Early aircraft engines did not have the reliability needed for the crossing, nor the power to lift the required fuel. There are difficulties navigating over featureless expanses of water for thousands of miles, and the weather, especially in the North Atlantic Ocean, is unpredictable. Since the middle of the 20th century, however, transatlantic flight has been routine, for commercial, military, diplomatic, and other purposes. Experimental flights (in balloons, small aircraft, etc.) still present challenges for transatlantic fliers.
Between 8 and 31 May 1919, the Curtiss seaplane NC-4 made a crossing of the Atlantic flying from the U.S. to Newfoundland, then to the Azores and on to Portugal and finally the UK. The whole journey took 23 days. NC-4 was the only one of the three United States Navy aircraft to set out that completed the journey. The journey had been organized by the U.S. Navy to include crew rest, aircraft maintenance and repair and refueling, and had been supported by a trail of 53 "station ships" across the Atlantic giving the aircraft points to navigate by.
In the early morning of Friday, 20 May 1927, Charles Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field, New York, on his successful attempt to fly nonstop from New York City to the European continental land mass. Over the next 33.5 hours, Lindbergh and the "Spirit of St. Louis" encountered many challenges before landing at Le Bourget Airport near Paris, France, at 10:22 PM on Saturday, 21 May 1927, completing the first solo crossing of the Atlantic.
On 2 July 1919, Major George Herbert Scott of the Royal Air Force with his crew and passengers flew from RAF East Fortune, Scotland to Mineola, New York (on Long Island) in airship R34, covering a distance of about 3,000 statute miles (4,800 km) in about four and a half days. R34 then made the return trip to England arriving at RNAS Pulham in 75 hours, thus also completing the first double crossing of the Atlantic (east-west-east).
First intercontinental passenger airship flight
Flown picture postcard from the "First North American Flight" of the D-LZ127 (1928)
Thereafter, DELAG used both the Graf Zeppelin and the Hindenburg on regular scheduled passenger flights across the North Atlantic, from Frankfurt-am-Main to Lakehurst. In the summer of 1931 a South Atlantic route was introduced, from Frankfurt and Friedrichshafen to Recife and Rio de Janeiro. Between 1931 and 1937 the Graf Zeppelin crossed the South Atlantic 136 times.
In 1936 the Hindenburg began passenger flights and made 36 Atlantic crossings (North and South). The first passenger trip across the North Atlantic left Friedrichshafen on 6 May with 56 crew and 50 passengers, arriving Lakehurst on 9 May. Fare was $400 one way; the ten westward trips that season took 53 to 78 hours and eastward took 43 to 61 hours. The last eastward trip of the year left Lakehurst on 10 October; the first North Atlantic trip of 1937 ended in the Hindenburg disaster.
The British rigid airship R100 also made a successful return trip from Cardington to Montreal in July–August 1930, in what was intended to be a proving flight for regularly scheduled passenger services. Following the R101 disaster in October 1930, the British rigid airship program was abandoned and the R100 scrapped, leaving DELAG as the sole remaining operator of transatlantic passenger airship flights.
Fourteen attempts at crossing the Atlantic by balloon were known to be made before the first successful one, with the Double Eagle II, was completed from Presque Isle, Maine, to Miserey, near Paris, France in 1978, long after aircraft were already making transatlantic flights.
In 1859 John Wise built an enormous aerostat named the Atlantic. He invited John LaMountain and a few other passengers to join them in St. Louis, Missouri. Though intended to cross the Atlantic the flight lasted a little less than a day, caught in a sudden windstorm over Lake Ontario and crash-landing in Henderson, New York. Neither Wise nor LaMountain attempted a transatlantic flight again.
Professor Thaddeus S. C. Lowe, with a more scientific approach prepared a massive balloon of 725,000 cubic feet (20,500 m3) called the City of New York to take off from Philadelphia in 1860. He even equipped the rig with a small escape boat under the gondola should anything go awry over the ocean. Defeating circumstances, most of them outside the realm of aeronautics, caused postponements until the best time of year ran out. Lowe opted to wait for mid-1861, but on a suggestion from Prof. Joseph Henry at the Smithsonian Institution Lowe took the smaller balloon Enterprise to Cincinnati for a test flight that would return him to the East Coast. The flight, which took off two days after the beginning of the American Civil War, went well short of the fact that Lowe ended up in Confederate South Carolina. Upon returning home he was summoned by Secretary of the TreasurySalmon P. Chase to bring his balloon to Washington, D.C. Lowe ended up as Chief Aeronaut of the Union Army Balloon Corps, which all but ended any idea of his making a transatlantic flight.
