 August, enroute to Los Angeles, California. This leg crossed 5,998 miles (9,653 kilometers) in 79 hours, 3 minutes. This was the first ever non-stop flight across the Pacific Ocean.
LZ 127 arrived at Mines Field (now, LAX) at 1:50 a.m., 26 August 1929. There were an estimated 50,000 spectators.