By Ted Luebbers, EAA 875984
Back in the early 1900s when aviation was blossoming in the United States, it was also doing the same in other countries around the globe. In this country we tend to focus on Charles Lindbergh’s flight in 1927 from New York to Paris, but there were other notable transatlantic flights by people from England, France, and Portugal, just to name a few.
While my wife Joan and I were recently traveling in Europe, we came across a surprise to us in Portugal that commemorated a flight across the South Atlantic from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1922. This was accomplished five years before Lindbergh, and about three years after the first aerial crossings of the Atlantic in 1919.
The journey was made by two Portuguese naval aviators in a single-engine floatplane called a Fairey IIID Mk.II, which was built by the English and purchased by the Portuguese navy. The tour director was explaining all about the flight while we were on a tour of Lisbon, but because of her accent and other noise it was difficult to understand the story.
After a while, the tour stopped at the Maritime Museum of Lisbon and I was able to get the rest of the story.
Two Portuguese men took off on March 30, 1922, from the Lisbon harbor in a single-engine Fairey biplane equipped with very large floats. They landed in Rio de Janeiro on June 17, 1922. The navigator was Carlos Viegas Gago Coutinho and the pilot was Artur de Sacadura Cabral.
They flew in nine stages with three different Fairey float planes — a journey of 79 days but an actual flight time of 62 hours and 26 minutes. They flew 8,383 nautical miles in these single-engine open cockpit biplanes.
One of the things that helped make this flight successful was the use of a new type of sextant with two leveling bubbles, which could produce an artificial horizon. This enabled them to make constant fixes for position, and their course was pretty much a straight line. They were able to find stops in the Canary Islands, the Azores, and islands off the coast of Brazil where Portuguese naval vessels were waiting with fuel and repair parts.
Unfortunately, they had to abandon the first two planes in those Brazilian islands due to engine trouble and a broken float. After losing the second plane they were rescued by a passing freighter and taken to a nearby island. Eventually, a Portuguese naval vessel showed up with their third Fairey aircraft and they were able to continue the trip to Rio de Janiero.
This was quite an epic flight at a time when the aircraft industry worldwide was just getting started and planes were not as dependable as they are today. These men were very brave, skilled navigators, and they were persistent.
Today there is a bronze, full-sized statue of a Fairey III biplane with floats in a Lisbon park to commemorate the flight. Located in the Maritime Museum is the third airplane, called the Santa Cruz, which landed in Rio de Janeiro on June 17, 1922.