Tag Archives: Transatlantic Flight

4–5 September 1936: Beryl Markham

Beryl Markham steps out of the cockpit of the Percival Vega Gull, probably late August 1936. (Unattributed)
Beryl Markham steps out of the cockpit of the Percival Vega Gull, probably late August 1936. (Unattributed)

4–5 September 1936: At 6:50 p.m., British Summer Time, Beryl Markham departed RAF Abingdon, Oxfordshire, England, aboard a turquoise blue-and-silver Percival P.10 Vega Gull, registration VP-KCC. Her intended destination was New York City, across the Atlantic Ocean in America.

The airplane flown by Mrs. Markham was brand-new, built for John Evans Carberry (formerly, 10th Baron Carbery) for his entry in The Schlesinger air race from London, England to Johannesburg, South Africa. He loaned the airplane to her for the transatlantic flight on condition that she would return it to England by mid-September, in time for the start of the race.

Designed by Edgar Percival and built by Percival Aircraft Limited at Gravesend, the P.10 Vega Gull was a four-place, single engine monoplane with fixed landing gear. Known as the K-series, it was a development of the previous D-series Gull Six. The airplane was 25 feet, 6 inches (7.772 meters) long with a wingspan of 39 feet, 6 inches (12.040 meters) and height of 7 feet, 4 inches (2.235 meters). The standard airplane had an empty weight of 1,740 pounds (789.25 kilograms) and loaded weight of 3,250 pounds (1,474.2 kilograms). K.34, the airplane flown by Markham, carried two auxiliary fuel tanks in the passenger compartment, for a total capacity of 255 gallons (965.3 liters). The Vega Gull was powered by a 560.6-cubic-inch-displacement (9.19 liter) de Havilland Gypsy Six I, an air-cooled, inverted, inline six-cylinder engine which produced 200 horsepower at 2,350 r.p.m. and drove a two-bladed Ratier variable-pitch propeller. The Vega Gull had a cruising speed of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 174 miles per hour (280 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 17,000 feet (5,181.6 meters). Estimated range with the auxiliary fuel tank was 3,800 miles (6,115.5 kilometers).

John E. Carberry’s brand-new Percival P.10 Vega Gull, VP-KCC, The Messenger, is rolled out of the Percival Aircraft Limited hangar at Gravesend. (Unattributed)
John E. Carberry’s brand-new Percival P.10 Vega Gull, VP-KCC, The Messenger, is rolled out of the Percival Aircraft Limited hangar at Gravesend. (Unattributed)

John Carberry was a resident of Colony and Protectorate of Kenya so the new airplane received the civil registration marking, VP-KCC. It was named The Messenger.

Beryl Markham was an experienced airplane pilot who had most recently been employed as Chief Pilot, Air Cruisers Limited, owned by a French financier, François Dupré. She was certified both as a pilot and an aircraft mechanic, and had recently had her pilot’s license endorsed for “All Types.”

Mrs. Markham and the airplane were ready for the solo transoceanic flight by 1 September, but were delayed by bad weather, with worse forecast. By the 4th, however, she was impatient with waiting and decided to takeoff regardless of the weather. She arrived at the airfield at about 5:00 p.m. Her takeoff was delayed while the runway was cleared of a wrecked bomber that had been overturned by the high winds. Captain Percival had recommended that she start from RAF Abingdon because its 1 mile runway (1.6 kilometers) would give the overweight airplane a longer takeoff run. Because of the high winds, the Vega Gull was airborne in just 600 yards (550 meters).

Beryl Markham and the Percival P.10 Vega Gull K.34, with Kenyan civil registration VP-KCC, westbound over England, 4 September 1936. (Henry How, Daily Mirror)
Beryl Markham and the Percival P.10 Vega Gull K.34, with Kenyan civil registration VP-KCC, westbound over England, 4 September 1936. (Henry How, Daily Mirror)

From the start, Markham encountered heavy rain, low clouds, fog and gale force winds. Almost immediately, her carefully-prepared chart was blown out of a cockpit window. She flew most of the distance at an altitude of about 2,000 feet (610 meters). If she climbed higher, the rain turned to ice. If she flew lower she was in danger of the winds forcing her into the sea below. She had hoped to have the light of a nearly full moon as she crossed the Atlantic at night but the weather was so bad that she flew by reference to her instruments for the entire crossing.

