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This Month in Aviation History (May)

On May 8, 1919 Three Navy--Curtiss flying boats set out to fly the same ocean. Just one made it across.On May 8, 1919 Three Navy--Curtiss flying boats set out to fly the same ocean. Just one made it across. When it splashed down in Lisbon harbor May 27th, 1919, NC-4 became the first aircraft to cross the Atlantic -- albeit in hops.

The Aircraft:
Biplanes with a box-kite tail, open cockpit and a fuselage/hull shaped like a Dutch wooden shoe. The planes carried a five-man crew under a 126ft upper-span. Power from four 400 horsepower engines (3 tractor, 1 pusher) managed to push the aircraft to a maximum speed of about 85kts.

The Plan:
Three aircraft NC-1, NC-3 and NC-4 would stay in formation and navigate, in part, by following warships stationed along the route. On reliability … NC-2 was cannibalized for spares.

Challenged by weather, unsure of their position and short on fuel both NC-1 and NC-3 were forced to put down at sea. NC-1 hit a wave and broke apart. A Greek freighter rescued the crew five hours later. NC-3 fared better and was taxied by her crew across 200-miles of ocean to safe harbor.

NC-4, which had outpaced the rest, climbed precariously through fog and found the island of Flores in the western Azores. Soon, the crew picked up destroyer #22 and put down at the island of Horta. Ten days later, May 27th 1919, NC-4 set down at Lisbon, Portugal. 'We are safely across the pond,' proclaimed LCdr Albert C. Read. 'The job is finished.'

Charles Lindbergh would later say of the journey: “I had a better chance of reaching Europe in the Spirit of St. Louis than the NC boats…” “I had a more reliable type of engine, improved instruments and a continent instead of an island for a target.” Lindbergh flew the Atlantic (nonstop and alone) eight years after NC-4 made the historic flight … his flight too, was in May. This May, the FAA expects more than 300 passenger-carrying jets to cross the Atlantic -- that's U.S. carriers, alone.

For more information on NC-4 and the historic events of May 1919 visit:
www.history.navy.mil/ -OR- www.history.navy.mil/branches/nc-4mono.htm

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About This Author:
Mark Roberts started flying in late '98 and earned a private pilot certificate in December '99. He has accumulated some 225 hours in old favorites like the C-172, 182, the Piper Archer -- and even has some Citabria and DA20 Katana time. Mark is a former staff reporter for National Public Radio and currently works as a freelancer in both radio and print.
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