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.
25 October 1931: At 5:17:30 p.m., Pacific Standard Time, Saturday afternoon (01:17:30, Sunday, 26 October, G.M.T.), Ruth Rowland Nichols took off from Oakland Municipal Airport, in California, and headed east. Her destination was New York City, New York, non-stop.
Miss Nichols was flying a 1928 Lockheed Model 5 Vega Special, serial number 619, registered NR496M, and owned by Powell Crosley, Jr. The airplane had just been repaired following a landing accident three months earlier, in which she had suffered five fractured vertabrae. [TDiA 22 June 1931] The Vega was white with gold wings. A list of records which had been previously set by Miss Nichols was lettered in gold on the forward fuselage.
At 7:35 p.m., Mountain Standard Time (02:35, Sunday, G.M.T.) the Vega was sighted over Reno, Nevada. It was over Salt Lake City, Utah, at 11:00, local time (06:00 G.M.T.), and Cheyenne, Wyoming, at 1:07 a.m., Sunday, Central Standard Time (07:07 G.M.T.).
Ruth Nichols and her Lockheed landed at Bowling Field, Louisville, Kentucky, at 9:40 a.m., Sunday, local time (15:40 G.M.T.). Though well short of her intended destination, she had set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance in a Straight Line Without Landing of 3 182,65 kilometers (1,977.607 statute miles). This broke the record set 29 June 1931 by Mlle Maryse Bastie during a flight from Paris, France, to Udino, Russia.²
Ruth Nichols described her flight for a newspaper syndicate:
Miss Nichols Tells the Story of Her Flight
Says High Altitudes During Trip Caused Dizziness.
The following account of her non-stop flight from Oakland, Calif., to Louisville was written by Miss Ruth Nichols for the Courier-Journal and the North American Newspaper Alliance.
By RUTH NICHOLS.
(Copyright, 1931, By North American Newspaper Alliance, Inc.)
Twelve hours of darkness is a long time, particularly when the sky is overcast. Although the moon was out, the horizon line was hazy, and over the Western plains, where there are only a few towns, the only contact with civilization that a flier has is a twinkling beacon that is often lost behind a gigantic mountain peak.
Because of the difficulty in seeing the mountain passes easily, an average high altitude is wise, but I found that after eight hours of flying around 15,000 feet made me dizzy.
Used Oxygen Supply.
I had an oxygen tank with me, and I have spent a considerable amount of times at high altitudes, but the indistinctness of the night has a tendency to diffuse one’s senses, and the oxygen resulted in too much of a boost.
At times I felt myself soaring out of the ship, and, twice while the sky was overcast and the ship still heavily loaded, I had a nightmare of a time to keep from slipping off into a power spin.
At times like that, it is necessary to keep busy doing something. It keeps the circulation going.
The cube-like boundary lights of emergency fields are a welcome sight in those barren places. Many of the mountains are now snow-capped, and the lakes and rivers glisten white when the moon is out, making navigation simple.
About every hour I saw a cobweb of lights, which meant a large town, and marked off a milestone in the long night. There was a strong drift at times, but I always had a favorable wind.
The hour before dawn is certainly the darkest. Then the horizon seems often to disappear entirely. My, how welcome that streak of red dawn is!
To avoid low ceilings over the Alleghanies, I headed south, and thus ran low in gas, and landed here.
People often ask me what a flier thinks about. Much and many things! I wondered what the fields are like if a forced landing is necessary, how long will the batteries last, my goodness! There I dropped the coffee thermos.
Every time I took my foot off the rudder to pick it up by means of my toe and hand, teh ship slid off into a near spin.
I wondered how much gas that good old motor was using. I thought: Why, there is Orion!—and then wondered where the Little Bear constellation was hiding. And finally, I observed: That looks like nice country for a horseback trip!
Then there is the question: “What is the value of establishing all these records?”
The answer is that for a girl to fly long distances shows the facility and safety of handling a present-day airplane.
