The First Plane To Complete A Continuous Transatlantic Flight Was?
Answer: A Vickers Vimy IV
If you’re an American and well versed in the history of your nation, we will absolutely forgive you for associating the Spirit of St. Louis aircraft and it’s pilot Charles Lindbergh with transatlantic flight (and consequently getting this trivia question wrong) because of his very notable 1927 solo flight between New York City and Paris. The history of transatlantic flight, however, is a fairly complex one and to arrive at the first true continuous journey across the Atlantic we’ll need to do a little unpacking.
In April of 1913, the British paper The Daily Mail offered a prize of £10,000 to anyone who could fly across the Atlantic from Europe to North America. Adjusted for inflation and converted to U.S. dollars, and accounting for liberties taken in doing so, that is roughly 1.1 million dollars in prize money and, as you can imagine, there were a few stipulations attached. The flight had to take 72 or less consecutive hours, it had to use a single aircraft, and it had to be between any point in the U.S., Canada, or Newfoundland, and any point in Great Britain or Ireland.
With the outbreak of World War I, the contest was suspended, but then resumed in 1918 after the war ended. Once the contest was afoot again, things progressed quickly due to how much aviation had advanced during the war.
The first transatlantic flight, in loose terms and certainly not a direct flight, was completed in May of 1919 when the Curtiss NC-4, a U.S. Naval aircraft, completed a lengthy trip between New York and Lisbon, Portugal over 19 days (eventually ending up in Great Britain by the 23rd day). While technically the first transatlantic flight, the length of time, number of stops (the plane landed numerous times for repairs, rest, and refueling in locations like Newfoundland and the Azores Islands), the journey didn’t particularly capture the public imagination and was eclipsed shortly thereafter by the first continuous transatlantic flight.
That flight, conducted by British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown with a modified Vickers Vimy IV twin-engine bomber left over from World War I, from Newfoundland, Canada to Ireland took a mere 15 hours and 57 minutes to complete the journey–no Concorde-like-journey by any stretch of the imagination, but a little more than half a day compared to the three weeks the NC-4 crew had taken.
Because they met all the qualifications of The Daily Mail contest, they were awarded the prize money (as well as awarded the honor of Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire a week after their arrival in Ireland). As a bit of double bonus trivia, they also carried a small amount of mail with them, making the journey the first transatlantic mail flight and their prize money was personally delivered by Winston Churchill–then Britain’s Secretary of State for Air in charge of the Air Ministry.