Anniversary of the First Round-Trip Flight Across the Atlantic

On this day in 1919, the British airship R34 completed the first round-trip crossing of the Atlantic ocean by air.

Westbound Crossing

R34’s flight from Scotland to New York was the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic from East to West, against the prevailing westerly winds; a feat that would not be accomplished by airplane until 1928.

The ship left East Fortune, Scotland on July 2, 1919, and landed in Mineola, New York on July 6, 1919, after a flight of 108 hours and 12 minutes.

Eastbound Return

The ship sailed home on July 10, 1919, and arrived in Pulham, England on July 13, 1919 after a flight of 75 hours and 3 minutes.  It was the first round-trip crossing of the Atlantic by air.

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5 Comments on "Anniversary of the First Round-Trip Flight Across the Atlantic"

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Ed Regis
Stu: That’s a good point you make there about fuel-efficiency being the answer to the question I posed. It may even be the correct answer. My hesitation is that, as I mentioned in my reply to glenn’s post earlier, a conventional winged aircraft actually beat the airship on the eastbound crossing. Also, I don’t have fuel consumption figures for either craft, the R 34 or Alcock and Brown’s Vickers Vimy, which made the world’s first nonstop transatlantic eastbound crossing, despite its possibly having had poorer fuel economy than the R 34, so I can’t really verify your point. As for… Read more »
Ed Regis

It is sort of amazing that this large, expensive, and comparatively slow aerial vehicle accomplished these crossings before the comparatively light, fast, and relatively inexpensive airplane was able to. Does anyone have a nice, neat and simple explanation of this fact?

The explanation is the following: They offered a “work around” for engine technology, navigation technology, and the limits human endurance to deal with these deficiencies of the day. Even through the end of WWI engines were still unreliable, limited by fuel consumption (range) and performance when running for long periods. Combined with the limits of navigation of the time, this limited planes performance. A platform which could stay airborne for extended periods with multiple engines, radio communication and a full service crew to deal with all the challenges of the technology, solved these problems. Case in point: The R34 was… Read more »
Ed Regis

Thanks for your answer. I agree about engine unreliability and navigational problems, but I don’t see how the dirigible by itself solved the latter. And despite the challenge of long-endurance engine performance, the British aviators Alcock and Brown nevertheless made it first across the Atlantic Eastbound, nonstop, on 14-15 June 1919, doing so in 16 hours, at an average speed of 115 mph. So it might be just an accident of history that the Westbound crossing was not made first by an airplane as well.

The answer is simple. An airship is an aerostat which means it flies without the need of an engine pushing it through the air creating dynamic lift. An airplane (then as now) is an aerodyne which means it gains flight only by moving through the air using the air movement across it’s wings to create lift. With a stall speed of zero, the airship only needed it’s engines to move it through the air, not to keep it in the air. So the airship, particularly the larger ones, had the ability to haul vast amounts of fuel aloft and use… Read more »