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Transatlantic flights are sometimes over two hours flying from land.
Transatlantic flight is the flight of an aircraft, whether fixed-wing aircraft, balloon or other device, which involves crossing the Atlantic Oceanmarker — 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.


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 Lufthansamarker operated a regular airmail service between Natal, Brazilmarker, and Bathurst, The Gambiamarker, continuing via the Canary Islandsmarker and Spainmarker to Stuttgart, Germanymarker. 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 Statesmarker, Imperial Airways of Britainmarker, and Aéropostale of Francemarker, began to use flying boats to connect the Americas to Europe via Bermudamarker and the Azores during the 1930s. A main reason for using flying boats was the lack of runways long enough to allow large airplanes to take off and land. On 26 March 1939, Pan American made its first trial transatlantic flight from Baltimoremarker, Maryland to Foynesmarker, Ireland using a Boeing 314 (named Yankee Clipper by PanAm) with a scheduled flight time of about 29 hours.

After World War II long runways were available, and 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 Airportmarker, Newfoundlandmarker and/or Shannonmarker, Irelandmarker). 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.

Transatlantic Routes

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, inertial 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.

Early notable transatlantic flights

Notable failed attempt (1): In October 1910, the American journalist, Walter Wellman, who had in 1909 attempted to reach the North Pole by balloon, set out for Europe from Atlantic Citymarker in a dirigible, the ‘America’. A storm off Cape Codmarker sent him off course, and then engine failure forced him to ditch half way between New York and Bermuda. Wellman, his crew of five – and the balloon’s cat – were rescued by a passing British ship, the RMS Trent. The Atlantic bid failed, but the distance covered, about one thousand miles, was at the time a record for a dirigible.

US Navy warships "strung out like a string of pearls" along the NC's flightpath (3rd leg)
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 marker, to Plymouthmarker (Englandmarker), via inter alia Trepasseymarker (Newfoundlandmarker), Horta and Ponta Delgadamarker (both Azores) and Lisbonmarker (Portugalmarker) in 53 hours, 58 minutes spread over 23 days. The crossing from Newfoundland to the European mainland had taken 10 days and 22 hours, with the total flying time being 26 hours and 46 minutes.

Notable failed attempt (2): On 18 May 1919, the Australian Harry Hawker, together with navigator Kenneth Mackenzie Grieve, attempted to become the first to achieve a non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean. They set off from Mount Pearlmarker (Newfoundland) in a Sopwith Atlantic biplane named Atlantic. After fourteen and a half hours of flight the engine overheated and they were forced to divert towards the shipping lanes: they found a passing freighter, the Danish Mary, established contact and crash-landed ahead of her. The Mary's radio was out of order, so that it wasn't until six days later when the boat reached Scotland that word was received that they were safe. The wheels from the undercarriage, jettisoned soon after takeoff were later recovered by local fishermen and can be seen in the Newfoundland Museum in St John'smarker.

First non-stop transatlantic flight: June 14 - June 15 1919. Capt. John Alcock and Lieut. Arthur Whitten Brown of the United Kingdommarker in Vickers Vimy bomber, between islands, 1,960 nautical miles (3,630 km), from St. John'smarker, Newfoundland, to Clifdenmarker, Irelandmarker, 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, Scotlandmarker to Mineola, Long Islandmarker 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, thus also completing the first double crossing of the Atlantic (east-west-east).
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. [69161]
First non-stop aircraft flight between European and American mainlands: October 1924. The Zeppelin ZR-3 (LZ-126), from Germanymarker to New Jerseymarker with a crew commanded by Dr. Hugo Eckener, covering a distance of about 4,000 statute miles (6,400 km).
First flight across the South Atlantic made by a Non-European crew: April 28, 1927. Brazilian João Ribeiro de Barros with the assistance of João Negrão (co-pilot), Newton Braga (navigator) and Vasco Cinquini (mechanic) crossed the Atlantic in the hydroplane Jahú. The four aviators departed from Genoamarker, in Italymarker, to Santo Amaro , making stops in Spainmarker, Gibraltarmarker, Cabo Verdemarker and Fernando de Noronhamarker, in the Brazilian territory.

