Tag Archives: Transoceanic Flight

22 June 1931

Ruth Rowland Nichols with “Akita,” the Crosley Radio Corporation’s Lockheed Model 5 Vega Special, NR496M. Note the Detroit Aircraft Corporation/Lockheed Aircraft Company logo on the tail fin. Thanks to Tim Bradley Imaging for the digital restoration of this photograph. (NASM-NAM-A-45905-A)

22 June 1931: In the late 1920s through mid-1930s, Miss Ruth Rowland Nichols was one of the best-known American women in aviation. She was the only person to have simultaneously held world records for speed, distance and altitude.

Miss Nichols planned to become the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. On the afternoon of 22 June 1931, she took off from Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York, to stage for the transatlantic flight at Harbor Grace, Dominion of Newfoundland, making an intermediate stop at Saint John, New Brunswick, Dominion of Canada.

Nichols was flying a Lockheed Model 5 Vega, owned by Powell Crosley, Jr., founder of the Crosley Radio Corporation, a manufacturer of radio equipment and owner of a broadcast network based in Cincinnati, Ohio. He had named the airplane The New Cincinnati. Miss Nichols called it Akita.

While landing at the Saint John airport in Millidgeville, her plans went awry. . .

Nichols’ crash near St. John, New Brunswick, 22 June 1931. Everyone in the photo is looking at the camera. 🙂

Miss Nichols wrote about it in Wings For Life:

     As I peered down at a tiny airport set like a bowl in the midst of surrounding wooded hills and cliffs, I thought at first I must be off course—this couldn’t be the St. Johns field. . .

     Twice I circled, studying the small, rock-enclosed field from every angle. How on earth could the heavy, fast Lockheed land there? Those crossed runways would be safe only for small or lightly-loaded planes. . .

     Because of the wind direction, I would have to use the shorter of the two runways—and even the longer one was inadequate. I flew back over the town, then headed back toward the airport while cutting the throttle to minimum flying speed.

     I slid in over the trees and edged through a narrow ravine. So far, so good. Maybe my luck was holding. Dead ahead was the runway. I made an S turn for the proper approach and headed straight into the blinding rays of the sun. I couldn’t look ahead to gauge the length of the runway, because ahead was a fiery glare. Only by staring down through the cockpit window could I see even the edge of the runway. . .

     Suddenly the dazzling blaze of the sun was doused by the shadow of a cliff and I saw to my horror that I had passed the intersection and still had flying speed. . .

     . . . then came a splintering crack as the tail broke through the treetops. More rocks ahead—a deafening shuddering C-R-A-S-H—then paralyzing silence. From seventy miles an hour minimum climbing speed with a load the motor impacted to a dead stop. The whole back end of the ship must be coming over on top of me, relentlessly bearing down, pushing my head and shoulders down between my knees.

     Splintering pain, and the silence of catastrophe.

Wings for Life, by Ruth Nichols, J.B. Lippincott, Philadephia, 1957

Nichols’ Lockheed Vega crashed at St. John, New Brunswick, 22 June 1931.

Ruth Nichols suffered five fractured vertebrae and would spend months recovering. The airplane would be repaired. This was not the first time the Vega had been damaged, nor would it be the last.

A contemporary newspaper reported the accident:

. . . She had left New York at 3:22 P.M. and it was just 3 hours and 48 minutes later that she cracked up, at 7:10 P.M., New York time.

     A great crowd had gathered at the St. John airport to see her land. She had announced her intention of spending the night there and proceeding to Harbor Grace, N. F., tomorrow.

Blinded by Sun.

     Her plane hove into sight and took a long graceful slant downward to alight. Then, as she straightened out to land, the sun shone full into her eyes. For just one second she was blinded and in that second overshot the runway and nosed over.

     Mechanics at the field awaited the arrival of Col. Clarence Chamberlin, Miss Nichols’ technical adviser, to decide what could be done for the plane.

Daily News, Vol. 12, No. 310, Tuesday, 23 June 1931, at Page 13, Column 1

Miss Nichols did not make the solo transatlantic flight. That would take place the following Spring. The pilot would be Miss Amelia Mary Earhart.

Ruth Rowland Nichols

Nichols’ airplane was a 1928 Lockheed Model 5 Vega Special, serial number 619, registered NR496M, and owned by Powell Crosley, Jr.