The Anglo-French supersonic transatlantic airliner Concorde
The North Atlantic presented challenges for aviators due to weather and the long distances involved, with few stopping points. Initial transatlantic services, therefore, focused 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, Gambia, continuing via the Canary Islands and Spain to Stuttgart, Germany. From December 1935, Air France opened a regular weekly airmail route between South America and Africa. German airlines, such as Deutsche Luft Hansa, experimented with mail routes over the North Atlantic in the early 1930s, with seaplanes and dirigibles.
The U.S. was mainly concerned about transatlantic flight for the faster postal service between Europe and America. In 1931 W. Irving Glover, the second assistant postmaster, wrote an article for Popular Mechanics on the challenges and the need for a regular service. The article even mentioned aerial refueling after takeoff as a possible solution.
In the 1930s Pan American World Airways of the United States, Imperial Airways of Britain, Lufthansa of Germany, and Aéropostale of France, tried flying boats across the Atlantic via Bermuda and the Azores. (A land aircraft large enough to cross the ocean would have needed long runways that didn't yet exist.) On 26 March 1939 Pan American made its first trial transatlantic flight from Botwood, Newfoundland to Foynes, Ireland, on a Boeing 314 (named Yankee Clipper by PanAm). The first scheduled heavier-than-air passenger-carrying flights were Pan American's Boeings in summer 1939: the schedule from Port Washington, Long Island to Southampton was 24 hours 30 minutes and the fare was $375 one way.
In 1938 a Lufthansa Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor long range airliner flew non-stop from Berlin to New York and returned non-stop. A regular Lufthansa Transatlantic service was planned but didn't start before World War II. (A flight from Berlin to Tokyo (in less than 48hours, with 3 fuel stops) ended with the returning Focke-Wulf Fw 200 ditching off Manila). Lufthansa ferried two Focke-Wulf Fw 200s across the South Atlantic from West Africa to Natal, Brazil on delivery to their associate Syndicato Condor airline, Brazil
During World War II the crossing of the Atlantic by air became commonplace with the instigation of RAF Ferry Command that delivered U.S.- and Canadian-built combat aircraft to the United Kingdom, flying from Gander, Newfoundland, to Prestwick in Scotland. During the war more than 9,000 aircraft were ferried across the ocean. The Atlantic Division of the United States Army Air ForcesAir Transport Command ferried aircraft and carried supplies and passengers to the British Isles. By the end of the war, crossing the Atlantic had become routine, presaging the inauguration of scheduled flights after the war. By then the time for an Atlantic crossing had come down from the 7h 56m achieved earlier in the war by a BOACLiberator, to the 5h 46m for the de Havilland Mosquito flown by Wing Commander John de Lacy Wooldridge from Goose Bay, Labrador, to the UK.
After World War II long runways were available, and American, Canadian and European carriers such as Pan Am, TWA, Trans Canada Airlines (TCA), BOAC, and Air France acquired larger piston airliners that could cross the North Atlantic with stops (usually in Gander, Newfoundland and/or Shannon, Ireland). In January 1946 Pan Am's DC-4 was scheduled New York (La Guardia) to London (Hurn) in 17 hours 40 minutes, five days a week; in June 1946 Lockheed 049s had brought the eastward time to Heathrow down to 15 hr 15 min.
To aid aircraft crossing the Atlantic, six nations grouped to divide the Atlantic into ten zones. Each zone had a letter and a vessels station in that zone, providing radio relay, radio navigation beacons, weather reports and rescues if an aircraft went down. The six nations of the group split the cost of these vessels.
The September 1947 ABC Guide shows 27 passenger flights a week west across the North Atlantic to the US and Canada on BOAC and other European airlines and 151 flights every two weeks on Pan Am, AOA, TWA and TCA. 15 flights a week to the Caribbean and South America, plus three a month on Iberia and a Latecoere 631 six-engine flying boat every two weeks to Fort de France.
In Summer 1956 Pan Am's DC-7C was scheduled nonstop Idlewild to London in 10 hr 50 min. Scheduled jet flights began in October 1958, and supersonic flights (Concorde) was offered from 1976 to 2003. Since the loosening of regulations in the 1970s and 1980s, many airlines now compete across the Atlantic.
Unlike over land, transatlantic flights use standardized aircraft routes called North Atlantic Tracks (NATs). These change daily in position (although altitudes are standardized) to compensate for weather—particularly the jet streamtailwinds 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 night-time hours, while westbound flights generally operate during daytime hours, for passenger convenience. The eastbound flow, as it is called, generally makes European landfall from about 0600UT to 0900UT. The westbound flow generally operates within a 1200–1500UT time-slot. Restrictions on how far a given aircraft may be from an airport also play a part in determining its route; in the past, airliners with three or more engines were not restricted, but a twin-engine airliner was required to stay within a certain distance of airports that could accommodate it (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 (the most common models used for transatlantic service being the Airbus A330, Boeing 767 and Boeing 777) have to be ETOPS certified.
