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The First Successful Transatlantic Flight By the US Navy's NC-4 Flying Boat

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The NC-4's transatlantic mission was the result of planning that began during World War I, when Allied shipping was threatened by submarine warfare. Designs were started for a fixed-wing aircraft capable of flying from the United States to Europe on its own power.

 

The planes were not finished and tested until after the war was over. The US Navy decided to try a demonstration of transatlantic flight nonetheless.

 

The NC-4 was the fourth of the Navy's initial series of four large Curtiss NC Flying Boats constructed for the Navy by the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company. The NC-4 made its first test flight on 30 April 1919

The_NC4_getting_ready_for_the_flight..jpg



The bended knee is not a tradition of our Corps. (General A. A. Vandegrift, USMC, 5 May 1946)

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The US Navy Transatlantic flying expedition began on May 8. The NC-4 was originally in the company of two other NC Flying Boats, the NC-1 and the NC-3 (NC-2 having been 'cannibalised' for spares to repair NC-1 before leaving New York). They left Naval Air Station Rockaway, New York

Starting_on_their_history_making_flight..jpg



The bended knee is not a tradition of our Corps. (General A. A. Vandegrift, USMC, 5 May 1946)

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They had intermediate stops in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Chatham, Massachusetts and Halifax, Nova Scotia before reaching Trepassey, Newfoundland on May 15, 1919. Eight US Navy ships were stationed along the eastern seaboard to help the flying boats to navigate and to assist them if required.

The_NC1_leaving_Rockaway_Naval_Air_Station..jpg



The bended knee is not a tradition of our Corps. (General A. A. Vandegrift, USMC, 5 May 1946)

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The three NC planes riding at anchor in Trepassey, Newfoundland.

The_three_NC_planes_riding_at_anchor_in_Trepassey__Newfoundland..jpg



The bended knee is not a tradition of our Corps. (General A. A. Vandegrift, USMC, 5 May 1946)

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On May 16 they left for the longest leg of their journey, to the Azores, with a further twenty-two US Navy warships stationed at 50 mile (80 km) intervals along the route.

The_NC4_off_for_the_Azores..jpg



The bended knee is not a tradition of our Corps. (General A. A. Vandegrift, USMC, 5 May 1946)

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These 'station' ships were brightly illuminated, had their searchlights on and fired flares to help the crews to keep to the intended route.

The_crippled_NC3_taxiing_into_the_Ponta_Delgada..jpg



The bended knee is not a tradition of our Corps. (General A. A. Vandegrift, USMC, 5 May 1946)

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The NC-4 reached Horta in the Azores on the following afternoon, 1,200 miles (1,920 km) and 15 hours 18 minutes later, having encountered thick fogbanks along the route; the NC-1 and the NC-3 were both forced to land at sea due to rough weather; the crew of the NC-1 was rescued by the Greek freighter Ionia, the NC-1 sinking three days later.

The_NC4_arriving_at_Ponta_Delgada..jpg



The bended knee is not a tradition of our Corps. (General A. A. Vandegrift, USMC, 5 May 1946)

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The crew of the NC-3 managed to sail their flying-boat to the Azores, where it was taken in tow by a US Navy warship

The_NC4_arriving_at_anchor_in_the_Azores..jpg



The bended knee is not a tradition of our Corps. (General A. A. Vandegrift, USMC, 5 May 1946)

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Three days later, on May 20, NC-4 took off for Lisbon, Portugal, but was forced to land at Ponta Delgada (Azores), covering only 150 miles (240 km). After delays for repairs, the NC-4 took off again on May 27, again aided by station ships of the US Navy ships between the Azores and Lisbon

The_NC4_taking_on_oil_at_Lisbon_for_final_flight_to_England..jpg



The bended knee is not a tradition of our Corps. (General A. A. Vandegrift, USMC, 5 May 1946)

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Landing in Lisbon 9 hours and 43 minutes later, becoming the first fixed-wing aircraft to cross the ocean under its own power. 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.

The_NC4_with_the_Shawmutt_in_Lisbon_harbor..jpg



The bended knee is not a tradition of our Corps. (General A. A. Vandegrift, USMC, 5 May 1946)

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The NC-4 later flew on to England, arriving in Plymouth on [May 31 to great fanfare, having taken 23 days for the flight from Newfoundland to Great Britain. For the final legs (from Lisbon to Ferrol and from Ferrol to Plymouth, a further 10 US Navy warship were stationed along the route, out of a total of 53 warships stationed along the whole route from New York to Plymouth.

 

The route taken by the US Navy operation is included in the map of the North Atlantic, published by Flight Magazine on May 29, 1919, while the NC-4 was still in Portuguese waters.

 

This feat was eclipsed shortly afterwards by the first non-stop Transatlantic flight by Alcock and Brown in a Vickers Vimy, when they flew from Newfoundland to Ireland on June 14/15, 1919 in 16 hours and 27 minutes, thereby winning the Daily Mail prize of £10,000, which had been announced in 1913, and renewed in 1918, to "the aviator who shall first cross the Atlantic in an aeroplane in flight from any point in the United States, Canada, or Newfoundland to any point in Great Britain or Ireland, in 72 consecutive hours". The conditions also stipulated that "only one aircraft may be used for each attempt."

Arrival_at_Plymouth_England_if_the_NC4..jpg



The bended knee is not a tradition of our Corps. (General A. A. Vandegrift, USMC, 5 May 1946)

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The crew of the NC-4 was Albert Cushing Read, commander/navigator; Walter Hinton and Elmer Fowler Stone, pilots; James L. Breese and Eugene T "Smokey" Rhoads, flight engineers; and Herbert C Rodd, radio operator. Initially E.H. Howard was to go as a flight engineer, but Howard lost a hand in a propeller accident at the start of the mission, and was replaced by Rhoads.