Built by the Lockheed Aircraft Company, Burbank, California, the Vega was a single-engine high-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear. It was flown by a single pilot in an open cockpit and could be configured to carry four to six passengers.

The Lockheed Vega was a very state-of-the-art aircraft for its time. The prototype flew for the first time 4 July 1927 at Mines Field, Los Angeles, California. It used a streamlined monocoque fuselage made of molded plywood. The wing and tail surfaces were fully cantilevered, requiring no bracing wires or struts to support them.

The Model 5 Vega 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). Its empty weight is 2,595 pounds (1,177 kilograms) and gross weight is 4,500 pounds (2,041 kilograms).

Nichols’ airplane was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp C nine-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 5.25:1. It was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, burning 58-octane gasoline. The engine drove a two-bladed controllable-pitch Hamilton Standard propeller through direct drive. The Wasp C was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.3-7 meters) in diameter and weighed 745 pounds (338 kilograms).

The standard Vega 5 had a cruising speed of 165 miles per hour (266 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 185 miles per hour (298 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). Range with standard fuel tanks was 725 miles (1,167 kilometers).

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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17–18 June 1928

Fokker F.VIIb/3m Friendship on Southampton Water, after the transatlantic flight.

17–18 June 1928: Amelia Mary Earhart became the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air when she accompanied pilot Wilmer Lower Stultz and mechanic Louis Edward Gordon as a passenger aboard the Fokker F.VIIb/3m, NX4204, Friendship. The orange and gold, float-equipped, three-engine monoplane had departed from Trepassey Harbor, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, and arrived at Burry Port, on the southwest coast of Wales, 20 hours, 40 minutes later.

Amelia Earhart wrote 20 hrs. 40 min.—Our Flight in the Friendship (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1928), describing her adventure.

Friendship had been originally ordered by Richard E. Byrd for his Antarctic expedition, but because Ford Motor Company was a major sponsor, he made the decision to switch to a Ford Tri-Motor airplane. Byrd sold the new Fokker to Donald Woodward, heir to the Jell-O Corporation, for $62,000, and it was registered to his Mechanical Science Corp., of Le Roy, New York. Woodward then leased the airplane to Mrs. Frederick Edward Guest (née Anne T. Phipps, also known as Amy Phipps) for her to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air. She chose the name Friendship for the airplane.

Amy Phipps Guest
Amy Phipps Guest

Mrs. Guest was a daughter of Henry Phipps, Jr., an American industrialist. She was married to Captain the Right Honourable Frederick Edward Guest P.C., C.B.E., D.S.O., M.P., a prominent British politician, former Secretary of State for Air, and a member of His Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council. Amy Phipps Guest, however, was a multi-billionaire in her own right.

Mrs. Guest was not a pilot, so Stultz and Gordon had been hired to fly the airplane. When her family ruled out her transoceanic journey, “an American girl of the right type” was selected to make the flight in her place. Miss Amelia Mary Earhart, a social worker living in Boston, was interviewed and was the candidate selected.

Although Earhart was a pilot with approximately 500 hours of flight experience, she did not act as a pilot on this flight. She was, however, the aircraft commander. Instructions from Mrs. Guest’s attorney, David T. Layman, to Stultz and Gordon, dated 18 May 1928, were very specific on this matter:

“This is to say that on arrival at Trepassey of the tri-motor Fokker plane “FRIENDSHIP” if any questions of policy, procedure, personnel or any other question arises the decision of Miss Amelia M. Earhart is to be final. That she is to have control of the plane and of the disposal of the services of all employees as fully as if she were the owner. And further, that on arrival of the plane in London full control of the disposition of the plane and of the time and services of employees shall be hers to the same extent until and unless the owner directs otherwise.”

— The Sound of Wings by Mary S. Lovell, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1989, Chapter 11 at Page 104.

Amelia Earhart can be seen in the open door to the passenger compartment of NX4204 (Gett Images/Archive Photos/PhotoQuest)
Amelia Earhart can be seen in the open cargo door of NX4204, Burry Port, Wales, 18 June 1928. (Getty Images/Archive Photos/PhotoQuest)

It was during the planning for this flight that Earhart first met her future husband, George Palmer Putnam.

Though Friendship was equipped with aluminum pontoons for water takeoffs and landings, it was otherwise the same type as Southern Cross, the airplane that Sir Charles E. Kingsford Smith flew from the United States to Australia earlier in the month. It was built by Anton H.G. Fokker’s N. V. Nederlandsche Vliegtuigenfabriek at Veere, Netherlands, in early 1928. Friendship , serial number 5028, was the fourth aircraft in the series. Flown by Bernt Balchen, it made its first flight 16 February 1928.

