Transatlantic flight

Transatlantic flight

Transatlantic flight is the flight of an aircraft, whether fixed-wing aircraft, balloon or other device, which involves crossing the Atlantic Ocean — with a starting point in North America or South America and ending in Europe or Africa, or vice versa.


Problems that faced early aviation included the unreliability of early engines, limited range (which prevented them from flying continuously for the periods of time required to completely cross the Atlantic), the difficulty of navigating over featureless expanses of water for thousands of miles, and the unpredictable and often violent weather of the North Atlantic. Today, however, commercial transatlantic flight is routine. Experimental flight (in balloons, small aircraft, etc.) still presents a challenge.

Commercial transatlantic flight

Unlike over land, transatlantic flights use standardized aircraft routes called North Atlantic Tracks (NATs). These change daily in position (although altitudes are standardised) to compensate for weather—particularly the jet stream tailwinds and headwinds, which may be substantial at cruising altitudes and have a strong influence on trip duration and fuel economy. Eastbound flights generally operate during nighttime hours, while westbound flights generally operate during daytime hours, for passenger convenience. Restrictions on how far aircraft may be from an airport also play a part in determining transatlantic routes; in general, the greater the number of engines an aircraft has, the greater the distance it is allowed to be from the nearest airport (since a single engine failure in a four-engine aircraft is less crippling than a single engine failure in a twin). Modern aircraft with two engines flying transatlantic have to be ETOPS certified.

Gaps in air traffic control and radar coverage over large stretches of the Earth's oceans, as well as an absence of most types of radio navigation aids, impose a requirement for a high level of autonomy in navigation upon transatlantic flights. Aircraft must include reliable systems that can determine the aircraft's course and position with great accuracy over long distances. In addition to the traditional compass, inertials and satellite navigation systems such as GPS all have their place in transatlantic navigation. Land-based systems such as VOR and DME, however, are mostly useless for ocean crossings.

The North Atlantic presented challenges for aviators due to weather and the huge distances involved coupled with the lack of stopping points. Initial transatlantic services, therefore, focused more on the South Atlantic, where a number of French, German, and Italian airlines offered seaplane service for mail between South America and West Africa in the 1930s. From February 1934 to August 1939 "Deutsche Lufthansa" operated a regular airmail service between Natal, Brazil, and Bathurst, The Gambia, continuing "via" the Canary Islands and Spain to Stuttgart, Germany. [cite book |last=Graue |first=James W |coauthors=John Duggan |title=Deutsche Lufthansa South Atlantic Airmail Service 1934 - 1939 |origyear=2000 |publisher=Zeppelin Study Group |isbn= 0951411454] From December 1935, "Air France" opened a regular weekly airmail route between South America and Africa. German airlines, such as "Deutsche Lufthansa", experimented with mail routes over the North Atlantic in the early 1930s, both with seaplanes and dirigibles, but these were not regular scheduled services and never led to commercial operations. There were, however, hundreds of commercial transatlantic crossings with passengers made by German airships during the late 1920s and 1930s, including the "Graf Zeppelin" and "Hindenburg".

As technology progressed, Pan American World Airways of the United States, Imperial Airways of Britain, and "Aéropostale" of France, began to use flying boats to connect the Americas to Europe "via" Bermuda and the Azores during the 1930s. On 26 March 1939, Pan American made its first trial transatlantic flight from Baltimore, Maryland to Foynes, Ireland using a Boeing 314 (named "Yankee Clipper" by PanAm) with a scheduled flight time of about 29 hours. After World War II, American and European carriers such as Pan Am, TWA, Trans Canada Airlines (TCA), BOAC, and Air France acquired larger piston aircraft, which allowed service over the North Atlantic with intermediate stops (usually in Gander International Airport, Newfoundland and/or Shannon, Ireland). Jet service began in the late 1950s, and supersonic service (Concorde) was offered from 1976 to 2003. Since the loosening of regulations in the 1970s and 1980s, a large number of airlines now compete in the transatlantic market, though restrictions on certain airports still remain (see "Bermuda II").

