Just after World War I, most people thought it foolish to fly across the Atlantic. The weather was treacherous, you could only navigate if you could see the sun, moon and stars. It was impossible- but the newspapers offered cash prizes, the government offered glory and a lot of people were going to try.
The First Across the Atlantic
On May 16th 1919, three flying boats took off from Newfoundland and flew into the Atlantic night. There were 68 destroyers marking the way with searchlights at intervals of fifty miles along the entire route acting as stepping stones. With fog, heavy rain and high winds, all three craft got lost within minutes of take-off. Two landed in mid-ocean and were relatively immediately broken up by the ocean swell.
One of the craft, the NC4, followed all the ship stations until they arrived and landed at the Azores. They later continued their flight to Lisbon. The Atlantic had been flown in a time of 53 hours and 58 minutes—spread over 23 days.
Alcock and Brown
On June 5th, 1919, John Alcock, Authur Whiten Brown landed near Clifden, County Galway. They had become the first men to fly the Atlantic in one hop. A crowd had gathered in Newfoundland the day before expecting to see them kill themselves. Alcock flew on through the Atlantic mid-summer weather–fog, wind, hail, rain and snow–and just managed to pull out of a wild spin which left them pointing back to Newfoundland, but they had made it.
At sixty, he was determined not only to be the first woman across the Atlantic, but to do it the hard way, from east to west, against westerly winds. On August 31st, 1927, she and two experienced British airmen took off from England. Halfway across their lights were spotted in the night sky by an oil tanker and—like many of the early flights—they were never seen again.
First Irishman to fly the Atlantic
The first Irishman to cross the ocean, James Fitzmaurice, went with two Germans. They set off from Dublin on the 12th April 1928 intending to fly to New York. On the morning of April 13th they ran into Newfoundland fog banks and lost track of where they were. Worried about fuel, they suddenly saw a light. They circled and identified it as a lighthouse on a snow covered island. They tried a hazardous landing and the undercarriage collapsed, but everybody survived. This was the first successful east-west crossing against the prevailing winds and it took 36.5 hours.
Flying the purpose built “Spirit of St. Louis”, Lindbergh took no chances. He waited for the perfect weather forecast and a full moon; he had a good aircraft and his instruments were far better than those of earlier pilots. But he had no radio and no navigator. He landed in Paris on the 21st May 1927. “I saw the green hills of Ireland and I knew that I had hit Europe on the nose. Ireland is one of the four corners of the world.”