The Fokker F.VIIb/3m is a three-engine high-wing passenger transport with fixed landing gear. It could carry up to 8 passengers. The airplane was was 14.6 meters (47.9 feet) long, with a wingspan of 21.7 meters (71.2 feet) and 3.9 meters (12.8 feet) high. The wing had an area of 67 square meters (721 square feet). Its empty weight was 3,050 kilograms (6,724 pounds) and the gross weight, 5,200 kilograms (11,464 pounds).

Amelia Earhart with pilot Wilmer L. Stultz and flight mechanic Louis E. Gordon at Southampton, 20 June 1928. Amy Phipps Guest is at the left of the photograph. The Hon. Mrs. Foster Welch, Mayor of Southampton, is on the right. (Purdue University Libraries, Karnes Archives and Special Collections via the BBC)
Amelia Earhart at Southampton. Left to right are, The Honourable Amy Phipps Guest, flight mechanic Louis E. Gordon, Miss Earhart, pilot Wilmer L. Stultz, and Mrs. Lucia Marian Foster Welch, Mayor of the City of Southampton. (Purdue University Libraries, Karnes Archives and Special Collections via the BBC)

The F.VIIb/3m was powered by three 787.26-cubic-inch-displacement (12.90 liter) air-cooled Wright Aeronautical Corporation Model J-5C Whirlwind nine-cylinder radial engines. The left engine was serial number 8229, the center, 8280, and the right engine, 8321. These were direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 5.1:1. The J-5C was rated at 200 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m., and 220 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. They drove two-bladed Standard adjustable-pitch propellers. The Wright J-5C was 2 feet, 10 inches (0.864 meters) long and 3 feet, 9 inches (1.143 meters) in diameter. It weighed 508 pounds (230.4 kilograms).

The standard F.VIIb/3m had a cruise speed of cruise 170 kilometers per hour (106 miles per hour), and maximum speed of 190 kilometers per hour (118 miles per hour). Its service ceiling was 4,750 meters (15,584 feet). It had a normal range of 1,240 kilometers (771 miles). NX4204 was modified at Fokker’s American subsidiary, Atlantic Aircraft Corporation in Teterboro, New Jersey, increasing the total fuel capacity to 870 gallons (3,293 liters).

Fokker F.VIIb/3m NX4204, Friendship, at Southampton after crossing the Atlantic Ocean. (NASM)

Friendship was sold to José Roger Balet of Argentina in May 1929, and renamed 12 de Octubre, the date of an important national holiday. On 21 June 1931, the airplane was on a commercial flight from Santiago de Chile to Mendoza when it made an emergency landing in Alto Sierra. It was acquired by General Enrique Bravo for the Fuerza Aérea Nacional, November 1931.

Disassembled and crated, Fokker F.VIIb/3m s/n 5028 arrived at Buenos Aires, Argentina, 19 September 192x (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Disassembled and crated, Fokker F.VIIb/3m s/n 5028 arrived at Buenos Aires, Argentina, 19 April 1929, aboard the Munson Steamship Line’s S.S. American Legion. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

The ultimate fate of the airplane is uncertain. Sources indicate that it was removed from service and salvaged for parts after June 1932. Other sources indicate that it was destroyed by accident or fire in September 1934.

Fokker F.VIIb/3m s/n 5028, 12 de Octubre, in El Palomar. (Foto Archivo General de la Nacion)
Fokker F.VIIb/3m s/n 5028, 12 de Octubre, at El Palomar, north of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The airplane was repainted red and was called “El Colorado.” (Foto Archivo General de la Nación)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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14–15 June 1919

Vickers Vimy with Alcock and Brown aboard, departs St. John's, Newfoundland, 14 June 1919. (CF Photo)
The Vickers Vimy with Alcock and Brown aboard, departs St. John’s, Newfoundland, 14 June 1919. (CF Photo)
John Alcock and Arthur Whitten-Brown, 14 June 1919. (Vickers PLC)
Captain John William Alcock, D.S.C, and Lieutenant Arthur Whitten Brown, before their departure at St. John’s, Newfoundland, 14 June 1919. (Vickers PLC)

14–15 June 1919: Captain John William Alcock, D.S.C., and Lieutenant Arthur Whitten Brown, both of the Royal Air Force, crossed the Atlantic Ocean, non-stop, aboard their twin-engine Vickers Vimy F.B.27A Mk.IV biplane bomber. This was the very first successful non-stop trans-Atlantic crossing by air.