Early notable transatlantic flights

; First transatlantic flight: May 8 - May 31, 1919. U.S. Navy Curtiss flying boat NC-4 under command of Albert Read, 4,526 statute miles (7,284 km), from Rockaway, New York, to Plymouth, England, "via" Trepassey, Newfoundland, Azores, Lisbon, Portugal, and other intermediate stops, in 53 hours, 58 minutes. Flown on the aircraft named "Lame Duck."

; First non-stop transatlantic flight: June 14 - June 15 1919. Capt. John Alcock and Lieut. Arthur Whitten Brown of the United Kingdom in Vickers Vimy bomber, between islands, 1,960 nautical miles (3,630 km), from St. John's, Newfoundland (then an independent dominion, not yet part of Canada), to Clifden, Ireland (then still part of the United Kingdom), in 16 hours 12 minutes.; First east-to-west transatlantic flight: July 1919. Major George Herbert Scott of the Royal Air Force with his crew and passengers flies from [ East Fortune] , Scotland to Mineola, Long Island in airship "R34", covering a distance of about 3,000 statute miles (4,800 km) in about four and a half days; he then made a return trip to England.; First flight across the South Atlantic: March 30 - June 17, 1922. Lieutenant Commander Sacadura Cabral (pilot) and Cdr. Gago Coutinho (navigator) of Portugal, using three Fairey IIID floatplanes ("Lusitania", "Portugal", and "Santa Cruz"), after two ditchings, with only internal means of navigation (the Coutinho-invented sextant with artificial horizon) from Lisbon, Portugal, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. [] ; First non-stop aircraft flight between European and American mainlands: [cite book |last=Althoff |first=William F. |title=USS Los Angeles: the Navy's venerable airship and aviation technology |origyear=2003 |publisher=Brassey's Inc. |location=Dulles, Virginia |isbn=1-57488-620-7 ] October 1924. The Zeppelin "ZR-3" (LZ-126), from Germany to New Jersey with a crew commanded by Dr. Hugo Eckener, covering a distance of about 4,000 statute miles (6,400 km).; Notable failed attempt: May 8 - May 9, 1927. Charles Nungesser and François Coli attempted to cross the Atlantic from Paris to the USA in a Levasseur PL-8 biplane (named "The White Bird", "L'Oiseau Blanc"), but were lost. According to some witnesses, they might have crashed in Maine, USA.; First solo transatlantic flight and first non-stop fixed-wing aircraft flight between America and mainland Europe: May 20 - May 21, 1927. Charles A. Lindbergh flies Ryan monoplane (named "Spirit of St. Louis"), 3,600 nautical miles (6,667 km), from Long Island to Paris, in 33 1/2 hours. The flight was timed by the Longines watch company.; First transatlantic air passenger: June 4 - June 5, 1927. The first transatlantic air passenger was Charles A. Levine. He was carried as a passenger by Clarence D. Chamberlin from Roosevelt Field, New York, to Eisleben, Germany, in a Wright-powered Bellanca.; First non-stop air crossing of the South Atlantic: October 14 - October 15 1927 - Dieudonne Costes and Joseph le Brix, flying a Breguet 19 from Senegal to Brazil.; First non-stop fixed-wing aircraft westbound flight over the North Atlantic: April 12 - April 13, 1928. Gunther von Huenfeld and Capt. Hermann Koehl of Germany and Comdr. James Fitzmaurice of Ireland fly a Junkers W33b monoplane (named "Bremen"), 2,070 statute miles (3,331 km), from Ireland to Labrador, in 36 1/2 hours [cite book |last=Wagner |first=Wolfgang |title=Hugo Junkers: Pionier der Luftfahrt |origyear=1996 |series=Die deutsche Luftfahrt |publisher=Bernard & Graefe Verlag |location=Bonn |language=German |isbn=3-7637-6112-8 ] .; First woman to fly as a passenger: June 17 - June 18 1928. Amelia Earhart in Fokker F.VII trimotor "Friendship".; Notable flight (around the world): August 1-August 8, 1929. Dr Hugo Eckener piloted the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin across the Atlantic three times: 4391 miles east to west in 4 days from August 1; return 4391 miles west to east in 2 days from August 8; after completing the circumnavigation to Lakehurst a final 4391 miles west to east landing 4 September, making three crossings in 34 days. [ [ Round the World Flights] ] ; First nonstop east-to-west fixed-wing aircraft flight between European and American mainlands: September 1 - September 2, 1930. Dieudonne Costes and Maurice Bellonte fly a Breguet 19 Super Bidon biplane (named "Point d'Interrogation", Question Mark), 6,200 km from Paris to New York City.; Notable flight (around the world): June 23-July 1, 1931. Wiley Post (pilot) and Harold Gatty (navigator) in a Lockheed Vega monoplane (named "Winnie Mae"), 15,477 nm (28,663 km) from Long Island in 8 days 15 hours 51 minutes, with 14 stops, total flying time 107 hours 2 minutes.; First Transatlantic Solo Flight by a Woman: May 20 - May 21, 1932. Amelia Earhart in Lockheed Vega, 2,026 nautical miles (3,752 km), from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, to Derry, Northern Ireland, in 15 hours 18 minutes.; First solo westbound crossing of the Atlantic: August 18 - August 19 1932. Jim Mollison, flying a de Havilland Puss Moth from Dublin to New Brunswick; Smallest plane that crossed the Atlantic: May 7 - May 8, 1933. Stanisław Skarżyński makes a solo flight across the South Atlantic, covering 3,582 km (2,226 statute miles), in a RWD-5"bis" - empty weight below 450 kg (990 lb).; Mass flight: mass transatlantic flight: July 1 - July 15 1933. Gen. Italo Balbo of Italy leads 24 Savoia-Marchetti seaplanes 6,100 statute miles (9,817 km), from Orbetello, Italy, to Chicago, Ill., in 47 hours 52 minutes.; First around the world solo flight: July 15 - July 22 1933. Wiley Post flies Lockheed Vega monoplane "Winnie Mae" 15,596 statute miles (25,099 km) in 7 days 8 hours 49 minutes, with 11 stops; flying time, 115 hours 36 minutes.; First jet aircraft to cross the Atlantic Ocean: July 14 1948, six de Havilland Vampire F3s of No 54 Squadron RAF, commanded by Wing Commander D S Wilson-MacDonald, DSO, DFC, "via" Stornoway, Iceland, and Labrador to Montreal on the first leg of a goodwill tour of Canada and the US.; First jet aircraft to make a non-stop transatlantic flight: February 21 1951. An RAF Canberra B Mk 2 (serial number "WD932") flown by Squadron Leader A Callard, from Aldergrove, Northern Ireland, to Gander, Newfoundland. The flight covered almost 1,800 miles in 4h 37 m. The aircraft was being flown to the U.S. to act as a pattern aircraft for the Martin B-57.

