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CAPTAIN HUGO SUNDSTEDT failed to cross the Atlantic in his Sunrise seaplane in 1919. But this sure wasn’t for the lack of trying. Today I’ll offer tidbits on Sundstedt; tomorrow, I’ll examine his Sunrise aircraft.
Hugo was born in poverty in the Swedish town of Öreboro, 125 miles west of Stockholm, on July 22, 1886. His family sold him to a shopkeeper as a working boy in 1892. Five years later, Hugo became a foster child of Olof Sundstedt, a merchant seaman.
In his teens, Hugo had a brief stint in the Swedish Navy, worked as a bookkeeper, sailed on a merchant ship and drove a taxicab in Stockholm. There, he met Baron Carl Gustav Cederström, pioneer aviator and holder of Certificate No. 1 from the Royal Swedish Aero Club, the world’s second oldest such organization after the Aéro-Club de France.
Sundstedt worked for Cederström in exchange for flying lessons. Hugo’s first flight was on June 1, 1912, in a Blériot XI bought for him by Öreboro businessmen. On June 21, Hugo set a Scandinavian record for altitude, at 1500 meters/4921 feet. He also made one of Sweden’s first aerial deliveries of newspapers.
In Sundstedt’s Royal Swedish Aero Club test, a woman was accidentally killed by walking into his craft’s propeller. Hugo was exonerated and awarded Royal Swedish Aero Club Certificate No. 9. He was the first Swedish-trained recipient; the previous eight, Cederström included, had all been taught to fly in France.
In July 1914, a month before the outbreak of World War I, Sundstedt was in Paris and met Anglo-French aviation pioneer Henri Farman. Again with contributed funds, Hugo bought a Farman biplane—and flew it home to Sweden.
His flight from Buc, France, 10 miles southeast of Paris, to Stockholm is a distance of 1180 miles. Hugo flew non-stop for 13 hours and 20 minutes.
During WWI, Sundstedt served with the Swedish Navy. Before mustering out in April 1916, he attained the rank of Captain and commanded a flying station at Karlskrona, about 280 miles southwest of Stockholm. While in the service, Hugo made at least eight flights, each of more than 1000 miles.
Sundstedt also became cognizant of German military data concerning the North Atlantic, in particular the existence, strength and direction of air currents now recognized as fringes of the jet stream. His studies identified air currents of 50 to 75 mph flowing from west to east at altitudes of around 10,000 ft. These flows traced a path somewhat north of traditional steamship lanes and would seem to provide an ideal encouragement for a west-to-east flight across the Atlantic.
Lord Northcliffe’s Daily Mail newspaper already had a history of sponsoring contests of aviation. Louis Blériot’s first flight of the English Channel earned him a £1000 Daily Mail prize in 1909. Louis Paulan won £10,000 in 1910 for his London-to-Manchester flight. Among the newspaper’s other 16 challenges set between 1907 and 1925 was a £10,000 prize for the first transatlantic flight, initially offered in 1913 with no winner, and again in 1918.
Sundstedt arrived in New York City on New Year’s Day 1917. Not long afterward he met Christoffer Hannevig, Jr., ship and shipyard owner, broker and banker, whose financial assets at the time may have been $3.4 billion in today’s dollars.
Hannevig had been something of a philanthropist in his native Norway. He financed a boathouse for Oslo’s Christiania Rowing Club, a fountain in the city’s Vigeland Sculpture Park and had plans for a combined business building/opera house. In 1917, Hannevig was high bidder in a British maritime auction of German industrialist Gustav Krupp’s yacht.
Though not himself an aviator, Hannevig was not averse to using his wealth to underwrite Sundstedt’s ambition to win the Daily Mail prize for the first transatlantic flight. Together, they approached the Wittemann-Lewis Aircraft Company in Teterboro, New Jersey, about fabricating a giant seaplane to Sundstedt’s specification.
With its top wing spanning 100 ft., the Sundstedt-Hannevig Sunrise seaplane was one of the largest aircraft of its era. In many ways, it was admirably suited to its intended mission of flying the Atlantic. Tomorrow, we’ll examine the Sunrise, why it never made the trip and how it came to be a GMax/Flight Simulator project. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016
I’m acquainted with one of Mr. Sunstedt’s family members who is interested in selling some of his possessions including personal letters, medals, diagrams etc. Do you have any interest or know how I might find an appreciative individual or market?
What an interesting effort. I am sorry SimanaitisSays has a relatively modest reach, albeit an international one. Perhaps you might write letters to aero magazines detailing this availability. For instance, a potential author would find the information useful.
Thank you for your prompt reply. I will do what you’ve suggested.