Tag Archives: Transoceanic Flight

21 May 1927

The Spirit of St. Louis arrives at Le Bourget Aerodrome, 21 May 1927. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

After a flight of 33 hours, 30 minutes, 30 seconds, from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York, United States of America, Charles A. Lindbergh lands his Spirit of St. Louis at Le Bourget Aerodrome, Paris, France, at 10:22 p.m. (20:22 G.M.T.), 21 May 1927. He is the first pilot to fly solo, non-stop, across the Atlantic Ocean.

“I circle. Yes, it’s definitely an airport. . . It must be Le Bourget. . . I shift fuel valves to the center wing-tank, sweep my flashlight over the instrument board in a final check, fasten my safety belt, and nose the Spirit of St. Louis down into a gradually descending spiral. . .

“I straighten out my wings and let the throttled engine drag me on beyond the leeward border. Now the steep bank into the wind, and the dive toward the ground. But how strange it is, this descent. I’m wide awake, but the feel of my plane has not returned. . . My movements are mechanical, uncoordinated, as though I were coming down at the end of my first solo. . .

“It’s only a hundred yards to the hangars now — solid forms emerging from the night. I’m too high — too fast. Drop wing — left rudder — sideslip — — — Careful — mustn’t get anywhere near the stall — — — I’ve never landed the Spirit of St. Louis at night before. . . Below the hangar roofs now — — — straighten out — — — A short burst of the engine — — — Over the lighted area — — — Sod coming up to meet me. . . Still too fast — — — Tail too high — — — The wheels touch gently — off again — No, I’ll keep contact — Ease the stick forward — — — Back on the ground — Off — Back — the tail skid too — — — Not a bad landing. . . .”

The Spirit of St. Louis, by Charles A. Lindbergh, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953, Pages 489–492.

Lindbergh established a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance in a Straight Line Without Landing of 5,809 kilometers (3,310 miles). ¹

Over 100,000 people have come to Le Bourget to greet Lindbergh. He has flown the Spirit of St. Louis into history.

Crowds approach Charles Lindbergh an dteh Spirit of St. Louis at Le Bourget, shortly after landing, 21 May 1927.(Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images)
Crowds mob Spirit of St. Louis at Le Bourget Aerodrome, shortly after Charles A. Lindbergh’s  arrival from New York, 21 May 1927. The crowd soon swelled to over 100,000 people. (Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images)

¹ FAI Record File Number 14842

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

20–21 May 1932

Amelia Earhart at Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, 20 May 1932. Photographer: Ernest Maunder. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada (PA-057854).
Amelia Earhart at Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, 20 May 1932. Photographer: Ernest Maunder. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada (PA-057854).

20 May 1932: At 7:12 p.m., local, aviatrix Amelia Earhart departed Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, on a solo transoceanic flight. Her airplane was a modified single-engine Lockheed Model 5B Vega, registration NR7952.

Her plan was to fly all the way to Paris, but after her altimeter had failed, encountering adverse weather, including heavy icing and fog, a fuel leak, and a damaged exhaust manifold, Earhart landed in a field at Culmore, Northern Ireland. The distance flown was 2,026 miles (3,260.5 kilometers). Her elapsed time was 14 hours, 56 minutes.

A lone, astonished farmer saw her land.

Amelia cut the switches, climbed out of the plane, and, as the man approached the plane, called out, “Where am I?”

Danny McCallion replied obligingly and with excruciating accuracy. “In Gallegher’s pasture.”

The Sound of Wings by Mary S. Lovell, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1989, Chapter Fifteen at Page 183.

Amelia Earhart with her Lockheed Vega 5B, NR7952, at Culmore, North Ireland after her solo transatlantic flight, 21 May 1932. (National Library of Ireland)

Though she didn’t make it all the way to Paris, she was the first woman—and only the second person, after Charles A. Lindbergh—to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Lindbergh’s flight was on the same date, five years earlier.

Great Circle route between Harbour Grace Airport, Newfoundland, and Londonderry Airport, near Culmore, Northern Ireland. 1,754 nautical miles (2,019 statute miles/3,249 kilometers). (Great Circle Mapper)

In an unusual move, Amelia Earhart, a civilian, was awarded the United States military’s Distinguished Flying Cross by Patrick J. Hurley, Secretary of War, 18 July 1932.

Amelia Earhart’s Distinguished Flying Cross certificate signed by Patrick J. Hurley, Secretary of War.

