2012-05-11 / Community

93rd Anniversary Of NC-4 Flight Celebrated

By Steve Yeager Special To The Wave

It has been 93 years since Rockaway saw three Navy flying boats leave Jamaica Bay for their historic trans- Atlantic flight. The following is an excerpt from my unpublished manuscript on the NC-4’s journey: Thursday, May 8, 1919

All crew members were on edge while they were waiting for information about the weather along the east coast. When Towers received the report from Washington at 9:30 A.M., it was positive; there was to be good weather for the flight. Towers immediately approached the men and simply said, “Well, boys, let’s go!”

About 1,200 spectators including relatives, reporters, officials, and Navy personnel began to stir. They watched as Chief of the Bureau of Naval Aviation, Captain Noble E. Irwin, approached each man and handed him a four-leaf-clover for luck.

The Nancys were taken from their hangar. The crew members were dressed in their warm, fleece-lined flight suits, with boots, helmets, goggles, and gloves. They waited until they were given word to board their respective planes. It seemed like a lifetime until they were actually able to board the planes and settle into their assigned places.

It was 9:57 A.M. and each plane was secured to its carriage on a marine railway. Naval station personnel were on hand to guide the planes as they entered the water. The NC-3 revved up its motors and, after a short pause, it rolled down into the waters of Jamaica Bay. As it taxied out into the middle of the Bay the NC-4 made its way into the calm water. At this point in time the NC-4 had only five hours flying time making it the ‘un-tested baby’ of the three flying boats. It was followed by the NC-1; the clock read 9:59 A.M.

The planes moved away from the beach each one leaving two shallow wakes in the water from their wing pontoons. The spectators were cheering and waving them off. They slowly headed east and then turned west where they seemed to pause in place. On their right were the now-familiar smoking stacks of the furnaces on Barren Island. With motors warmed up and ready, Commander Towers raised one arm and quickly lowered it and the NC-3 moved forward. As her speed increased two lines of white foam fanned out away from her hull, leaving an ever widening wake.

The NC-3 began to rise up above the water at a shallow angle. At 10:02 A.M. she was completely clear of the low waves. Long streams of water dropped away from her gray hull and fell back into the bay. The other two flying boats repeated the maneuver with the NC-4 lifting off at 10:03 A.M. and the NC-1 following at 10:04 A.M.

The roar of the flying boats’ twelve, powerful motors startled the Herring and Laughing gulls sitting on the water. The birds lifted off flapping their wings as though they too were wishing success to the adventure.

The shallow wakes from the planes gently rolled up on the beach, wave after wave, while all three flying boats headed westward in a duck-like ‘V’ formation. The flagship, NC-3, at the point; the NC-1 was on its port side; and the NC-4 was on its starboard side. The flying boats slowly turned, in unison, south then east flying over the Naval Air Station/Fort Tilden complex on the Rockaway Peninsula. The day had finally arrived: The Atlantic crossing by aeroplane had begun.

On the Atlantic side of the peninsula the roar of the Nancys’ motors kept up a steady, loud hum. The shore birds fled and beachgoers watched in awe as the three large flying boats, in V-formation, flew by; their apparent size becoming smaller and smaller and the sound of their motors receding as they made their way northeast along the coastline toward the tip of Long Island. Passing Montauk Point they would sight, off their port wings, New York State’s oldest lighthouse, Montauk Point Lighthouse built in 1796. The Nancys made a northerly turn toward Block Island passing over the island fifteen minutes later. Then they would take a heading for Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Those who observed this historic takeoff could not but be amazed at the daring, courageous men who were making the voyage. All the myths and legends that remained in a person’s mind were being destroyed. This flight was reality — this was fact, not mythology and it was happening in their lifetime, before their very eyes.

The Wave of Long Island, Rockaway’s local newspaper, put this headline box on its front page: EXTRA On Way Across Ocean

The great Atlantic flight of the U.S. Navy seaplanes, the NC 1, NC 3 and NC 4 (sic), from the Naval Air Station at Rockaway Point, started this morning at 10 o’clock sharp, when the three planes took the air gracefully from Jamaica Bay in the presence of distinguished government officials and men attached to the aviation service. The first leg of the air voyage is Halifax, N.S., where the planes are expected to arrive late this afternoon. The hop across the Atlantic will be started some days later.

The paper’s editor wrote that the first flight across the Atlantic would “be no small honor, and as the aeroplane is an American invention, it...shall also be an American accomplishment.” However, some readers must have thought that the flight would never be a success, while others may not have understood its importance in aviation history.

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