Alcock and Brown took off from Lester’s Field, St. John’s, Newfoundland, at 16:13 GMT (2:43 p.m., NDT), 14 June 1919. They flew 1,890 miles (3,042 kilometers) to Clifden, County Galway, Ireland.

During their flight, they encountered heavy fog, icing, snow and severe turbulence. Four times Brown had to go out on the wings to clear snow and ice from the engine intakes.

The Vimy crossed the coast of Ireland at 9:25 a.m., British Summer Time (08:40 GMT), and touched down on the soft ground of Derrygimla Bog, just south of Clifden, at 9:40 a.m., BST. The airplane pitched over on its nose and was damaged, but Alcock and Brown were not hurt.

The total duration of their flight was 16 hours, 27 minutes.

Alcock and Brown's aeroplane after completing the first non-stop transatlantic flight, 1919. (Getty Images/Print Collector)
Alcock and Brown’s aeroplane after completing the first non-stop transatlantic flight, 1919. (Getty Images/Print Collector)

The following report was published in The New York Times:

Captain Alcock’s Own Narrative of His Flight From Newfoundland to Ireland

LONDON, June 16. (By telegraph from Clifden, Ireland.) We have had a terrible journey. The wonder is that we are here at all. We scarcely saw the sun or the moon or the stars. For hours we saw none of them.

     The fog was very dense, and at times we had to descend to within 300 feet of the sea. For four hours the machine was covered in a sheet of ice caused by frozen sleet; at another time the sleet was so dense that my speed indicator did not work, and for a few seconds it was very alarming.

     We looped the loop, I do believe, and did a very steep spiral. We did some very comic “stunts,” for I have had no sense of the horizon.

     The winds were favorable all the way: northwest and at times southwest. We said in Newfoundland we could do the trip in 16 hours, but we never thought we should. An hour and a half before we saw land we had no certain idea where we were, but we believed we were at Galway or thereabouts. Our delight in seeing Eashal Island and Turbot Island (5 miles west of Clifden) was great. People did not know who we were when we landed, and thought we were scouts on the lookout for the “Vimy.”

     We encountered no unforeseen conditions. We did not suffer from cold or exhaustion except when looking over the side; then the sleet chewed bits out of our faces. We drank coffee and ale and ate sandwiches and chocolate.

     The flight has shown that the Atlantic flight is practicable, but I think it should be done not with an aeroplane or seaplane, but with a flying boat. We had plenty of reserve fuel left, using only two-thirds of our supply.

     The only thing that upset me was to see the machine at the end get damaged. From above, the bog looked like a lovely field, but the machine sank into it up to the axle and fell over on to her nose.

The New York Times, 16 June 1919, Page 1, Columns 7 and 8

The “Vickers-Vimy-Rolls”

     The construction of the Trans-Atlantic “Vickers-Vimy-Rolls” was completed at the Weybridge Aeroplane Works of Messrs. Vickers, Limited.

     This aeroplane is practically similar in every respect to the Standard “Vimy” as supplied to His Majesty’s Government.

     Two standard 350 hp. Rolls-Royce engines are installed. The capacity of the petrol tanks has been increased to 865 gallons, and the lubricating oil tanks to 50 gallons, and with this quantity of fuel this aeroplane has a range of 2440 miles. The maximum speed is over 100 miles per hour. The span of the “Vickers-Vimy-Rolls” is 67 feet, and overall length is 42 feet 8 inches. The width of the planes is 10 feet 6 inches. A wireless telegraphy set capable of sending and receiving messages over long distances was carried, and the pilot and navigator wore electrically heated clothing.

AIRCRAFT JOURNAL, Vol. IV., No. 25, Saturday, 21 June 1919, at Page 9, Column 3

After their historic flight, Captain Alcock and Lieutenant Brown were invested Knight Commanders of the Order of the British Empire by King George V in a ceremony at Windsor Castle, 21 June 1919. They also had won a prize of £10,000 offered by Alfred Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Northcliffe, owner of the Daily Mail, and which was presented to them at the Savoy Hotel, 20 June, by Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for War, and the future prime minister. The pilots insisted that £2,000 go to the Vickers and Rolls-Royce mechanics who had prepared their airplane. They also received 2,000 guineas from the Ardath Tobacco Co., and £1,000 from Mr. Lawrence R. Phillips.

