The world’s first Transatlantic flight took off from the Rockaways in 1919

May 8, 2019

“They’re off!”  The NC-1, NC-3 and NC- 4 begin their journey across the Atlantic May 8th, 1919. Via the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Did you know that the world’s first Transatlantic flight took off from the Rockaway Naval Air Station on May 8th, 1919? The plane, a US Navy Seaplane NC-4, not only departed from the Rockaways but also was assembled there. The NC-4 was one of three planes that vied to be the first across the Atlantic. The NC-1 and NC-3 started out alongside the NC-4 that day in the Rockaways. The planes set course for Plymouth England, and the NC-4 proved victorious, making landfall there on May 31, 1919, after a whopping 57 hours and 16 minutes in the air.

After WWI, London’s “The Daily Mail” was offering a £10,000 prize (close to $1 million today) to “the aviator who shall first cross the Atlantic in an aeroplane in flight from any point in the United States of America, Canada or Newfoundland and any point in Great Britain or Ireland” in 72 straight hours.

But NC-4’s flight was far from direct. According to a play-by-play in the New York Times, the plane few from Rockaway to Chatham, then went onto Halifax, Trepassey, Horta, Ponta Delgada, Lisbon, the Mondego River, Ferrol, and finally Plymouth. There, RAF planes and Royal Navy destroyers were on hand to hail “the great victory achieved over the atmosphere,” and give the American pilot, Commander A. C. Read, a hero’s welcome. At the time, the event was declared an “epoch-making” journey.

The first non-stop Transatlantic flight occurred the very next month when British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown flew a WWI bomber from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to County Galway, Ireland. Upon arrival, they were awarded the “Daily Mail” prize. It wasn’t until eight years later, however, that Charles Lindbergh famously made the first solo, non-stop Transatlantic flight, flying from Roosevelt Field, Long Island to Paris, France in just a day-and-a-half.

Today, you can celebrate the centennial with an air-and-water show at Riis landing, or check out a special exhibit devoted to high-flying local history at The Rockaway Artists Alliance through June 2nd. At the public celebration, the names of all crew members aboard the historic flight will be read aloud as memorial flowers are released into Jamaica Bay. The Coast Guard and NYPD Aviation Unit will fly over the scene, and the Fire Department’s marine division will execute a water show.


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