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Published on April 16th, 2018 | by FII Reader

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Bremen Flight – 12-13 April 1928

By Antoin Daltún.

Thursday 12 April 2018 marked the 90th Anniversary of the departure from Baldonnel of the Junkers W33 “Bremen” D-1167 which made the first successful flight across the North Atlantic from East-to-West on a heavier than air machine.

The departure from Baldonnel was at 0538 GMT.  After 36½ hours, the aircraft landed on frozen ice at Greenly Island in Quebec. Greenly Island is at 51 22 36.5N, 57 11 27W, west of St Anthony and a bit north of most of the usual tracks between Ireland and the US. Blanc Sablon is the nearest point marked on most regional maps. At almost the same point, at L’Anse aux Meadows in Labrador, Newfoundland, Viking remains have been found, so it is a very historic corner of the New World.

The Crew on the flight were:

Captain Hermann Köhl (R), born in 1888, a former Army officer who had transferred to the German Air Force and later to the Junkers airline and to Luft Hansa where he did a lot of test and night flying.  After the Bremen flight, he returned for a time to Luft Hansa but soon retired and died on 7 October 1938 as a result of kidney failure.  There is a museum in his honour in Pfaffenhofen an der Roth, near Ulm, in Southern Germany.

Commandant James C Fitzmaurice (C), born in Dublin in 1898, a former Irish National Volunteer who joined the British Army, worked his way through the ranks during the First World War and joined the Royal Flying Corps which became the RAF 100 years ago on 1 April 1918.  After the war he flew military mail between England and France.  In February 1922, he joined the newly formed Irish Army Air Corps and became OC in October 1926.  He participated in an Atlantic attempt on 16 September 1927 with Capt RH McIntosh in a Fokker FVIIA from Baldonnel.  After five hours they turned back due to bad weather and landed on Beale Beach near Ballybunion in Co Kerry.

After the Bremen flight, Fitzmaurice went to live in America.  He was involved in an Irish entry in the England-Australia Air Race in 1934 and other ventures.  He died in Dublin on 26 September 1965 and was buried in Glasnevin cemetery after a State funeral.  The Irish Air Corps flying school at Baldonnel has been named in his honour and a special postage stamp was issued by the Irish Post Office in 1998.  A bust in his honour was unveiled in the County Council Offices in Portlaoise, Co Laois, where he spent his childhood, and a plaque in Dublin on the North Circular Road, near his birth-place, on the 70th anniversary, Sunday 12 April 1998.

Baron Günther von Hünefeld (L), representing the sponsor, North German Lloyd shipping company, also travelled on the flight and served as steward.  He died in Berlin, from cancer, on 4 February 1929.

A ceremony was held at Baldonnel last week to mark the anniversary.

The aircraft was a Junkers W33 low wing monoplane of typical all-metal Junkers construction with corrugated aluminium skin.  The closed cockpit accommodated the two pilots and von Hünefeld was in the rear cargo section of the fuselage surrounded by fuel tanks.  The single engine was a water-cooled in-line six-cylinder Junkers L5 developing 310 horsepower.  The normal gross weight of a Junkers W33 was 2,500 kg, with a cruising speed of 81 knots.  For the Bremen, power was increased to 360 hp and the take-off weight to 3,692 kg.

The aircraft belongs to the Ford Foundation Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.  It is currently on loan and public display in Bremen Airport after restoration by veterans and by instructors in the Lufthansa Engineering School.

The East-West direction is the more difficult one with average headwinds of about 10-20 knots at low altitude.  Since cruising speeds were less than 100 knots, that was a serious disadvantage.  The average speed on the Bremen flight was only about 50 knots point-to-point, but that conceals the headwind and navigation problems they encountered with bad weather and very limited navigational instruments.

In the late 1990s as part of major road reconfiguration works at Rathcoole a new stretch of road was built from the east end of Rathcoole’s main street eastwards to a new roundabout giving access to Saggart.  The road is officially named “Fitzmaurice Road” with a standard steel nameplate and an inscribed stone announcing the fact for posterity. The naming ceremony was graced by an Air Corps flyover. [An adjacent landmark is the Avoca store and café].

A ceremony was held at Baldonnel last week to mark the anniversary.


Two serious books in English have been published on the flight and there are others in German.

[The Bremen by Fred T Hotson, Canav Books, Toronto (1988) and

Fitz and the Famous Flight by Teddy Fennelly, Arderin Publishing in association with the Leinster Leader, Portlaoise (1997)].