"Vickers 'Vimy" aircraft of Captain John Alcock and Lieut. A.W. Brown ready for trans-Atlantic flight, Lester's Field, 14 June 1919, St. John's, Nfld." (Library and Archives Canada/PA-121930)
“Vickers ‘Vimy” aircraft of Captain John Alcock and Lieut. A.W. Brown ready for trans-Atlantic flight, Lester’s Field, 14 June 1919, St. John’s, Nfld.” (Library and Archives Canada/PA-121930)

Alcock and Brown’s airplane was a Vickers F.B.27 Mk.IV Vimy, serial number C105. The Royal Air Force registration was B9952. The owner of the aircraft was the manufacturer, Vickers Limited. On 1 May 1919, it was assigned Certificate of Registration No. 18, with the civil registration G-EAAR. Contemporary photographs of the Vimy do not show any registration markings, however.

"Vickers imt, 1919. Alcock & Browns tranatlantic aircraft crossed teh Atlantic between St. John's, Newfoundland and Clifden, Ireland between 14 an 15 June, 1919. The aircraft in the Vickers factory at Weybridge." (Getty Images/Science & Society Picture Library)
“Vickers Vimy, 1919. Alcock & Browns transatlantic aircraft crossed the Atlantic between St. John’s, Newfoundland and Clifden, Ireland between 14 and 15 June, 1919. The aircraft in the Vickers factory at Weybridge.” (Getty Images/Science & Society Picture Library)

The Vickers Vimy F.B.27 (named after the World War I Battle of Vimy Ridge) was designed and built by Vickers Ltd. (Aviation Department) at Weybridge, Surrey, England. It was a twin-engine, three-bay biplane night bomber built for the Royal Air Force. The Vimy’s construction was typical of the time: a wooden framework covered with doped fabric. The engines were placed in individual nacelles, midway between the upper and lower wings. Each nacelle was supported by four vertical struts. The horizontal stabilizer/elevator were also biplane, and it had two vertical fins/rudders.

The Vimy was 43 feet, 6½ inches (13.272 meters) long with a wingspan of 67 feet, 2 inches (20.472 meters) and height of 15 feet, 8 inches (4.775 meters). The upper and lower wings had a chord of 10 feet, 6 inches (3.200 meters). The total wing area was 1,330 square feet (123.6 square meters). The vertical gap between the wings was 10 feet, 0 inches (3.048 meters) and there was no stagger. Both wings had and angle of incidence of 3½° and 3° dihedral.

The bomber weighed 6,700 pounds (3,039 kilograms) empty, and had a gross weight of 12,500 pounds (5,670 kilograms).

The Trans-Atlantic Vimy at Brooklands, August 1919. (BAE Systems)

The Vimy was powered by two water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,240.5-cubic-inch-displacement (20.3 liter) Rolls-Royce Eagle VIII single overhead cam 60° V-12 engines with two valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 4.9:1. These engines were rated at 350 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m., and 360 horsepower at 2,035 r.p.m. (five minute limit). They turned four-bladed, fixed-pitch, wooden propellers through a 1.60:1 gear reduction. The Eagle VIII used four Rolls-Royce/Claudel Hobson carburetors and four Watford magnetos with two spark plugs per cylinder. Fuel consumption at normal power at Sea Level was 23 gallons (87 liters) per hour. The engine weighed 847 pounds (384 kilograms).

Rolls-Royce Eagle VIII aircraft engine. (NASM)
Rolls-Royce Eagle VIII water-cooled V-12 aircraft engine. (NASM)

The Vimy had a maximum speed of 98 miles per hour (158 kilometers per hour) at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). In standard configuration, the bomber had a range of 835 miles (1,344  kilometers). Its service ceiling was 10,500 feet (3,200 meters). Vimy C105 was modified by Vickers to carry 1,050 gallons (3,975 liters) of gasoline for the transoceanic flight.

The Vimy was repaired by Vickers and Rolls-Royce, then donated to the London Science Museum where it is displayed near Amy Johnson’s DH.60G Gipsy Moth, Jason. Its civil registration was cancelled in May 1920.

