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NC-4—she was the first

11 January 2018

 

US Navy Curtiss NC-4—Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft

There she is in all her tremendous size in the National Naval Aviation Museum—the Curtiss NC-4 which the US Navy flew across the Atlantic Ocean. The first aircraft to do so. The US Navy began the flight with three aircraft but it was the NC-4 which made it. Thankfully no crew members were lost with the two aircraft which were forced to retire from the mission. The mission itself was an immense logistical exercise and covered many days. This is perhaps why this achievement was eclipsed by Alcock and Brown’s single hop across the Atlantic Ocean, over a shorter route, but in one hop all the same.

Unlike Alcock and Brown’s Vickers Vimy, the NC-4 is in a museum where it can be approached, touched and experienced. The size of a large business jet (like a Grumman Gulfstream) but all crew positions in the open with a quadruple set of 400 hp engines. Fingertips along the doped skin, maybe not the same skin which kissed the Atlantic’s waters, bring a thrill all the same. How often can one feel history? Holding the camera up above the head gives a delayed peek into part of the cockpit—though the museum allows a virtual visit here. This aircraft was flown by muscle and pneumatics—no hydraulics or electric boost, much less an autopilot or GPS—and all across an unforgiving ocean for the first transoceanic transit.

The difference between stall speed and cruise speed was slight, 54 knots and 84 knots, but the range was respectable at more than 1400 miles. For the six member crew the flight must have been at times exhilarating and at other times trying—the nature of firsts, of exploring and of pioneering.

US Navy Curtiss NC-4—Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft

US Navy Curtiss NC-4—Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft

US Navy Curtiss NC-4—Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft

US Navy Curtiss NC-4 view from on high—Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft

US Navy Curtiss NC-4’s cockpit (whatever the weather the crew felt it)—Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft

US Navy Curtiss NC-4’s engines (all four)—Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft

US Navy Curtiss NC-4 propeller and engine assembly—Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft

US Navy Curtiss NC-4 Curtiss Liberty 12 engine (12 cylinders and 400 hp)—Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft

US Navy Curtiss NC-4 beaching gear close up—Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft

US Navy Curtiss NC-4 view of the engine with the pusher propeller—Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft

US Navy Curtiss NC-4’s tailplane —Joseph May/Travel for Aircraft

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Bruce Kay permalink
    13 January 2018 11:38

    Thanks Joe. Excellent set of photos. What year was the flight of 3 minus 2?

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      13 January 2018 14:44

      Thanks Bruce. I know you see it’s an older design–it’s record flight was May through June 1919. That’s nearly a century ago. Am amazing fact to consider with changes in design, engines, electronics, etc.

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