The shortest ways always are orthodromes (Los Angeles–London)
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, because they operate "line of sight", are mostly useless for ocean crossings, except in initial and final legs within about 240 nautical miles (440 km) of those facilities. In the late 1950s and early 1960s an important facility for low-flying aircraft was the Radio Range. Inertial navigation systems became prominent in the 1970s.
Busiest transatlantic routes
This table is for the twenty busiest commercial routes from North America to Europe:
Early notable transatlantic flights and attempts
Airship America failure
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, 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 RMS Trent, a passing British ship. The Atlantic bid failed, but the distance covered, about 1,000 statute miles (1,600 km), was at the time a record for a dirigible.
US Navy warships "strung out like a string of pearls" along the NC's flightpath (3rd leg)
First transatlantic flight
On 8–31 May 1919, the U.S. NavyCurtiss NC-4flying boat under the command of Albert Read, flew 4,526 statute miles (7,284 km) from Rockaway, New York, to Plymouth (England), via among other stops Trepassey (Newfoundland), Horta and Ponta Delgada (both Azores) and Lisbon (Portugal) in 53h 58m, spread over 23 days. The crossing from Newfoundland to the European mainland had taken 10 days 22 hours, with the total time in flight of 26h 46m. The longest non-stop leg of the journey, from Trepassey, Newfoundland, to Horta in the Azores, was 1,200 statute miles (1,900 km) and lasted 15h 18m.
Sopwith Atlantic failure
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 the Sopwith Atlantic biplane. 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. Mary's radio was out of order, so that it was not 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 are now in the Newfoundland Museum in St. John's.
Alcock and Brown's Vickers Vimy takes off from Newfoundland.
On 30 March–17 June 1922, Lieutenant Commander Sacadura Cabral and Commander Gago Coutinho 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.
First non-stop aircraft flight between European and American mainlands
On 17–18 June 1928, Amelia Earhart was a passenger on an aircraft piloted by Wilmer Stultz. 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."
On 1–8 August 1929, in making the circumnavigation, Dr Hugo Eckener piloted the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin across the Atlantic three times: from Germany 4,391 statute miles (7,067 km) east to west in four days from 1 August; return 4,391 statute miles (7,067 km) west to east in two days from 8 August; after completing the circumnavigation to Lakehurst, a final 4,391 statute miles (7,067 km) west to east landing 4 September, making three crossings in 34 days.
First scheduled transatlantic passenger flights
From 1931 onwards, 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, London, and Berlin.; First nonstop east-to-west fixed-wing aircraft flight between European and American mainlands: On 1–2 September 1930, Dieudonne Costes and Maurice Bellonte flew 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)
On 23 June–1 July 1931, Wiley Post and Harold Gatty in a Lockheed Vega monoplane (named Winnie Mae), 15,477 nm (28,663 km) flew from Long Island in 8d 15h 51m, with 14 stops, with a total flying time 107h 2m.
On 20 May 1932, Amelia 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 encountering storms and a burnt exhaust pipe, Earhart landed in a pasture at Culmore, north of Derry, Northern Ireland, ending a flight lasting 14h 56m.
Lightest (empty weight) aircraft that crossed the Atlantic
On 7–8 May 1933, Stanisław Skarżyński made a solo flight across the South Atlantic, covering 3,582 kilometres (2,226 mi), in a RWD-5bis - empty weight below 450 kilograms (990 lb). If considering the total takeoff 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. .
Notable mass transatlantic flight: On 1–15 July 1933, Gen. Italo Balbo of Italy led 24 Savoia-Marchetti S.55X seaplanes 6,100 statute miles (9,800 km), in a flight from Orbetello, Italy, to the Century of Progress International Exposition Chicago, Illinois, in 47h 52m. The flight made six intermediate stops. Previously, Balbo had led a flight of 12 flying boats from Rome to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in December 1930-January 1931, taking nearly a month.
First around the world solo flight
On 15–22 July 1933, Wiley Post flew Lockheed Vega monoplane Winnie Mae 15,596 statute miles (25,099 km) in 7d 8h 49m, with 11 stops; flying time, 115h 36 mi.
First solo westbound crossing of the Atlantic by a woman and first person to solo westbound from England
On 4–5 September 1936, Beryl Markham, flying a Vega Gull from Abingdon, England intended to fly to New York, but was forced down at Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, due to icing of fuel tank vents.
First transatlantic passenger service on heavier-than air aircraft
on June 24, 1939, Pan American inaugurated transatlantic passenger service between New York and Marseilles, France, using Boeing 314 flying boats. On 8 July 1939, a service began between New York and Southampton as well. A single fare was US$375. Scheduled landplane flights started in October 1945.
First piston aircraft to make a non-stop World flight
In 1949, the Lucky Lady II, a Boeing B-50 Superfortress of the U. S. Air Force, commanded by Captain James Gallagher, became the first aeroplane to circle the world nonstop. This was achieved by refueling the plane in flight. Total time airborne was 94 hours and 1 minute.