Other early transatlantic flights

* June 4 - June 5 1927. Clarence Duncan Chamberlin and Charles Albert Levine in Bellanca monoplane make first nonstop New York-Germany flight, 3,911 statute miles (6,294 km), in 43 hours, 49 minutes, 33 seconds.
* June 29 - July 1 1927 - Admiral Richard Byrd with crew flies Fokker F.VIIa/3m "America" from New York City to France.
* July 13 1928 - Ludwik Idzikowski and Kazimierz Kubala attempt to crossing the Atlantic westbound from Paris to the USA in Amiot 123 biplane, but crash in the Azores.
*February 6 - February 9 1933. Jim Mollison flies a Puss Moth from Senegal to Brazil, across South Atlantic, becoming the first person to fly solo across the North and South Atlantics.
* July 15 - July 17 1933 - Lithuanians Steponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas were supposed to make a non-stop flight from New York City "via" Newfoundland to Kaunas on their plane named "Lituanica", but crashed in the forests of Germany after 6411 km of flying, only 650 km short of their final destination. Flying time 37 hours, 11 minutes. They carried the first transatlantic airmail consignment.
* July 5 1937 - Captain Harold Gray of Pan Am flew from Botwood, Newfoundland to Foynes, Ireland in a Sikorsky 42 flying boat as part of the first transatlantic commercial passenger test flights. Captain Arthur Wilcockson of Imperial Airways flew from Foynes to Botwood July 6 1937 in a Short Empire class flying boat named "Caledonia"
* August 10 1938 - first non-stop flight from Berlin to New York. The Focke-Wulf Fw 200 needed 24 hours, 56 minutes and did the return flight three days later in 19 hours, 47 minutes.


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