So, Who Was The First To Fly Across The Pacific Ocean?

Quiz time - we all know the name of Charles Lindbergh flying from the US to Europe in 1927. Many other flight records were as important, but who did the first flight across the Pacific Ocean?

What sets Lindbergh's record apart is that it was a solo flight. Not particularly useful, but in that day an age, it caught the attention of the general public and the media. More realistically, a pilot needed a navigator, as in my novel, Kamikaze to Croydon. Breaking the record and flying from Japan to Europe in just four days in 1937 could not be done solo.

American Wiley Post and Harold Gatty did the first round-the-world flight in 1930, after the German Graf Zeppelin, piloted by Hugo Eckener had pioneered that particular feat (including a landing in Japan).

Canadian pilot Harald Bromly was the first to make a serious attempt at the Pacific, but failed when starting from Tacoma, Washington State, U.S.

''I find it difficult to convince many persons that this proposed flight is not sheer suicide,'' Mr. Bromley said in July 1929 as he prepared to fly alone to Tokyo in a Lockheed Vega low-wing monoplane. 

Source: The New York Times 1998 obituary

He failed again when trying to fly from Japan and eastwards, as his plane was too heavy. He had to dump fuel and then return. On September 15, 1930 Bromley again tried to make a trans-Pacific flight, this time in an Emsco monoplane, dubbed 'City of Tacoma', with Harold Gatty as his navigator. This time the flight was from Tokyo to Tacoma.

Engine trouble after about 1,250 miles forced them back to Japan, where they landed on a beach.

Harold Bromley became a test pilot for Lockheed and later opened a flying school in Tacoma. He died in 1999 at the age of 99 years.

With him was a fascinating character, his navigator Harold Gatty. Born in Australia, he had shown an interest in navigation that was to serve many other pioneering pilots of that era.

One of the first professional air navigators, Harold Gatty instructed such aeronautical elites as Anne Morrow Lindbergh in air navigation and invented new equipment. He developed the Gatty drift indicator for use in aircraft. Gatty served as Wiley Post's navigator on his record breaking around the world flight. He had been trained in air navigation by P. V. H. Weems and managed the Weems System of Navigation while Weems was on sea duty during the Depression. Gatty and Lindbergh convinced Pan American Airways to adopt the Weems System. Gatty became the Army Air Corps' chief navigation engineer—a remarkable position for a foreign (Tasmanian) national. There he tutored the cadre of officers who would be decisive in implementing the strategic bombing campaign during World War II, including Curtis LeMay.

Source: The Smithsonian

Oh, the irony. Anyway, we can safely say that the early pilots and daredevils quickly learnt that there had to be a science to the art of flying.

So, who was the first to fly across the Pacific?

After other aviators also failed to cross the Pacific, the feat was accomplished in October 1931 by Clyde Pangborn, a veteran barnstormer, and Hugh Herndon, a wealthy New Yorker who financed the flight, flying a Bellanca. Their flight, beginning at Sabishiro Beach and ending in Wenatchee, Wash., was part of their round-the-world trip in an unsuccessful effort to break the record time set in June 1931 by Wiley Post and Harold Gatty. Mr. Pangborn and Mr. Herndon received a $25,000 prize from the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun.

Source: The New York Times

This is a fantastic trip back in time, a compilation of news reels with sound and interviews from 1931:

Sabishiro is in Misawa, Aomori Prefecture, and their plane was the Miss Veedol, a Bellanca (a US company founded by the Italian Giuseppe Mario Bellanca, who first cam to the US in 1911).

Clyde Pangborn was born in Washington State and ought to be as well known as the rest of them aviation pioneers. 


Pandabonium said…
As my first flying instructor told me, "any landing you can walk away from is a good one." I never tried it without landing gear.

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