This Month in Aviation History – Curtiss Flying Boats

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: -OR-