Built by the Lockheed Aircraft Company in December 1928, the Vega is a single-engine high-wing monoplane designed to carry a pilot and up to seven passengers. The fuselage was molded laminated plywood monocoque construction and the wing was cantilevered wood. The Vega 5B is 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) long with a wingspan of 41 feet (12.497 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 2 inches (2.489 meters).

Amelia Earhart stands in front of her Lockheed Model 5B Vega, NR7952, at Union Airport, 1932. Left to right, Earhart; Lockheed founder Allan Loughead; Paul Mantz; and Lockheed president Lloyd Stearman. (Philip S. Dockter/Valley Relics Museum)

Earhart’s Vega, serial number 22, was certified by the Department of Commerce, 17 September 1931, with its empty weight increased 220 pounds (99.8 kilograms) to 2,695 pounds (1,222.4 kilograms) and maximum gross weight of 4,375 pounds (1984.5 kilograms).

Aircraft Registration Certificate, Lockheed Vega, serial number 22, NC7952, 1928.

NR7952 was modified at the Fokker Aircraft Corporation of America factory in Teterboro, New Jersey, to increase the fuel capacity to 420 gallons (1,589.9 liters). While it was there, Earhart’s mechanic, Eddie Gorski, replaced the original Pratt & Whitney Wasp B engine with a new Wasp C, an air-cooled, supercharged 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) nine cylinder radial engine with a compression ration of 5.25:1. The Wasp C was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, burning 58 octane gasoline.¹ It was a direct-drive engine, and turned a two-bladed Hamilton Standard controllable-pitch propeller. The Wasp C was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) in diameter and weighed 745 pounds (338 kilograms).

The standard Vega 5 had a cruising speed of 165 miles per hour (265.5 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 185 miles per hour (297.7 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). Range with standard fuel tanks was 725 miles (1,166.8 kilometers).

Amelia Earhart disappeared in 1937 while attempting to fly around the world. Her Lockheed Model 5B Vega, NR7952, is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Vega 5b, NR7952, at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.
Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Model 5B Vega, NR7952, at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

¹ The Pratt & Whitney Wasp C was also used by the U.S. Army and Navy, designated R-1340-7. It was rated at 450 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m. at Sea Level.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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

30 April–13 May 1963: Betty Jean Miller

Betty Miller steps out of the Piper Apache at Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, 13 May 1963. (Photograph by Barry Pascoe, from the Courier Mail Photo Archives)
Betty Miller steps out of the Piper Apache at Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, 13 May 1963. (Photograph by Barry Pascoe, from the Courier-Mail Photo Archives)

30 April–13 May 1963: Betty Miller, a 37-year-old flight instructor from Santa Monica, California, became the first woman to complete a solo Trans-Pacific flight. She was also the first pilot to make a Trans-Pacific flight without a navigator.

Betty Miller was delivering a twin-engine Piper PA-23-160 Apache H, N4315Y, from the United States to its owner in Australia, Fred Margison. An auxiliary fuel tank was placed in the passenger compartment.

Mrs. Miller began her flight from Oakland, California, at 6:35 a.m., Pacific Standard Time. The first leg was approximately 2,400 miles (3,682 kilometers) to Honolulu on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, flown in 17 hours, 3 minutes. She was delayed there for 4 days while a radio was repaired.

Betty Miller with the Piper PA-23-160 Apache H at Honolulu, Hawaii, 30 April 1963. (Salt Lake Tribune)

The next stop was Canton Island, a small island in the Phoenix Islands, just south of the Equator and approximately half-way between Hawaii and Fiji. The elapsed time for this 1,700-mile (2,736 kilkometers) flight was 13 hours, 6 minutes. From Canton to Fiji was 1,250 miles (2,012 kilometers). The elapsed time was 8 hours, 27 minutes. On the fourth leg, intended to be the final stage, she was forced to divert to Noumea, New Caledonia, because of severe weather.

With delays for rest and waiting for good weather, Miller’s flight took nearly two weeks. She took off from Nadi Airport, Viti Levu, Fiji, at 4:47 a.m., local, and finally arrived at Eagle Farm Airport, Brisbane, Queensland, at 10:20 p.m., Australian Eastern Standard Time, after crossing 7,400 miles (11,909 kilometers) of ocean, in a total of 51 hours, 38 minutes in the air.

Betty Miller in the cockpit of the Piper Apache, before departing on her Trans-Pacific Flight. (Mercury News)
Betty Miller in the cockpit of the Piper Apache, before departing on her Trans-Pacific Flight. (Betty Miller collection)

Contemporary newspapers called Miller “the flying housewife,” which demeaned her actual qualifications. At the time of her Trans-Pacific flight, she was a commercial pilot and flight instructor, rated in single- and multi-engine airplanes and helicopters. She owned and operated a flight school and charter company based at Santa Monica Airport on the Southern California coast. In fourteen years as a pilot, Betty Miller had logged more than 6,500 hours of flight time.

