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WHO MADE the first non-stop transatlantic flight?
Not Lindbergh; his 1927 achievement was the first solo performance of this feat.
Not the Navy-Curtiss NC-4 and its May 1919 flight from Newfoundland to the Azores, and then on to Portugal and England (www.wp.me/p2ETap-Ol).
The first non-stop transatlantic flyers were pilot John Alcock and navigator Arthur Whitten Brown in a twin-engine Vickers Vimy.
Alcock and Brown flew their Vimy from the same starting point as the NC-4’s, St. John’s, Newfoundland, but flew directly to County Galway, Ireland. And they did it in June 14-15, 1919—less than a month after the NC-4’s flight.
Like Louis Bléroit’s first flight across the English Channel in 1909, the Alcock-Brown effort won a prize from London’s Daily Mail newspaper. See www.wp.me/p2ETap-M7 for details of Bléroit’s ₤1000-winning adventure. This time, Lord Northcliffe raised the ante to ₤10,000 ($50,000 in 1919, $665,500 in today’s dollars).
The Navy Curtiss trio of flying boats wouldn’t have qualified, as the Daily Mail specified “only one aircraft may be used for each attempt.” Ambiguously enough, there is a clause in the regulations concerning “Stoppages.” It reads “Any intermediate stoppages may only be made on the water.” In retrospect, just the thing for the NC-4, had it been a single-plane entry.
However, the Daily Mail also required a flight “from any point in the United States, Canada, or Newfoundland to any point in Great Britain or Ireland, in 72 consecutive hours.”
Like earlier endeavors, the Alcock-Brown flight had its share of high drama. A competing team was also at St. John’s, but a reluctance to leave before everything was plu-perfect put paid to its effort. While this Handley Page crew was still testing, Alcock and Brown took to the air in their Vimy and headed east. It was 1:45 p.m. on June 14, 1919.
This Vickers Vimy was a modified World War I biplane bomber powered by two Rolls-Royce 360-hp V-12 engines. The bomber normally had a range of 900 miles. For its transatlantic effort, the Alcock-Brown Vimy swapped bombs for fuel tanks and carried an overload of gasoline, 1039 gal. U.S.
For part of the journey, Brown’s navigation was hampered by a frozen airspeed indicator. Like other aviators in open cockpits, he made his own estimates of speed for dead reckoning. In fact, this idea of an aviator needing exposure to conditions fostered open cockpits long after they could have been outmoded.
After 15 hours 57 minutes and a distance of 1890 miles, the Vimy landed near Clifden in County Galway, Ireland, not far from the intended goal.
The landing was less than ideal, with a soft Irish bog mistaken for a smooth, firm field.
Alcock and Brown had flown the Atlantic non-stop and won the Daily Mail prize!
They earned an additional ₤1000 ($5000) for being the first British subjects to fly the Atlantic.
What’s more, the Ardath Tobacco Company added 2000 guineas (₤2100, $10,500) to their earnings.
Quite beyond the fame, there was evidently good money to be made in setting early aviation records. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013