That ride over our country at night is really a most inspiring event. I advise everyone to try it!
—The Courier-Journal, Vol. CLIV. New Series—No, 22,944, Monday 26 October 1931, Page 1, Column 6, and Page 2, Column 7
Nichols had planned to resume her flight to New York at 9:00 a.m., Monday morning, 27 October. That was not to be, however:
WOMAN FLYER’S SHIP DESTROYED
Ruth Nichols Jumps From Blazing Plane
Defective Valve Deluges Craft With Gasoline
Aviatrix Unhurt in Leap From Cabin Window
LOUISVILLE (Ky.) Oct. 26. (AP)—Ruth Nichols’s monoplane caught fire today as she was warming up to take off for New York. She leaped from a window of the cockpit barely in time to escape the flames.
The young aviatrix stumbled as she reached the ground, but mechanics grabbed her and hustled her away from the fiery plane. The plane was reported almost a total loss.
The was caused by a stream of gasoline that suddenly burst from beneath the plane. Attendants at Bowman Field said they believed a dump valve had been released by the vibration of the engine.
The dump valve, Miss Nichols said, gave her some trouble in California, but she had a new one installed there. She talked while city firemen arrived and after a half hour’s work extinguished the flames.
The Rye (N.Y.) aviatrix, who landed here yesterday from Oakland, Cal., after getting lost in the early morning, but still making what is believed to be a new distance record for women, first noticed something wrong from the frantic signals of mechanics. It was doubtful if she heard their cries above the roar of the motor.
Miss Nichols throttled down her engine before getting out, but had only a moment in which to escape. The accident occurred just as she gave the motor “the gun” for warming up after she had inspected the refueling and checked up on the monoplane and had studied weather reports for the New York flight.
AVIATRIX SUFFERING FROM LAST CRASH
NEW YORK, Oct 26. (AP)—Friends of Ruth Nichols, pleased that she was unhurt when she leaped from the high cockpit of her burning plane at Louisville, recalled today she is still wearing a steel corset to protect the vertebra she smashed in the first stage of a proposed Atlantic flight last summer.
Miss Nichols crashed in landing at St. John, N.B., on the first leg of her projected ocean flight, which was abandoned. Her plane was demolished and she was injured seriously. For a long time she wore a plaster cast to protect her spine and this was recently replaced by the steel corset.
—Los Angeles Times, Vol. L., Tuesday, 27 October 1931, Part I, Page 3, Column 6
Nichols’ airplane was a 1928 Lockheed Model 5 Vega Special, serial number 619, registered NR496M, and 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.
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).
¹ FAI Record File Number 12340
² FAI Record File Numbers 12345, 12346 and 14886: 2 976,31 kilometers (1,849.39 statute miles)
29 September–1 October 1946: The third production Lockheed P2V-1 Neptune, Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (Bu. No.) 89082, departed Perth, Western Australia, enroute to the United States, non-stop. The aircraft commander was Commander Thomas D. Davies, United States Navy. Three other pilots, Commanders Eugene P. Rankin and Walter S. Reid, and Lieutenant Commander Roy H. Tabeling, completed the crew.
The purpose of the flight was to demonstrate the long-distance capabilities of the Navy’s new bomber. A memorandum from Chief of Naval Operations, Fleet Admiral Chester A. Nimitz, to the Secretary of the Navy suggested:
“For the purpose of investigating means of extension of present patrol aircraft ranges, physiological limitations on patrol plane crew endurance and long-range navigation by pressure pattern methods, it is proposed to make a nonstop flight of a P2V-1 aircraft from Perth, Australia, to Washington, D.C., with the possibility, weather permitting, of extending the flight to Bermuda.”
