Hail the Centennial of Aviation’s Modern Era

Born this month in 1903, powered flight matured quickly
during its adolescence that ended with World War 1 in 1918. That
conflict was a period of accelerated puberty for aeronautical
technology that in 1919 marks the beginning of aviation’s modern

If you need a birthday, there’s none better than May 22, 1919.
That’s when New York hotel owner Raymond Orteig offered his
eponymous prize of $25,000 to the first allied aviator or aviators
to fly nonstop between New York and Paris. (Raymond Orteig, right,
and the 1927 winner of his eponymous prize, Charles Lindbergh.)

Orteig revealed the award in a letter to the Aero Club of
America. “Gentlemen: As a stimulus to the courageous aviators, I
desire to offer, through the auspices and regulations of the Aero
Club of America, a prize of $25,000 to the first aviator of any
Allied Country crossing the Atlantic in one flight, from Paris to
New York or New York to Paris, all other details are in your

The Aero Club of America confirmed its participation three days
later, on May 26, and established a structure to administer the
competition for the $25,000 prize. It doesn’t sound like a lot of
money today, but in today’s dollars, it is $374,090.24. (And
given the price of a new single-engine piston airplane today,
it’s still not a lot of money, but I digress.)

A few weeks later, in June 1919,
John Alcock and Arthur Brown
made the first nonstop
transatlantic flight in a modified World War I Vickers Vimy bomber.
Their accomplishment didn’t qualify for the prize because they
flew from St. John’s, Newfoundland to County Galway, Ireland, not
New York to Paris. It did net them the £10,000 prize, awarded by
the Daily Mail, a London newspaper.

didn’t survive to year’s end. He died, at age 27, at the
controls of a new amphibious airplane, the Vickers Viking, on
December 18, 1919, in foggy skies at the first post-war aerial
exhibition at Cottévrard, an aerodrome near Rouen in Normandy,
France. Three days before he died, Alcock was present when the
transatlantic Vimy was presented to the nation at London’s
Science Museum, where it remains today,

Two weeks before Alcock and Brown left Newfoundland, about the
time that Orteig was writing the Aero Club of America, a U.S. Navy Flying Boat,
the Curtiss NC-4
, commanded by Lt. Commander Albert Read, made
the first transatlantic flight. With a crew of five, it took the
NC-4 23 days, and six stops, to fly from Naval Air Station
Rockaway, New York, taking off on May 15, arriving in Plymouth,
England, on May 31, after stops in the Azores, Portugal, and


The flight of NC-4 didn’t qualify for the Daily Mail
prize because it took more than 72 hours, the award’s time limit,
and because more than one airplane participated in the flight. The
other planes in the section, the NC-1 and NC-3 didn’t survive the
attempt (and the NC-2 was a donor of parts that kept the other
airborne), but the NC-4 is on display at the National Museum of
Naval Aviation. Read, the NC-4’s commander, retired as a rear
admiral and died at age 80, in Coconut Grove, Florida, just south
of Miami.

But 1919’s aviators weren’t all obsessed with the Atlantic.
The RAF converted several of its DH-4s to begin carrying passengers
and mail from London on Paris on January 10, to support the
Versailles Peace Conference. And Deutsche Luft Reederei began
passenger flights between Berlin and Weimer on February 5, and
scheduled flights to Hamburg on March 1. In 1926 it changed its
name to Deutsche Luft Hansa, and then to Lufthansa in 1953.

On April 15,
the U.S. Navy decided to convert the USS Jupiter, a coal carrying
cargo ship, into its first aircraft carrier, the USS Langley. One
month later, the U.S. Post Office inaugurated its airmail route
between Chicago, Illinois, and Cleveland, Ohio. On June 6, Canada
established the world’s
first national aviation authority, the Air Board
. London opened
its first airport, Hounslow Heath Aerodrome, on July 1.

These are just a select few of the aviation accomplishments that
mark 1919 as the birth of aviation’s modern era. This last one is
atypical, and it shows how far aviation has come in the past
century. On July 6, 1919, Major E.M. Pritchard became the first
person to arrive in the United States by air from Europe. Departing
from East Fortune, Scotland, on the inaugural crossing of the
British airship R34, he landed in Mineola, New York—by parachute.
–Scott Spangler, Editor

Source: FS – Aviation
Hail the Centennial of Aviation’s Modern Era

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