Alcock and Brown's Vickers Vimy at the Science Museum, London. © Science Museum
Alcock and Brown’s Vickers Vimy at the Science Museum, London. © Science Museum
Captain John William Alcock, D.S.C., Royal Air Force. (Museum of Science and Industry)

John William Alcock was born 6 November 1892, at Seymour Grove, Old Trafford, Stretford, a town near Manchester, England. He was the son of John Alcock, a coachman, and Mary Alice Whitelegg Alcock, a domestic servant.

He took an early interest in flying. Work as a mechanic at the Ducrocq School, Brooklands Aerodrome, Surrey, led to flight training. He was awarded pilot’s certificate No. 368 by the Royal Aero Club, 26 November 1912.

Alcock competed in various air races, winning the Easter Aeroplane Handicap at Brooklands with a Farman B, 24 March 1913. The prize for first place was 50 guineas.

John William Alcock with a Nieuport IV.G monoplane at the London-Manchester Air Race, 1912.

With the onset of World War I, Alcock entered the Royal Naval Air Service, 12 November 1914. as a Warrant Officer, Second Grade (temporary). Alcock was assigned as a flight instructor at the Naval Flying School, Eastchurch, on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, England. He was commissioned a Flight Sub-Lieutenant (tempy) 29 December 1915 and was sent to a squadron based on an island in the Aegean Sea. Alcock was flying a Sopwith Camel when he shot down an enemy airplane and forced two others into the sea. For this action he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross:


Flt. Lieut. John William Acock, R.N.A.S. (now prisoner).

     For the great skill, judgement and dash displayed by him off Mudros on the 30th September, 1917, in a successful attack on three enemy seaplanes, two of which were brought down in the sea.

After Alcock returned to base, he took a Handley Page O/100 bomber on a mission against Constantinople. When one engine failed, he turned back, but then the second failed and the airplane went down in the Gulf of Xeros. He and his two crewmen then swam to the enemy-held Gallipoli shoreline. They were captured and held as prisoners of war.

While held as a prisoner, Alcock was promoted to Flight Lieutenant (tempy), R.N.A.S., 31 December 1917.

On 1 April 1918, the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service were combined to establish the Royal Air Force. Flight Lieutenant Alcock, R.N.A.S., became Captain Alcock, R.A.F.

When The War to End All Wars came to an end in November 1918, Captain Alcock was repatriated to the United Kingdom, arriving at Dover 16 December 1918. He left military service in March 1919 and joined Vickers Ltd. (Aviation Department) as a test pilot.

While flying the prototype Vickers Viking to the Paris Air Show, Captain Sir John William Alcock, K.B.E., D.S.C., was killed in an accident at Cottévard, France, 18 December 1919. His remains were interred at the Southern Cemetery, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Greater Manchester, England.

Captain Sir John William Alcock, K.B.E., D.S.C., by Sir John Lavery, R.A., 1919
Captain Arthur Whitten Brown, Royal Air Force. (Museum of Science and Industry)

Arthur Whitten Brown was born at Crosshills, Glasgow, Scotland, 23 July 1886. He was an American citizen by birth. His parents were Arthur George Brown, a mechanical engineer for Westinghouse, and Emma Whitten Brown.

(Mr. Brown had been sent by Westinghouse to find a location for an electrical equipment factory, which was eventually built in Old Trafford, John Alcock’s birthplace.)

In 1914, Brown enlisted in the British Army.

In September 1919, Sir Arthur Whitten Brown married Miss Marguerite Kathleen Kennedy, at St. Martin’s, London. They would have a son, Arthur, who would become a pilot in the Royal Air Force. He was killed in action on D-Day, 6 June 1944, in Holland.

Captain Sir Arthur Whitten Brown, K.B.E.

During World War II, Sir Arthur returned to active duty in the Royal Air Force. He instructed in navigation.

Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Arthur Whitten Brown, K.B.E., died at his home in Swansea, Wales, 4 October 1948, at the age of 62 years. His ashes interred at St. Margaret Churchyard, Tylers Green, Wycombe District Buckinghamshire.

Captain Sir Arthur Whitten Brown, K.B.E., by Sir John Lavery, R.A., 1919 (Royal Air Force Museum)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 June 1928

Sir Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, MC, AFC. (National Archives of Australia)
Sir Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, M.C., A.F.C. (National Archives of Australia, A1200, L93634)

9 June 1928: At 10:50 a.m., Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, M.C., and his crew completed the first trans-Pacific flight from the mainland United States of America to the Commonwealth of Australia. They landed their airplane, a Fokker F.VIIb/3m named Southern Cross, ¹ at Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. The airplane’s crew were Kingsford Smith, pilot; Charles Ulm, co-pilot; Harry Lyon, navigator; and James Warren, radio operator. Their historic flight had begun at Oakland, California, on 31 May.