The Lockheed Aircraft Corporation P2V Neptune was a twin-engine, long-range patrol bomber normally operated by a crew of eight. The first production variant, the P2V-1, was 75 feet, 4 inches (22.962 meters) long with a wingspan of 100 feet (30.48 meters) and overall height of 28 feet, 6 inches (8.687 meters). Empty weight was 33,720 pounds (15,295 kilograms) and gross weight was 61,153 pounds (27,739 kilograms).
The P2V-1 Neptune was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 3,347.66-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) Wright Aeronautical Corporation Cyclone 18 779C18BB1 (R-3350-8), two-row 18-cylinder radial engines (also known as the Duplex-Cyclone). These engines were rated at 2,100 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., at Sea Level, and 2,400 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m for takeoff. They drove four-bladed propellers through a 0.4375:1 gear reduction. The R-3350-8 was 6 feet, 5.8 inches (1.976 meters) long, 4 feet, 6.12 inches (12.375 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,796 pounds (1,268 kilograms)
These engines gave the P2V-1 a maximum speed of 303 miles per hour (488 kilometers per hour) at 15,300 feet (4,663 meters). The service ceiling was 27,000 feet (8,230 meters) and range was 4,110 miles (6,614 kilometers).
Standard armament consisted of six .50-caliber machine guns, two torpedoes carried in the internal bomb bay, conventional bombs or up to twelve depth charges. Nuclear weapons could also be carried. Sixteen rockets could be carried under the wings.
The Turtle was modified by Lockheed to achieve the maximum possible range. All armament was deleted, including the nose gun turret. Additional fuel tanks were installed in the bomb bay, rear fuselage and the outer wings. Wing tip fuel tanks were also added. These could be jettisoned when empty to reduce weight and aerodynamic drag. Most electronic and other unnecessary equipment, such as crew oxygen, were also removed. An additional lubricating oil tank for the engines was installed in the nose gear bay.
The standard configuration R-3350-8 engines were replaced with two Wright Cyclone 18 779C18BB2s (R-3350-14). The -14 had the same normal power rating as the -8, but its takeoff power had been decreased to 2,300 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. Its propeller gear reduction was 0.5625:1. The dimensions were the same, but the -14 weighed 65 pounds (29 kilograms) less.
Four Jet Assisted Take Off (JATO) rockets were added, with two on each side of the fuselage.
The flight began at Pearce Aerodrome, six miles inland from the Indian Ocean, north of Perth, Western Australia. Because of concerns that the landing gear might collapse with the extreme overloaded condition, The Turtle was only partially fueled when it taxied to Runway 27. Once there, the fueling was completed, bringing the Neptune’s all-up weight to 85,561 pounds (38,810 kilograms)—24,408 pounds (11,071 kilograms)—12 tons beyond its normal gross weight.
At 6:00 p.m., the two Cyclone 18 engines were started and warmed up. With Commander Davies flying in the left seat and Commander Rankin in the right, the engines were advanced to takeoff power while Davies stood on the brakes. With instruments reading normal, he released the brakes and The Turtle began its takeoff roll. The time was 6:11 p.m., local.
As indicated airspeed reached 87 knots (100 miles per hour/161 kilometers per hour) the four JATO rockets were fired. Reaching 115 knots (132 miles per hour/213 kilometers per hour) the nose wheel lifted off the runway followed a few seconds later by the main wheels. With just 5 feet (1.5 meters) altitude, the landing gear was retracted. By the time the JATOs burned out, the P2V-1 had climbed to 20 feet (6 meters) and reached 130 knots. (150 miles per hour/241 kilometers per hour) Once over the Indian Ocean the four JATO rockets were jettisoned.
This was the heaviest takeoff by a two-engine airplane up to that time.
The overweight airplane very slowly gained altitude as it crossed over Australia and then the Coral Sea. The planned route was a Great Circle Course over New Guinea and then the Solomon Islands.
With four pilots aboard, the crew rotated positions every two hours.