Notable failed attempt (3): May 8 - May 9, 1927. Charles Nungesser and François Coli attempted to cross the Atlantic from Parismarker to the USAmarker 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 Mainemarker, USA, but without wreckage or other evidence, it must be assumed they crashed into the sea.
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 Islandmarker 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 Eislebenmarker, 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 Senegalmarker to Brazilmarker.
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 Germanymarker and Comdr. James Fitzmaurice of Irelandmarker fly a Junkers W33b monoplane (named Bremen), 2,070 statute miles (3,331 km), from Ireland to Labrador, in 36 1/2 hours.
First Crossing of the Atlantic by a Woman: June 17 - June 18 1928 - Amelia Earhart. The aircraft was piloted by Wilmer Stultz and since most of the flight was on instruments for which Earhart had no training, she did not pilot the aircraft. Interviewed after landing, she said, "Stultz did all the flying—had to. I was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes. Maybe someday I'll try it alone."
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.
First scheduled transatlantic passenger flights: From 1931 onwards the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin operated the world's first scheduled transatlantic passenger flights, mainly between Germany and Brazil (64 such round trips overall) sometimes stopping in Spain, Miami,Bomberguy. Graf Zeppelin Bomberguy Aviation History, selected clips. Retrieved: 2009-06-07 London, and Berlin.
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 Solo Crossing of the Atlantic by a Woman: May 20 1932 - Amelia Earhart. Earhart set off from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland intending to fly to Paris in her single engine Lockheed Vega 5b to emulate Charles Lindbergh's solo flight. After a flight lasting 14 hours, 56 minutes, Earhart landed in a pasture at Culmore, north of Derry, Northern Ireland.
First solo westbound crossing of the Atlantic: August 18 - August 19 1932. Jim Mollison, flying a de Havilland Puss Moth from Dublinmarker to New Brunswickmarker
Lightest (empty weight) 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-5bis - empty weight below 450 kg (990 lb). If considering the total take off weight (as per FAI records) then there is a longer distance Atlantic crossing: the distance world record holder, Piper PA-24 Comanche in this class, 1000-1750 kg. [69162].
Mass flight: mass transatlantic flight: July 1 - July 15 1933. Gen. Italo Balbo of Italy leads 24 Savoia-Marchetti S.55X seaplanes 6,100 statute miles (9,817 km), from Orbetellomarker, Italy, to Chicagomarker, 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 fixed-wing aircraft transatlantic passenger service: Pan American finally inaugurated the world's first fixed-wing aircraft transatlantic passenger service on June 28, 1939, between New York and Marseilles, France, and on July 8 between New York and Southampton
First transatlantic flight of non-rigid airships: On June 1, 1944, two K class blimps from Blimp Squadron ZP-14 of the United States Navy (USN) completed the first transatlantic crossing by non-rigid airships. The two K-ships (K-123 and K-130) left South Weymouth, MAmarker on May 28, 1944 and flew approximately 16 hours to Naval Station Argentiamarker, Newfoundland. From Argentia, the blimps flew approximately 22 hours to Lagens Fieldmarker on Terceira Island in the Azores. The final leg of the first transatlantic crossing was about a 20-hour flight from the Azores to Craw Fieldmarker in Port Lyautey (Kenitramarker), French Moroccomarker.

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 Stornowaymarker, Icelandmarker, and Labrador to Montrealmarker 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 Gandermarker, 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


  1. The Times, 18 October 1910, p 6; New York Times, 18 October 1910, p 1; Daily News (London), 19 October 1910, p 1
  2. Round the World Flights
  3. bomberguy 2008 07:05 to 08:14
  4. bomberguy 2008 09:30
  6. Kline, R. C. and Kubarych, S. J., Blimpron 14 Overseas, 1944, Naval Historical Center, Navy Yard, Washington, D. C.

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