The first leg of the flight from Oakland Field, California, to Wheeler Field was 2,406 miles (3,873 kilometers). The elapsed time was 27 hours, 27 minutes. After resting in Hawaii, the crew took off on the second leg to Suva, Fiji, a distance of 3,167 miles (5,097 kilometers). Southern Cross landed at Albert Park. It was the very first airplane to land in Fiji. This was the longest leg and took 34 hours, 33 minutes. The final leg to Brisbane covered 1,733 miles (2,788 kilometers) and took 21 hours, 35 minutes. They landed at Eagle Farm Airport, just northeast of Brisbane, at 10:50 a.m., 9 June 1928. An estimated 25,000 people were there to see the arrival.

Kingsford Smith’s Fokker F.VIIb/3m Southern Cross, landing at Brisbane, 10:50 a.m., 9 June 1928. (State Library of Queensland)
Kingsford Smith’s Fokker F.VIIb/3m Southern Cross, landing at Brisbane, 10:50 a.m., 9 June 1928. (State Library of Queensland)

The Fokker F.VIIb/3m was designed and built as a commercial airliner. It was heavier and had a larger wing than the F.VIIa/3m. It was 14.6 meters (47.9 feet) long, with a wingspan of 21.7 meters (71.2 feet) and 3.9 meters (12.8 feet) high. The wing had an area of 67 square meters (721 square feet). Its empty weight was 3,050 kilograms (6,724 pounds) and the gross weight, 5,200 kilograms (11,464 pounds).

The F.VIIb/3m had a cruise speed of cruise 170 kilometers per hour (106 miles per hour), and maximum speed of 190 kilometers per hour (118 miles per hour). Its service ceiling was 4,750 meters (15,584 feet). It had a normal range of 1,240 kilometers (771 miles).

The crew of Southern Cross at Eagle Farm, 9 June 1928. (Left to right) Captain Harry Lyon, navigator; Charles Ulm, co-pilot; Charles Kingsford Smith, pilot; and James Warner, radio operator. (National Archives of Australia A1200, L36325)

Southern Cross had been built by N.V. Koninklijke Nederlandse Vliegtuigenfabriek Fokker at Amsterdam, Netherlands, for Hubert Wilkins who intended to use it for Arctic exploration. It was the first long-wing F.VII, c/n 4954, which would later be referred to as the F.VIIb. The airplane was crated and shipped to the United States, where it was reassembled by Atlantic Aircraft Corporation, Fokker’s American subsidiary in Teterboro, New Jersey. Wilkins’ expedition was sponsored by the Detroit News newspaper, and he named the new airplane Detroiter.

The airplane was damaged in a hard landing, and together with Wilkins’ single-engine F.VII, Alaskan, shipped to Boeing in Seattle, Washington, for repair. It is commonly believed that the two airplanes were used together to produce the rebuilt Southern Cross. While repairs were ongoing, Wilkins sold the Fokker to Kingsford Smith for $3,000. Kingsford Smith had the original Wright J-4 engines replaced with J-5 Whirlwinds, and the fuel capacity increased to 1,267 gallons (4,872 liters).

The very thick wing of the Fokker F.VIIb/3m can be seen in this photograph of Southern Cross. (State Library of Queensland)

Southern Cross was powered by three air-cooled, normally-aspirated 787.26-cubic-inch-displacement (12.901 liter) Wright Aeronautical Corporation Model J-5 Whirlwind 9-cylinder radial engines. These were direct-drive engines with a compression ratio of 5.1:1. The J-5 was rated at 200 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m., and 220 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. The engine was 2 feet, 10 inches (0.864 meters) long and 3 feet, 9 inches (1.143 meters) in diameter. It weighed 508 pounds (230.4 kilograms).

Southern Cross was registered to Charles E. Kingsford Smith, et al., 18 October 1927, by the United States Department of Commerce Aeronautics Branch. It was assigned the registration mark NC1985. (The registration was cancelled 20 March 1930.)