During the transatlantic flight the Percival Vega Gull was sighted by several ships which reported her position. Although the airplane had a cruising speed of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour), because of the headwinds, Markham estimated her rate of advance at just 90 miles per hour (145 kilometers per hour). With the airplane running on fuel from the final tank, which should have lasted 11 hours, the gauge indicated that it was being consumed at a higher rate. She estimated her position as nearing Newfoundland but with rain, clouds and fog, she was only able to see brief views of the ocean below.

“The dawn broke through the clouds. The wind changed and I stopped being so silly. I wouldn’t have imagined that there was an expanse of desolation so big in the whole world as the waste of sky and water I saw go past me since I left Abingdon. . . It was fog, rain, sleet for hours on end. If I climbed it was sleet, if I dropped it was rain. If I skimmed the sea it was fog. I couldn’t see anything beyond my wingtips. . .

“That tank, on which I was banking my all, didn’t last eleven hours. It lasted nine hours and five minutes. . . I watched that tank getting emptier and emptier and still saw nothing but sea and clouds and mist. . . I could see nothing to save me. Good old Messenger was going to stop any moment and I said to myself, ‘If I’m going to go, now is the time to get ready for it.’ The only thing anywhere around was fog, great hefty banks of it. And then I saw the coast. The beautiful coast. I’ve never seen land so beautiful. . . But then the engine began to go ‘put, put, put.’

“. . . I knew then that I had to come down and made for the beach. I couldn’t land there; there was nothing but great big rocks and Messenger and I would have been dashed to pieces. I went inland.

“My engine was missing badly now. It was sheer agony to watch my petrol gauge . . . I peered around for a field to land on. I was still peering when the engine stopped.”

 Beryl Markham, quoted in Straight on Till Morningby Mary S. Lovell, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1987, Chapter 9 at Pages 177–178.

The field turned out to be a peat bog at Baliene Cove on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. The airplane nosed over in the soft surface. Beryl Markham struck her head and was knocked unconscious. She soon climbed out of the damaged Vega Gull and was taken to a nearby farm where help soon arrived.

Beryl Markham did not reach her intended destination of New York City. But what she did accomplish was the first East-to-West solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by a woman. Although Amelia Earhart had flown solo across the Atlantic in her Lockheed Vega four years earlier, her crossing was West-to-East. Because of the prevailing weather patterns, the westerly crossing is considered much more difficult.

Beryl Markham’s solo transatlantic flight ended in this peat bog at Baliene Cove, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, 5 September 1936. (© Bettmann/CORBIS)
Beryl Markham’s solo transatlantic flight ended in this peat bog at Baliene Cove, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, 5 September 1936. (© Bettmann/CORBIS)

Beryl and The Messenger returned to England aboard the passenger liner RMS Queen Mary. Although the damage was repaired, it was not in time to compete in The Schlesinger. John Carberry sold VP-KCC to Dar-es-Salaam Airways. It was written off in Tanganyika in August 1937, and de-registered in March 1938.

Beryl Markham was a remarkable woman whose exploits are too great to touch on here. She wrote West with the Night, which was considered by author Ernest Hemingway to be “a bloody wonderful book.” She died at her home in Nairobi, Kenya, 3 August 1986, at the age of 83.

Beryl Markham, with her forehead bandaged, after her historic solo transatlantic flight, 5 September 1936. (Unattributed)
Beryl Markham, with her forehead bandaged, after her historic solo transatlantic flight, 5 September 1936. (Unattributed)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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24 July 1897: Amelia Mary Earhart

Amelia Mary Earhart (Associated Press)
Amelia Mary Earhart (Associated Press)

24 July 1897: Amelia Mary Earhart was born at Atchison, Kansas.

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Amelia Earhart wearing a flight suit which she had designed for The 99s.
Amelia Earhart wearing a flight suit which she had designed for The 99s.

Amelia first rode in an airplane at Long Beach, California with pilot Frank Monroe Hawks, 28 December 1920. The ten-minute flight began her life long pursuit of aviation.

Earhart became the sixteenth woman to become a licensed pilot when she received her license from the National Aeronautic Association on behalf of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) on 16 May 1923. She set various speed, distance and altitude records. She was the first woman to fly the Atlantic Ocean as a passenger aboard Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon’s Fokker F.VIIb/3m, Friendship. She later flew solo across the Atlantic from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland to Culmore, Northern Ireland in her own Lockheed Model 5B Vega, NR7952, in an elapsed time of 14 hours, 56 minutes. She also flew solo from Hawaii to California in another Lockheed Vega, a Model 5C, NR965Y, setting a record of 18 hours, 15 minutes.

