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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 Ocean — 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.



Image of the Anglo-French supersonic transatlantic airliner Concorde

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 Natal, Brazil, and Bathurst, The Gambia, continuing via the Canary Islands and Spain to Stuttgart, Germany.[1] 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.

In 1931, the airship Graf Zeppelin began offering regular scheduled passenger service between Germany and South America which continued until 1937. Over its career Graf Zeppelin crossed the South Atlantic 136 times.[1] In 1936, the airship Hindenburg entered passenger service and successfully crossed the Atlantic 36 times before crashing at Lakehurst, New Jersey on May 6, 1937. [2]

As technology progressed, Pan American World Airways of the United States, Imperial Airways of Britain, and Aéropostale of 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.[3]

During World War II the crossing of the Atlantic by air became much more commonplace with the instigation of RAF Ferry Command, whose purpose was to deliver US- and Canadian-built combat aircraft to the United Kingdom, flying from Gander, Newfoundland, to Prestwick in Scotland. Over the course of the war, more than 9,000 aircraft were ferried across the ocean and, by the end of the war, crossing the Atlantic had become a routine operation, presaging the inauguration of scheduled commercial air transport services after the war.

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 Airport, Newfoundland and/or Shannon, Ireland). 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, inertials 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 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. [2]
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, flew 4,526 statute miles (7,284 km) from Rockaway (New York), 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 John's.
Alcock and Brown's Vickers Vimy takes off from Newfoundland.
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. Major 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 (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. [4]
First non-stop aircraft flight between European and American mainlands
[3] October 1924. The Zeppelin ZR-3 (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 (São Paulo), 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.
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 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 W33 monoplane (named Bremen), 2,070 statute miles (3,331 km), from Ireland to Labrador, in 36 1/2 hours[4].
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.[5]
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,[6] London,[7] and Berlin.[8]
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. [5].
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 Southampton[citation needed]
First transatlantic flight of non-rigid airships
On June 1, 1944, two K class blimps from Blimp Squadron ZP-14[9] 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 Naval Station Argentia, Newfoundland. From Argentia, the blimps flew approximately 22 hours to Lagens Field 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 Field in Port Lyautey (Kenitra), French Morocco.[10]
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 Stornoway, Iceland, and Labrador to Montreal 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 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 B-57.
First jet fixed-wing aircraft transatlantic passenger service
British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) flew the first jet airliner service using the de Havilland Comet, when G-APDC initiated the first transatlantic Comet 4 service and the first scheduled transatlantic passenger jet service in history, flying from London to New York with a stopover at Gander on 4 October 1958.

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 France.
  • 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 consignment.
  • July 5, 1937 - Captain Harold Gray of Pan Am flew from Botwood, Newfoundland to Foynes, Ireland in a Sikorsky S-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 New York. The Focke-Wulf Fw 200 needed 24 hours, 56 minutes and did the return flight three days later in 19 hours, 47 minutes.


  1. ^ Graue, James W; John Duggan. Deutsche Lufthansa South Atlantic Airmail Service 1934 - 1939. Zeppelin Study Group. ISBN 0951411454. 
  2. ^ The Times, 18 October 1910, p 6; New York Times, 18 October 1910, p 1; Daily News (London), 19 October 1910, p 1
  3. ^ Althoff, William F.. USS Los Angeles: the Navy's venerable airship and aviation technology. Dulles, Virginia: Brassey's Inc.. ISBN 1-57488-620-7. 
  4. ^ Wagner, Wolfgang (in German). Hugo Junkers: Pionier der Luftfahrt. Die deutsche Luftfahrt. Bonn: Bernard & Graefe Verlag. ISBN 3-7637-6112-8. 
  5. ^ Round the World Flights
  6. ^ Bomberguy. Graf Zeppelin Bomberguy Aviation History, selected clips. Retrieved: 2009-06-07
  7. ^ bomberguy 2008 07:05 to 08:14
  8. ^ bomberguy 2008 09:30
  9. ^
  10. ^ Kline, R. C. and Kubarych, S. J., Blimpron 14 Overseas, 1944, Naval Historical Center, Navy Yard, Washington, D. C.

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