Transatlantic flight is the
flight of an aircraft, whether fixed-wing aircraft, balloon or other device, which involves crossing the
Ocean — with a starting point in North America or South America and ending in Europe or Africa, or vice
Transatlantic flights are sometimes
over two hours flying from land.
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
Lufthansa operated a regular airmail service between
Brazil, and Bathurst, The
Gambia, continuing via the Canary Islands and Spain to Stuttgart, Germany.
From December 1935, Air France
opened a regular weekly airmail
route between South America and Africa. German airlines, such as
, 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
technology progressed, Pan
American World Airways of the United States, Imperial Airways
of Britain, and
France, began to use flying
boats to connect the Americas to Europe via Bermuda 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 Baltimore, Maryland to Foynes, Ireland
using a Boeing 314 (named Yankee Clipper by PanAm) with a
scheduled flight time of about 29 hours.
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 Airport, Newfoundland and/or Shannon, Ireland).
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.
Unlike over land, transatlantic flights use standardized aircraft
routes called North Atlantic
(NATs). These change daily in position (although
altitudes are standardised) to compensate for weather—particularly
the jet stream tailwinds
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
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
and satellite navigation
systems such as GPS
have their place in transatlantic navigation. Land-based systems
such as VOR
, 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 City in a dirigible, the ‘America’. A storm off Cape Cod 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
, to Plymouth (England),
via inter alia Trepassey (Newfoundland), Horta and Ponta Delgada (both Azores) and Lisbon (Portugal) 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 Pearl (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
- 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, to Clifden, Ireland, in 16 hours 12 minutes.
- First east-to-west transatlantic flight: July 1919.
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, thus also completing the
first double crossing of the Atlantic
- 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: October 1924.
(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).
- 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 Genoa, in
Italy, to Santo
Amaro , making stops in Spain, Gibraltar, Cabo
Verde and Fernando de Noronha, in the Brazilian territory.
- Notable failed attempt (3): 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, 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 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.
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
- 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
- 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 Dublin to New Brunswick
- 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. .
- 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 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 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
- 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, MA on May 28, 1944 and flew approximately 16 hours to
Station Argentia, Newfoundland. From Argentia, the
blimps flew approximately 22 hours to Lagens Field on Terceira Island in the Azores.
leg of the first transatlantic crossing was about a 20-hour flight
from the Azores to Craw Field in Port Lyautey (Kenitra), French Morocco.
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
- First jet aircraft to make a non-stop transatlantic flight:
February 21 1951.
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
Other early transatlantic flights
- June 29 - July 1
1927 - Admiral Richard Byrd with crew flies Fokker F.VIIa/3m America from New York City to
- 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
- 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
York. The Focke-Wulf
Fw 200 needed 24 hours, 56 minutes and did the return flight
three days later in 19 hours, 47 minutes.
- The Times, 18 October 1910, p 6; New York Times, 18 October
1910, p 1; Daily News (London), 19 October 1910, p 1
- Round the World Flights
- bomberguy 2008
07:05 to 08:14
- bomberguy 2008
- Kline, R. C. and Kubarych, S. J., Blimpron 14 Overseas, 1944,
Naval Historical Center, Navy Yard, Washington, D. C.