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.
24–25 September 1938: Valentina Stepanovna Grizodubova (Валентина Степановна Гризодубова), Polina Denisovna Osipenko (Полина Денисовна Осипенко) and Marina Mikailovna Raskova (Марина Mихайловна Раскова) set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance in a Straight Line Without Landing when they flew a twin-engine Tupolev ANT-37 named Rodina from Tchelcovo, an airport near Moscow, Russia, to the River Amgun, Khabarovsk Krai, in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The distance was 5,908.61 kilometers (3,671.44 miles).¹ The duration of the flight was 26 hours, 29 minutes.
The planned flight was from Moscow to Komsomolsk-on-Amur. In adverse weather conditions, they missed the airfield at Komsomolsk, and out of fuel, crash landed in a forest near the Sea of Okhotsk. Raskova was ordered to bail out of the airplane to avoid being injured, and she wandered for ten days before she located the crashed ANT-37. The other two remained with the ANT-37 and survived the landing. They waited by the wreck for Raskova to arrive. All three were made Heroes of the Soviet Union.
The three women were all highly experienced aviators and each held multiple world records. (Grizodubova held one FAI altitude record, two distance and three speed; Osipenko held three distance and three altitude records; and Raskova was a navigator on two distance record flights.)
Polina Osipenko was killed in an airplane accident in 1939. Marina Raskova died when her bomber crashed in 1943. She received the first state funeral of the war. Valentina Grizodubova survived World War II and then served on a commission investigating Nazi war crimes. She died at Moscow in 1993.
The Antonov ANT-37, given the military designation DB-2, was a prototype long range medium bomber designed and built at Tupolev OKB. The design team was led by Pavel Sukhoi.
Rodina, the airplane flown by Grizodubova, Osipenko and Raskova, was the first prototype ANT-37. It had crashed during testing 20 July 1935, but was rebuilt as the ANT-37 bis, or DB-2B. The nose section was modified and the engines and propellers upgraded, all military armament was removed and larger fuel tanks installed. It was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 2,359.97-cubic-inch-displacement (38.67 liter) Tumansky M-86 two-row, 14-cylinder radial engines. They were rated 950 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m. for takeoff and drove three-bladed, variable pitch propellers. (These engines were license-built versions of the Gnome et Rhône 14K Mistral Major.) The main landing gear was retracted by electric motors.
The airplane was operated by a crew of three. It was 15.00 meters (49 feet, 2.6 inches) long with a wingspan of 31.00 meters (101 feet, 8.5 inches). Its empty weight was 5,855 kilograms (12,908 pounds) and gross weight was 12,500 kilograms (27,558 pounds). The maximum speed was 300 kilometers per hour at 0 meters (186 miles per hour at Sea Level) and 342 kilometers per hour (212.5 miles per hour) at high altitude. The service ceiling was 8,000 meters (26, 247 feet).
Rodina was repaired and operated by Aeroflot, then, until 1943, by the People’s Commissariat of Aircraft Industry.
18 September 1961: Jackie Cochran, acting as a test pilot and consultant for Northrop Corporation, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance when she flew the Northrop T-38A-30-NO Talon, 60-0551, from Palmdale, California, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, a distance of 2,401.780 kilometers (1,492.397 miles).¹
Jackie’s friend, famed Air Force test pilot Colonel Chuck Yeager, kept notes during the series of record attempts:
September 18: Jackie took off from Palmdale at 10:00 am for attempt to set records from points to points. I took off from Edwards with 275-gallon [1,041 liter] drop tanks. During climb Jackie reported rough engine and poor performance. Also the fuel flow was inoperative. Jackie returned to the field where I finally found her takeoff flaps were still down. Also her navigation lights and beacon were on. I was rather disappointed. She’s a little cocky in the airplane. She landed back there at Palmdale with 1500 pounds [680 kilograms] of fuel in each side and made a good heavy-weight landing. The aircraft refueled and another takeoff was made at 12:30 pm. Everything went smooth this flight. We ran into clouds at the edge of Utah which lasted until Cheyenne, Wyo. Clear the rest of the way. Jackie landed with 250 pounds of fuel in each side. Made a beautiful landing and turned off after a 4000 foot [1,220 meters] ground roll. Bob White returned the F-100 to Edwards.
— Brigadier General Charles Elwood (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Air Force, quoted inJackie Cochran: An Autobiography, by Jacqueline Cochran and Maryann Bucknum Brinley, Bantam Books, New York, 1987, Pages 306.
The Northrop T-38A Talon is a two-place, twin-engine jet trainer capable of supersonic speed. It is 46 feet, 4 inches (14.122 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 3 inches (7.696 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.912 meters). The trainer’s empty weight is 7,200 pounds (3,266 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight is 12,093 pounds (5,485 kilograms).
The T-38A is powered by two General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines. The J85 is a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet engine with an 8-stage compressor section and 2-stage turbine. The J85-GE-5 is rated at 2,680 pounds of thrust (11.921 kilonewtons), and 3,850 pounds (17.126 kilonewtons) with afterburner. It is 108.1 inches (2.746 meters) long, 22.0 inches (0.559 meters) in diameter and weighs 584 pounds (265 kilograms).
It has a maximum speed of Mach 1.08 (822 miles per hour, 1,323 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. The Talon’s service ceiling of 55,000 feet (16,764 meters) and it has a maximum range of 1,093 miles (1,759 kilometers).
In production from 1961 to 1972, Northrop has produced nearly 1,200 T-38s. As of January 2014, the U.S. Air Force had 546 T-38A Talons in the active inventory. It also remains in service with the U.S. Navy, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Jackie Cochran’s record-setting T-38 is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum.
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.
2 September 1978: The ten women in this photograph, members of Pilot Undergradute Training Class 77-08 at Williams Air Force Base, Arizona, along with their 36 male classmates, received their Silver Wings on 2 September 1977.
They are Captains Connie Engel, Kathy La Sauce, Mary Donahue, Susan Rogers and Christine Schott; First Lieutenants Sandra Scott and Victoria Crawford; Second Lieutenants Mary Livingston, Carol Scherer and Kathleen Rambo.