The Flying Fitz by John Fitzmaurice, Authorhouse, Bloomington (2006) is written for the Fitzmaurice family, but is also to be shared with children everywhere to give them the confidence that if you want to do something it can be accomplished.

https://www.amazon.com/Flying-Fitz-John-Fitzmaurice/dp/1420885189

Contemporary accounts from Flight magazine include the statement from the Director of Civil Aviation in Britain, Sir Sefton Branker “This splendid sporting stunt is one which, incidentally, I hope will deter others from trying to repeat a hazardous adventure without practical value” and others more positive congratulations .

https://www.flightglobal.com/FlightPDFArchive/1928/1928%20-%200287.PDF

https://www.flightglobal.com/FlightPDFArchive/1928/1928%20-%200288.PDF

https://www.flightglobal.com/FlightPDFArchive/1928/1928%20-%200289.PDF

There is some material from the National Library of Ireland at

http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000249850 and

There is a series of pictures from the Boston Public Library on the flight, the subsequent reception in the US (and the Douglas World Cruiser Flyers) at

www.flickr.com/photos/boston_public_library/6012310781/in/set-72157627240385005/

Irish Independent Archive pictures includes 1978 commemoration at Baldonnel

https://independentarchives.photoshelter.com/gallery/Bremen-Flight-1928/G0000j2bTTn8s6dg/C0000PvjtHKO__5I

Video clips of Washington formalities at

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B_9nulXM-jQcZXMxUFl1d3AyUlU/edit

There is a video clip at Greenly Island which omits Fitzmaurice but has lots of locals, small boys and dogs at

http://www.britishpathe.com/video/the-end-of-an-epic-flight/query/labradors

A little more at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7t2TsCYECpo

A longer version of the above, produced for Junkers, covering also the preparation of the aircraft (including radio and a rubber lifer raft), the flight from Berlin to Baldonnel, the rescue mission from Greenly Island, the arrival in New York, the families of the crew, the naming of Lufthansa’s pride and joy, a Junkers G.31 registered D-1310, after Köhl at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NU7Sa8QcLCw

RTE Radio documentary from 1992 at

http://www.rte.ie/radio1/doconone/2011/0208/646627-radio-documentary-flight-of-the-bremen-atlantic-captain-james-fitzmaurice/

Clip from 70th anniversary commemoration

http://www.rte.ie/archives/2018/0103/930810-first-east-west-atlantic-flight/

You Tube exploration of the aircraft memorabilia at Bremen Airport

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOLyYfZev4o

FS Pilot Shop/Lionheart Creations offers a Junkers W33 & W34 package for Flight Simulator 2004.  I have no idea how compatible that is with 2018 technology.

https://www.fspilotshop.com/lionheart-creations-junkers-w33-w34-for-fs2004-p-4916.html

  1. Keane; The Weather and the First Successful Non-Stop East to West Trans-Atlantic Flight of 1928 Meteorological Service (Met Éireann Internal Memorandum 86/78, 1978)

http://edepositireland.ie/bitstream/handle/2262/73544/86-78.pdf

Some other pioneer Atlantic flights:

The first eastbound flight was in 1919.  A US Navy team with single-engined Curtiss NC4 biplane flying boats attempted a crossing via Newfoundland and the Azores in 1919.  One boat commanded by Lieutenant Commander Albert C Reid successfully made it all the way from Trepassey Bay, Newfoundland to Plymouth, England in 12 days from 16 to 27 May 1919.

The first direct crossing was by John Alcock and Arthur Whitten-Brown on 14-15 June 1919 from St John’s, Newfoundland, to a bog near Clifden in Co Galway, in a twin-engined Vickers Vimy biplane.

The British airship R34 made two successful crossings in July 1919 from East Fortune, near Edinburgh, to Mineola, Long Island, and back to Pulham, Norfolk.

In October 1924, the Zeppelin airship LZ126 was successfully delivered as war reparations from Friedrichshafen in Germany to Lakehurst NJ.  It later became the US Army airship Los Angeles.

Charles A Lindbergh, the most famous of American flyers, performed his solo flight New York-Roosevelt Field to Paris-Le Bourget, on 20-21 May 1927 in a single-engined Ryan NYP monoplane, “Spirit of St Louis”, almost a year before the Bremen.

That was also the first airport to airport and city to city flight and took 33½ hours.  Lindbergh’s first landfall was Dingle Bay, Co Kerry.

Greenly Island is now part of the Baie de Brador Migratory Bird Sanctuary and requires a permit to visit at some times of the year. www.ibacanada.com/site.jsp?siteID=QC063&lang=EN

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