The expense of completing the repairs to the airplane took most of Kingsford Smith’s money, so he sold the airplane to George Allan Hancock, owner of Rancho La Brea Oil Company—think, “La Brea Tar Pits”—the developer of the Hancock Park section of Los Angeles, and founder of Santa Maria Airport in Santa Barbara County, California. Hancock loaned Southern Cross back to Kingsford Smith for the Trans-Pacific flight.

An estimated 25,000 people were waiting at Eagle Farm for Southern Cross’ arrival. (Sydney Morning Herald)

Following its arrival in Australia, the Fokker was re-registered G-AUSU. When Australia began issuing its own aircraft registrations, this was changed to VH-USU.

After several other historic flights, Kingsford Smith donated Southern Cross to the government of Australia to be placed in a museum. It was stored for many years but is now on display at the Kingsford Smith Memorial at Brisbane Airport. ²

Kingsford Smith, formerly a captain with the Royal Air Force, was given the rank of Air Commodore, Royal Australian Air Force, and awarded the Air Force Cross. He was invested Knight Bachelor in 1932. Sir Charles continued his adventurous flights.

On 8 November 1935, while flying Lady Southern Cross, a Lockheed Altair, from Allahabad, India, to Singapore, Air Commodore Sir Charles Edward Kingsford Smith, A.F.C., M.C., and his co-pilot, Tommy Pethybridge, disappeared over the Andaman Sea.

Fokker F.VIIB/3m Southern Cross
Fokker F.VIIb/3m, NC1985, Southern Cross at the Kingsford Smith Memorial, Brisbane Airport. (FiggyBee via Wikipedia)
Crux, the Southern Cross.

¹ Southern Cross refers to the constellation Crux, one of the most easily recognizable constellations in the southern hemisphere. The constellation is seen on the national flags of Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Samoa.

² At the time of the Pacific crossing, the fuselage of Southern Cross was painted a light blue color, reportedly the same shade being used on U.S. Army Air Corps training aircraft at the time. It was later repainted in a darker blue, similar to the flag of Australia.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 June 1937

Photo of a replica of Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E, flown by Linda Finch. (Tony Bacewicz / The Hartford Courant)
Photograph of a replica of Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020, flown by Linda Finch. (Tony Bacewicz / The Hartford Courant)

7 June 1937: Leg 10—the South Atlantic Crossing. At 3:15 a.m., Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan departed Natal, Brazil, aboard their Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020, enroute across the South Atlantic Ocean to Dakar, Afrique occidentale française (now, Senegal).

“It was 3.15 in the morning when we left Parnamirim Airport at Natal, Brazil. The take-off was in darkness. The longer runway, which has lights, was unavailable because a perverse wind blew exactly across it. So I used the secondary runway, whose surface is of grass. In the dark it was difficult even to find it, so Fred and I tramped its length with flashlights to learn what we could and establish something in the way of guiding landmarks, however shadowy. Withal, we got into the air easily. Once off the ground, a truly pitch dark encompassed us. However, the blackness of the night outside made all the more cheering the subdued lights of my  cockpit, glowing on the instruments which showed the way through space as we headed east over the ocean. “The night is long that never finds the day,” and our night soon enough was day. I remembered, then, that this was my third dawn in flight over the Atlantic. . . .— Amelia Earhart

Fred Noonan wrote in a letter from Dakar, The flight from Natal, Brazil produced the worst weather we have experienced—heavy rain and dense cloud formations. . . .”   In her notes, Earhart wrote, “. . . Have never seen such rain. Props a blur in it. See nothing but rain now through wispy cloud. . . .”

— from Finding Amelia by Ric Gillespie, Naval Institute Press, 2006, Chapter 5 at page 41.

The poor weather made it impossible for Noonan to find their way across the ocean by celestial navigation, his field of expertise. Instead, he had to navigate by ded reckoning (short for deductive recking, not “dead”) and to estimate course corrections.

When they arrived over the African coastline at dusk, they knew that they were north of their intended course but haze caused very limited visibility. Navigational errors had caused them to miss Dakar, so they turned north until they came to Saint-Louis, where they landed after a 1,961 mile (3,156 kilometer), 13 hour, 22 minute flight.

Fred Noonan’s nautical chart for a portion of the Natal-to-Dakar flight in the Purdue University archives. (Gary LaPook, NavList)
Great Circle route from Parnamirim Airport (NAT), Natal, Brazil, to Saint-Louis Airport ( XLS), Senegal, 1,721 nautical miles (1,981 statute miles/3,188 kilometers). (Great Circle Mapper)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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