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For other uses, see NC 4 (disambiguation).
NC-4 (Curtiss NC)
Role Flying boat
Manufacturer Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company.
Designed by Glenn Curtiss
First flight April 30, 1919
Primary user US Navy
Number built 7
Unit cost US$100,000[1]

The NC-4 was a Curtiss NC flying boat, designed by Glenn Curtiss and manufactured by Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company. In May 1919 the NC-4 became the first aircraft to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, making the crossing as far as Lisbon in 19 days, with multiple stops along the way.

The accomplishment was largely eclipsed in public memory by the first non-stop trans-Atlantic flight, lasting 15 h 57 min, made by British pilots Alcock and Whitten-Brown two weeks later.



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.[2]

The NC-4 after her return to the U.S., 1919.

The Transatlantic flight

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,[3] with intermediate stops in Chatham Naval Air Station 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.

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.[1] These 'station' ships were brightly illuminated, had their searchlights on and fired flares to help the crews to keep to the intended route.[4] 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[4][5]; 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.[4]

US Navy warships "strung out like a string of pearls" along the NC's flightpath (3rd leg)

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 (13 ship between the Azores and Lisbon[1]), and landed 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 NC-4 later flew on to England, arriving in Plymouth on [May 31 to great fanfare[6], 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.[1]

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".[7][8] The conditions also stipulated that "only one aircraft may be used for each attempt."

The NC-boats had not been entered for this competition.

First flights in aviation history.ogg
A 1945 newsreel covering various firsts in human flight, including footage of the flight across the Atlantic


Crew of the NC-4, posing before the start of the flight
Left to right: Read, Stone, Hinton, Rodd, Howard, Breese.

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.

After the crossing

Engine of NC-4 in Pensacola Naval Aviation Museum, 1997

After arriving in Plymouth, the crew on the NC-4, by now reunited with the crews of the less successful NC-1 and NC-3 boats, travelled to London by train and received a tumultuous welcome. While they visited Paris the NC-4 was dismantled in Plymouth and loaded on the USS Aroostook, the base ship for the NC-aircrafts' transatlantic attempt,[9] for the return journey to the United States, arriving in New York on July 2, 1919.[10]

NC-4 being dismantled in June 1919 in Plymouth, England, prior to being shipped back to the USA

Following the return of the crew on board the USS Zeppelin, a goodwill tour of the eastern and southern seaboards was undertaken.

In 1929, to honor the first transatlantic crossing, the United States Navy created a special military decoration known as the NC-4 Medal.

The NC-4 aircraft is now preserved in the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida.


 United States


General characteristics

  • Crew: six
  • Length: 68 ft 5 1/2 in (20.8 m)
  • Wingspan: (38.40 m)
  • Height: 24 ft 5 1/8 in (7.40 m)
  • Wing area: 2,380 ft² (221 m²)
  • Empty weight: 15,874 lb (7,260 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 28,000 lb[11] (12,700 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 27,386 lb (12,422 kg)
  • Powerplant: × Liberty L-12 400 hp water-cooled V-12 engines, 400 hp (298 kW) each



Machine guns in bow and rear cockpits


  1. ^ a b c d "First across the Atlantic"
  2. ^ "II - A Boat With Wings". The flight across the Atlantic. Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Corporation. Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Corporation. 1919. pp. 27. Retrieved 2009-07-24.  
  3. ^ Now de-commissioned and part of Gateway National Recreation Area
  4. ^ a b c "... the Atlantic fleet, strung out like pearls, with its brightly illuminated ships posted fifty miles apart along the Nancys' flight path ... clearly marked by Navy destroyers' search lights and star-burst shells.
  5. ^ Aviation History website
  6. ^ "The Epic of Flight, The Pathfinders", by David Nevin, (Time Life Books, Alexandria Virginia, ISBN 0809435260), 1980, page 23
  7. ^ "50,000 for Flight across Atlantic". The New York Times. 1913-04-01. Retrieved 2008-01-24.  
  8. ^ "₤10,000 for first transatlantic flight (in 72 consecutive hours)". Flight magazine: p. 1316. 1918-11-21. Retrieved 2009-01-05.  
  9. ^ "Aroostook". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Department of the Navy - Naval Historical Center. Retrieved 2009-02-16.  
  10. ^ "Mine layer brings NC-4.". The New York Times. 1919-07-03. Retrieved 2008-01-24.  
  11. ^ Smith, Robert K., 1973, First Across: The U.S. Navy's Transaltlantic Fight of 1919, United States Naval Institute: Annapolis.

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