Congratulating_the_crew_of_the_NC4_on_arrival_in_England..jpg



The bended knee is not a tradition of our Corps. (General A. A. Vandegrift, USMC, 5 May 1946)

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Crew of the NC-4, first aircraft to fly across the Atlantic. Left to right: Read, Stone, Hinton, Rodd, Howard, Breese.

 

NC4Crew.jpg

 

The NC-4 Medal was presented to six United States Navy members, and one Coast Guard officer, for flight duties performed in May 1919 while crossing the Atlantic in airplanes of the NC-4 Flying Boat Squadron. The medal was issued as a one time decoration and was never reactivated or awarded again. Thus, the only Navy recipients of the medal were the following personnel:

 

Commander John H. Towers

Lieutenant Commander Albert C. Read

Lieutenant Walter Hinton

Lieutenant James L. Breese

Ensign Herbert C. Rodd

Chief Machinist's Mate Eugene T. Rhoads (not Eugene S. Rhodes; this is a common misspelling. The "T" is for Taylor, and Rhoads' name was even misspelled on the medal!)

The only Coast Guard recipient of the NC-4 Medal was Lieutenant Elmer Stone.

 

The NC-4 Medal appeared as a gold medallion, suspended from a multi-colored ribbon. Upon the medallion was the image of a seagull, flying above ocean waves, with the words “FIRST TRANSATLANTIC FLIGHT UNITED STATES NAVY MAY 1919” inscribed along the outer edges of the medal. Due to the rarity of the NC-4 Medal, there are no known photographs of the full sized medal being worn on a military uniform. One original NC-4 Medal is maintained by the Navy Historical Center at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.. The ribbon for the NC-4 medal was approved for everyday wear on military uniforms and photographic evidence gives indication that the NC-4 medal recipients did display this ribbon while still serving in active military status. There are also some surviving NC-4 ribbons still in existence today, mainly found with the families of the original recipients.

 

After the creation of the NC-4 Medal, the decoration was approved as an official award of the United States Navy. Following the various retirements, deaths, and release from military service of the original recipients, the NC-4 Medal became regarded as a commemorative medal. In the modern United States Navy, the NC-4 Medal is considered obsolete and does not appear on any military award precedence charts.



The bended knee is not a tradition of our Corps. (General A. A. Vandegrift, USMC, 5 May 1946)

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Another great historical post, Darrell! :thumbsup: We need to not forget the trials and tribulations of the early birdmen! Thanks......Bob


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"I have only two men out of my company and 20 out of some other company. We need support, but it is almost suicide to try to get it here as we are swept by machine gun fire and constant barrage is on us. I have no one on my left and only a few on my right. I will hold." (Message sent by 1st Lt. Clifton B. Cates. USMC, 96th Co., Soissons, 19 July 1918 - later 19th Commandant of the Marine Corps 1948-1952)

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Footnote:

In summer 1969, the restored NC-4 was put on display (outside) on the National Mall in Washington DC to commemerate the 50th anniversary of the Atlantic crossing.

From personal experience, this was a glorious sight to see; the sunlight on the yellow wings and blue fuselage made for an amazing display. It also made you realize just how BIG this airplane actually is!

(It is now kept indoors of course)

Thanks for the memories; great photo series.

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For those who want to learn in detail about this flight:

 

The Triumph of the NC´s

Westervelt/Read/Richardson

http://www.archive.org/details/triumphofncs00westrich

 

Flight Across the Atlantic

Curtiss

http://www.archive.org/details/flightacrossatla00curtrich

 

The First Flight Across the Atlantic

Commdr. Ted Wilbur

http://www.history.navy.mil/branches/nc-4mono.htm

 

Photo details about the NC-4

http://rides.webshots.com/album/556397585VeFJuo

 

Quoting Lindberg about this flight:

« I had a better chance of reaching Europe on board of The Spirit of St. Louis than the NC´s boats had of reaching the Azores. I had a more reliable type of engine, improved instruments and a Continent instead of an island for a target. It was skill, determination and a hard-working crew that carried the NC-4 to the completion of the first trans-Atlantic flight».


Regards

 

Antonio Godinho

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Thanks for posting these links Antonio!



The bended knee is not a tradition of our Corps. (General A. A. Vandegrift, USMC, 5 May 1946)

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just to share a link with some motion pitcures about the arrival at Ponta Delgada of the NC-4 (arrival from Horta, and the departure to Lisbon)

On the right side of the site you have some other movies about the NC-4 and NC-3.

 

Motion pictures about the NC-4


Regards

 

Antonio Godinho

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This is a great thread on the NC-4 Mission, and would like to share the following thread on some original relics from one of the NC-4 Crewman.

 

http://www.usmilitariaforum.com/forums/index.php?/topic/220489-stunning-original-nc-4-relics-from-one-of-the-original-crew-members/

 

Regards, Rich


Rich Witt

www.WittWorldWide.com

 

We are currently working on Updating and Improving the Web Site, so please be patient, and I appreciate all the visits... In the short term this may effect our USMF Images as well. RW

 

Collecting and Dealing in Quality Original Militaria, Specializing in Named/Attributed/ID'd Medals and Groups, with an emphasis on research.

"Putting the Face to the Name". We Appreciate the Service and Sacrifice, and Preserve the History...

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