First jet aircraft to make a non-stop transatlantic flight
First jet aircraft to make a non-stop World flight without refueling
In 2005, Steve Fossett, flying a Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer, set the current record for fastest aerial circumnavigation (first non-stop, non-refueled solo circumnavigation in an airplane) in 67 hours, covering 37,000 kilometers.
13 July 1928: Ludwik Idzikowski and Kazimierz Kubala attempt a crossing of the Atlantic westbound from Paris to the USA in an Amiot 123 biplane, but crash in the Azores.
6–9 February 1933. Jim Mollison flew a Puss Moth from Senegal to Brazil, across South Atlantic, becoming the first person to fly solo across the North and South Atlantics.
15–17 July 1933: LithuaniansSteponas Darius and Stasys Girėnas were supposed to make a non-stop flight from New York City via Newfoundland to Kaunas in their aircraft named Lituanica, but crashed in the forests of Germany after 6,411 km of flying, only 650 km short of their final destination after a flying time 37 hours, 11 minutes. They carried the first transatlantic airmail consignment.
10 December 1936: Luso-American aviator Joseph Costa took off from the Elmira-Corning Regional Airport in a Lockheed Vega named "Crystal City", attempting to cross the Atlantic and land in Portugal, via Brazil. His plane crashed just before a stopover in Rio de Janeiro, on 15 January 1937.
5 July 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. On 6 July 1937, Captain Arthur Wilcockson of Imperial Airways flew from Foynes to Botwood, in a Short Empire class flying boat named Caledonia.
21 July 1938: The Short Mercury flew from Foynes, on the west coast of Ireland, to Boucherville,Montreal, Canada, a flight of 2,930 statute miles (4,720 km). The Short Maia, flown by Captain A.S. Wilcockson, took off carrying Mercury (piloted by Captain, later Air Vice MarshalDon Bennett).[N 2]Mercury separated from the carrier aircraft to continue what was to become the first commercial non-stop east-to-west transatlantic flight by a heavier-than-air machine. This initial journey took 20 hrs 21 min at an average ground speed of 144 mph (232 km/h).
10 August 1938: The first non-stop flight from Berlin to New York was with a Focke-Wulf Fw 200 that flew Staaken to Floyd Bennett in 24 hours, 56 minutes and did the return flight three days later in 19 hours, 47 minutes.
Notable transatlantic flights of the 21st century
The prototype Sling 4 Light Sport Aircraft on arrival at Stellenbosch, Western Cape, South Africa
2 May 2002: Lindbergh's grandson, Erik Lindbergh, celebrated the 75th anniversary of the pioneering 1927 flight of the Spirit of St. Louis by duplicating the journey in a single engine, two seat Lancair Columbia 200. The younger Lindbergh's solo flight from Republic Airport on Long Island, to Le Bourget Airport in Paris was completed in 17 hours and 7 minutes, or just a little more than half the time of his grandfather's 33.5 hour original flight.
22–23 September 2011: Mike Blyth and Jean d'Assonville flew a Sling 4 prototype Light Sport Aircraft, registration ZU-TAF, non-stop from Cabo Frio International Airport, Brazil to Cape Town International Airport, South Africa, a distance of 6,222 km, in 27 hours. The crew set course for co-ordinates 34°S 31°W to take advantage of the westerly winds and at the turning point proceeded in an easterly direction, roughly following the 35°S parallel. This took them within 140 km north of the most remote inhabited island in the world, Tristan da Cunha. The Cabo Frio/Cape Town leg was part of an around the world flight.
Failed transatlantic attempts of the 21st century
In September 2013, Jonathan Trappe lifted off from Caribou, Maine, United States in an attempt to make the first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by cluster balloon. The craft is essentially a small yellow lifeboat attached to 370 balloons filled with helium. A short time later, due to difficulty controlling the balloons, Trappe was forced to land near the town of York Harbour, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Trappe had expected to arrive in Europe sometime between three and six days after liftoff. The craft ascended by the dropping of ballast, and was to drift at an altitude of up to 25,000 ft (7.6 km). It was intended to follow wind currents toward Europe, the intended destination, however, unpredictable wind currents could have forced the craft to North Africa or Norway. To descend, Trappe would have popped or released some of the balloons. The last time the Atlantic was crossed by helium balloon was in 1984 by Colonel Joe Kittinger.
^Jack Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown became the first men to cross the Atlantic by air in June 1919, flying in a Vickers Vimy biplane, its bomb bays filled with extra fuel. The aviators, who took their pet kittens, Twinkletoes and Lucky Jim, with them, made the crossing from Newfoundland to County Galway in 16h 27m.
^Captain Bennett was later the first commander of the RAF Pathfinder Force in World War II.