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.
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.
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.