Amelia Earhart is best known for her attempt to fly around the world with navigator Frederick J. Noonan in a Lockheed Electra 10E Special in 1937. She disappeared while enroute from Lae, Territory of New Guinea to Howland Island in the Central Pacific, 2 July 1937. The search for her failed and what happened to her and Noonan remains a mystery.

Amelia Mary Earhart (Mrs. George Palmer Putnam) was declared dead in absentia by the Superior Court, County of Los Angeles, 5 January 1939. (Probate file 181709)

Amelia Earhart and Frank Hawks. (World History Project)
Amelia Earhart and Frank Hawks. (World History Project)
Amelia Earhart’s first pilot’s license. (National Portrait Gallery)
Amelia Earhart’s first pilot’s license. (National Portrait Gallery)
Fokker F.VIIb/3m Friendship after the transatlantic flight, 17 June 1928.
Fokker F.VIIb/3m Friendship after the transatlantic flight, 17 June 1928.
Amelia Earhart with her Lockheed Vega 5b, NR7952, at Culmore, North Ireland after her solo transatlantic flight, 21 May 1932. (National Library of Ireland)
Amelia Earhart with her Lockheed Vega 5b, NR7952, at Culmore, North Ireland after her solo transatlantic flight, 21 May 1932. (National Library of Ireland)
Crowds of spectators greet Amelia Earhart on her arrival from Hawaii, 12 January 1935. (Associated Press)
Crowds of spectators greet Amelia Earhart on her arrival from Hawaii, 12 January 1935. (Associated Press)
Amelia Earhart with her Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020, at Burbank, 1937.
Amelia Earhart with her Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020, at Burbank, 1937.
Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan with Mr. Jacobs, at Lae, Territory of New Guinea, 1 July 1937. This is the last known photograph of the two aviators. (Wichita Eagle)
Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan with Mr. Jacobs, at Lae, Territory of New Guinea, 1 July 1937. This is the last known photograph of the two aviators. (Wichita Eagle)
Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E, NR16020, takes off from Lae, Territory of New Guinea, 2 July 1937
Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E, NR16020, takes off from Lae, Territory of New Guinea, 2 July 1937
Amelia Mary Earhart, by Edward Steichen
Amelia Mary Earhart, by Edward Steichen

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 June 1928: Amelia Mary Earhart

Fokker F.VIIb/3m Friendship after the transatlantic flight.
Fokker F.VIIb/3m Friendship after the transatlantic flight.

17 June 1928: Amelia Earhart became the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air when she accompanied Wilmer Lower Stultz and Louis Edward Gordon as a passenger aboard their Fokker F.VIIb/3m, Friendship. The orange and gold float-equipped three-engine monoplane departed from Trepassey Harbor, Newfoundland and arrived at Burry Port, Wales, 20 hours, 40 minutes later.

It was during the planning for this flight that Earhart first met her future husband George Palmer Putnam.

Though Friendship was equipped with pontoons for water landings, it is otherwise the same type as Southern Cross, the airplane that Sir Charles E. Kingsford Smith flew from the United States to Australia.

Amelia Earhart with pilot Wilmer L. Stultz and co-pilot Louis Gordon at Southampton.
Amelia Earhart with pilot Wilmer L. Stultz and co-pilot Louis Gordon at Southampton.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 June 1937: Amelia Mary Earhart

Photograph of a replica of Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020, flown by Linda Finch. (Tony Bacewicz / The Hartford Courant)
Photograph of a replica of Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E Special, NR16020, flown by Linda Finch. (Tony Bacewicz / The Hartford Courant)

7 June 1937: Leg 10—the South Atlantic Crossing. At 3:15 a.m., Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan departed Natal, Brazil, aboard their Lockheed Electra 10E, NR16020, enroute across the South Atlantic Ocean to Dakar, Afrique occidentale française (now, Senegal).