By dawn of the second day airborne, The Turtle crossed over the Hawaiian Islands chain at Maro Reef, between Midway and Oahu. Headwinds were pushing the patrol bomber southward of the intended course, but Commander Davies elected to allow the airplane to drift as correcting for it would have slowed their flight by turning more directly into the wind and would use more fuel. The planned route would have crossed the West Coast of the United States near Seattle, Washington, but the actual landfall was several hundred miles to the south, along the northern California coast.
The empty wing tip tanks were jettisoned before they crossed the shoreline just north of San Francisco at 9:16 p.m., 30 September.
As The Turtle flew across the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains, and the western United States, it encountered severe weather with turbulence, freezing rain, snow and ice. They passed Salt Lake City, Utah, at dawn of the third day. Weather conditions had improved.
The adverse weather had cost additional fuel and calculations indicated that the planned destination of Washington, D.C., was now beyond their range. Commander Davies decided that the flight would end at NAS Columbus, Ohio.
The Lockheed Neptune’s wheels touched down at 1:28 p.m, 1 October. The four Naval Aviator’s and their bomber had flown 18,081.99 kilometers (11,235.63 miles). This set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance in a Straight Line Without Landing.¹ The duration of the flight was 55 hours, 17 minutes.
Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal awarded each pilot the Distinguished Flying Cross.
P2V-1 Bu. No. 89082 was used as a test aircraft until it was retired in 1953 and put on display at NAS Norfolk, Virginia.
The last operational antisubmarine warfare flight by a Lockheed Neptune, an SP-2H, was flown 20 February 1970. The co-pilot on the mission was Rear Admiral Thomas D. Davies.
The Turtle, Lockheed P2V-1 Neptune Bu. No. 89082 is a part of the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. It is on loan to the National Naval Aviation Museum, NAS Pensacola, Florida.
Note on the name of the airplane: The Turtle was named after Operation Turtle, a joint U.S. Navy/Lockheed project to maximize the range and endurance of the P2V Neptune patrol bomber. The name with a cartoon of a turtle with a naval officer’s cap and a cape, smoking a pipe and pedaling to turn a propeller was painted on the airplane’s nose. U.S. Navy press releases called it “The Truculent Turtle” and newspapers picked up this nickname, by which the airplane is generally referred to. There is no evidence that the airplane’s crew ever described the airplane as “truculent”:
“. . . having a bad state of mind, or behaving in a threatening manner. . . .”
—Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary.
A more detailed account of the flight of The Turtle can be found at :
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.
24–25 August 1932: Amelia Earhart flew her Lockheed Model 5B Vega, NR7952, from Los Angeles, California, to Newark, New Jersey, a distance of 3,939.25 kilometers (2,447.74 miles), in 19 hours, 5 minutes. She had departed Los Angeles Municipal Airport (now known as LAX) at 7:26:54 p.m. Pacific Time, 24 August, and landed at Newark Municipal Airport at 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time the following day. This set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) women’s World Record for Distance in a Straight Line Without Landing.¹ Her average speed for the flight was 206.42 kilometers per hour (128.27 miles per hour).
Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly solo coast-to-coast. Less than a year later, she would break her own record by almost two hours.
Built by the Lockheed Aircraft Company, the Model 5 Vega was a single-engine high-wing monoplane. The fuselage was molded wood 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). Its empty weight is 1,650 pounds (748.4 kilograms) and gross weight is 4,375 pounds (1,985 kilograms).
Earhart’s modified Vega 5B is powered by an air-cooled, supercharged 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp C nine cylinder radial engine. The Wasp C was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level.² It 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). It drove a two-bladed Hamilton Standard controllable-pitch propeller through direct drive.
Just three months earlier, Earhart had flown solo across the Atlantic Ocean in this same airplane, which she called her “Little Red Bus.” Today, Lockheed Vega NR7952 is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.
¹ FAI Record File Number 12342
² The Pratt & Whitney Wasp C was also used by the U.S. Army and Navy, designated R-1340-7. In military service, it was rated at 450 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m. at Sea Level.