Betty Miller with President John F. Kennedy at the White House.
Betty Miller with President John F. Kennedy at the White House. Left to right, Administrator Najeeb Halaby, Federal Aviation Administration; President Kennedy; Mrs. Miller; Mrs. Jane Briggs Hart; Mr. Charles Miller. (Robert L. Knudsen/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum KN-C29599)

President John F. Kennedy awarded Mrs. Miller the Federal Aviation Administration Gold Medal for Exceptional Service. On 14 September 1964, President Lyndon Johnson presented her with the Harmon International Trophy. (Also receiving the Harmon at the ceremony were Astronaut Gordon Cooper and test pilot Fitzhugh Fulton.)

Two years later, Mrs. Miller flew across the Atlantic Ocean.

Finally, in another first, the photograph of Betty Miller arriving at Brisbane was the very first to be transmitted by a new wire-photo process.

Betty Verret (Gondolier)

Betty Jean Verret was born 6 April 1926 at Venice, California. She was the second of three daughters of Earday Verret, a street car conductor, and Bertha DeLay Verret. She graduated from Venice High School in 1942.

Miss Verret was employed by the Civil Aeronautics Administration as an Aircraft Communicator. While working at Wendover, Utah, she met Chuck Miller. They married and lived in Santa Monica, California, where they operated a flight school.

Mrs. Miller was a member of the Ninety-Nines, the Whirly-Girls, and was chair of the FAA Women’s Advisory Committee.

Betty Jean Verret Miller died 21 February 2018 at Bountiful, Utah, at the age of 91 years.

Piper PA-23-160 Apache 23-2039, registered VH-IMB, at Archerfield Airport (ACF), near Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, circa 1967. (Ed Coates Collection)

The airplane flown by Betty Miller was a Piper PA-23-160 Apache H, serial number 23-2039, manufactured in December 1961 by the Piper Aircraft Corporation at Vero Beach, Florida. It was assigned U.S. registration N4315Y and was painted white and “El Paso Brown” (a dark metallic brown color). In January 1962 the new Apache was delivered to Brown Flying Services, San Antonio, Texas.¹

The Piper PA-23-160 Apache H was a 4-place, twin-engine light airplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. It was 27 feet, 2 inches (8.280 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 0 inches (11.278 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 1 inch (3.073 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 2,230 pounds (1,011.5 kilograms) and maximum gross weight of 3,800 pounds (1,723.7 kilograms).

Lycoming O-320-B2B air-cooled 4-cylinder aircraft engine. (Lycoming)

The Apache H was powered by two air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 319.749-cubic-inch-displacement (5.240 liter) Lycoming O-320-B2B horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder overhead valve (OHV) engines with a compression ratio of 8.5:1. The O-320-B2B is a direct-drive, right-hand tractor engine, rated at 160 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. The O-320-B2B is 2 feet, 5.56 inches (0.751 meters) long, 2 feet, 8.24 inches (0.819 meters) wide and 1 foot, 10.99 inches (0.584 meters) high. It weighs 278 pounds (126.1 kilograms). The engines turned two-bladed Hartzell constant-speed propellers.

The PA-23-160 had a cruise speed of 150 knots (173 miles per hour/278 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed was 159 knots (183 miles per hour/295 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 17,000 feet (5,182 meters).

Piper PA-23-160 Apache H, registered VH-IMB, photographed at Broken Hill, New South Wales, 5 November 1978. (Photograph courtesy of Danny Tanner)
Piper PA-23-160 Apache H 23-2039, registered VH-IMB, photographed at Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia, 5 November 1978. (Photograph courtesy of Danny Tanner)

N4315Y was re-registered VH-IMB, 22 May 1963, after its arrival in Australia. The airplane remains operational.

Piper PA-23-160 Apache H VH-IMB. (Robert Frola via Wikipedia)
Piper PA-23-160 Apache H 23-2039, VH-IMB, registered to Beltana Aviation Pty. Ltd., photographed at Watts Bridge Airfield, Queensland, Australia, 28 August 2010.  (Robert Frola via Wikipedia)

¹ Thanks to Roger Peperell, Company Historian, Piper Aircraft, Inc., for researching the history of Betty Miller’s Apache.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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