“It was 3.15 in the morning when we left Parnamirio Airport at Natal, Brazil. The take-off was in darkness. The longer runway, which has lights, was unavailable because a perverse wind blew exactly across it. So I used the secondary runway, whose surface is of grass. In the dark it was difficult even to find it, so Fred and I tramped its length with flashlights to learn what we could and establish something in the way of guiding landmarks, however shadowy. Withal, we got into the air easily. Once off the ground, a truly pitch dark encompassed us. however, the blackness of the night outside made all the more cheering the subdued lights of my  cockpit, glowing on the instruments which showed the way through space as we headed east over the ocean. “The night is long that never finds the day,” and our night soon enough was day. I remembered, then, that this was my third dawn in flight over the Atlantic. . . .” — Amelia Earhart

Fred Noonan wrote in a letter from Dakar, The flight from Natal, Brazil produced the worst weather we have experienced—heavy rain and dense cloud formations. . . .”   In her notes, Earhart wrote, “. . . Have never seen such rain. Props a blur in it. See nothing but rain now through wispy cloud. . . .”  — from Finding Amelia by Ric Gillespie, Naval Institute Press, 2006, Chapter 5 at page 41.

The poor weather made it impossible for Noonan to find their way across the ocean by celestial navigation, his field of expertise. Instead, he had to navigate by ded reckoning (short for deductive) and to estimate course corrections. When they arrived over the African coastline at dusk, they knew that they were north of their intended course but haze caused very limited visibility. Navigational errors caused them to miss Dakar, so they turned north until they came to Saint-Louis, where they landed after a 1,961 mile (3,155.9 kilometer) 13 hour, 22 minute flight.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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20–21 May 1932: Amelia Mary Earhart

Amelia Earhart at Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, 20 May 1932. Photographer: Ernest Maunder. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada (PA-057854).
Amelia Earhart at Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, 20 May 1932. Photographer: Ernest Maunder. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada (PA-057854).

20 May 1932: At 7:12 p.m., local, aviatrix Amelia Earhart departed Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, on a solo transoceanic flight. Her airplane was a modified single-engine Lockheed Vega 5b, registration NR7952.

Her plan was to fly all the way to Paris, but after her altimeter had failed, encountering adverse weather, including heavy icing and fog, a fuel leak, and a damaged exhaust manifold, Earhart landed in a field at Culmore, North Ireland. The distance flown was 2,026 miles (3,260.5 kilometers). Her elapsed time was 14 hours, 56 minutes.

A lone, astonished farmer saw her land.

Amelia cut the switches, climbed out of the plane, and, as the man approached the plane, called out, “Where am I?”

Danny McCallion replied obligingly and with excruciating accuracy. “In Gallegher’s pasture.”

The Sound of Wings by Mary S. Lovell, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1989, Chapter Fifteen at Page 183.

Though she didn’t make it all the way to Paris, she was the first woman—and only the second person, after Charles A. Lindbergh—to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Lindbergh’s flight was on the same date, five years earlier.

Amelia Earhart with her Lockheed Vega 5b, NR7952, at Culmore, North Ireland after her solo transatlantic flight, 21 May 1932. (National Library of Ireland)
Amelia Earhart with her Lockheed Vega 5b, NR7952, at Culmore, North Ireland after her solo transatlantic flight, 21 May 1932. (National Library of Ireland)

Built by the Lockheed Aircraft Company in December 1928, the Vega is a single-engine high-wing monoplane designed to carry a pilot and up to seven passengers. The fuselage was molded laminated plywood monocoque construction and the wing was cantilevered wood. The Vega 5B is 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) long with a wingspan of 41 feet (12.497 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 2 inches (2.489 meters).

Earhart’s Vega, serial number 22, was certified by the Department of Commerce, 17 September 1931, with its empty weight increased 220 pounds (99.8 kilograms) to 2,695 pounds (1,222.4 kilograms) and maximum gross weight of 4,375 pounds (1984.5 kilograms). It was modified at the Fokker factory in Teterboro, New Jersey to increase the fuel capacity to 420 gallons (1,589.9 liters). While it was there, her mechanic, Eddie Gorski, replaced the original Pratt and Whitney Wasp B engine with a new 1,343.8-cubic-inch-displacement (22.02 liter) air-cooled, supercharged Pratt and Whitney R-1340-C Wasp nine-cylinder radial engine producing 500 horsepower.

The standard Vega 5 had a cruising speed of 165 miles per hour (265.5 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 185 miles per hour (297.7 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). Range with standard fuel tanks was 725 miles (1,166.8 kilometers).

Amelia Earhart disappeared in 1937 while attempting to fly around the world. Her Lockheed Vega 5b, NR7952, is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Vega 5b, NR7952, at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Vega 5b, NR7952, at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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