Lusitania: Lisbon, Canaries, Cape Verde and St. Paul

Details of the trip: edited excerpts from the aviators’ writings (by Armand F. Pereira)

Fairey_Belem.jpg (54706 bytes)Lisbon-Las Palmas: Departure on 30 March at 7:05 in front of the Belem Tower, with 220 gallons of fuel and 15 gallons of oil, crackers, water, "pao de chocolate" and a bottle of good Ramos Pinto port wine "for exceptional needs". The hydroplane ran for 15 sec. at 1800 rpm, and then climbed to an average cruising altitude of about 200 metres. Land was last seen at 7:22 and the compass set at 21 8, according to calculations made prior to take-off bearing in mind the effects of a light NNW wind. Land was seen again 6h and 53 min later. Around 8:00, the Fairey flew at a speed reading of 68 miles, though actually going much faster owing to an 8-10 mile NW wind. The route was adjusted along with the observed changes in wind direction and speed. For example, by 10:45, the wind blew from NE at about 8 miles and the route was reset to 21 1. At noon the hydroplane reached lat. 31 27' N, long. 13 44' W, having flown 484 miles. Consumption at 20 gallons/hr seemed excessively high for the conditions observed so far. This raised special concern about the ability of the Fairey to do the most critical stage of the crossing, from Praia to St. Peter (& St. Paul’s) Rocks e Sao Paulo (NW of Fernando Noronha).

Las Palmas-S. Vicente: Landing at the de la Luz Port at 15:30; departure on 31 March to Baia de Gando owing to its better conditions for refuelling and for take-off (e.g. calmer sea making the tail of the hydroplane hit the water a bit less than would be the case at rougher waters). The hydroplane was loaded with 240 gallons, and after tests and mechanical inspections, there were signs of water infiltration in some of the floating sections of the plane. On 3 April, take-off was unsuccessfully attempted three times, thus confirming the problem of excessive water infiltration. The flight plan had to be altered: The hydroplane was towed close to a beach and the gasoline removed into barrels (supposedly to make the hydroplane lighter and increase the access to the floaters in order to remove water as much as possible). These conditions led Coutinho and Cabral to make another key alteration in the flight plan: To land in S. Vicente, Cabo Verde, before proceeding to Praia, because the latter (the next stop originally planned) had no facility to take the aircraft out of the water and empty out the floaters completely. To take off from S. Vicente would be an option, but the take off conditions with a full load were not favourable and the distance to St. Peter (& St. Paul’s) Rocks would be 90 miles longer than from Praia.

0n 5 April by early morning, the water was again drained out of the floaters, the tanks were filled with 240 gallons of fuel, and the Lusitania took off at 7:23 against a 25 mile E/NE wind through a lot of shaking. Right after take off, the navigational needle went round and round, but the flight was continued, guided by the direction of the waves and the shadow of the aircraft projected by the early morning sun on the ocean surface. The flight continued without compass for 1 hour and 50 minutes at some 90 miles an hour, causing a 10-mile deviation off course. By noon (astronomical), the Lusitania kept the same speed and, with the required corrections, it reached lat. 28 38 and long. 20 22 W, with 430 miles left to go before S. Vicente. By 1:30, consumption was estimated and confirmed at about 20 gallons per hour with 110 gallons to go, while the wind slowed down to 5 miles from the same NNE before changing to N. At 15:30, land was announced by a low flying bird and the aircraft climbed momentarily to 2,000 ft but no land signs could be seen. Another climb at 17:30 unveiled the peak of S. Nicolau over the clouds, followed by sights of Santo Antao, Sta. Lusia and S. Vicente which emerged between the cloud cover before descending slowly to a quiet landing at Matiala beach in S. Vicente at 18:18. The 850 miles from the Gando Bay at Las Palmas had taken 10 hours and 43 minutes at 79.5 miles an hour.

S. Vicente-Praia: From 6 to 13 April, the two airmen spent their time studying the optimal conditions and location for emptying the floaters completely, for making the necessary adaptations in the compartments inside the floaters, and for take off. At the same time, they had to wait for the ship that would refuel the aircraft at St. Peter (& St. Paul’s) Rocks to arrive there on 13 April. On 14 April, the Lusitania made three unsuccessful attempts to take off to Praia and as unfavourable weather conditions continued, it only managed to take off on 17 April at 3:55. This 2 hour flight was very abrupt, even though the wind from NE and NNE was only blowing at 10-15 miles. Pico do Fogo was seen at 5:16 and the land of S. Tiago at 5:24, and the aircraft landed without incident on calm waters at 5:50.

Praia-Sao Pedro: On 18 April, the Fairey Lusitania took off at 5:55 after two unsuccessful attempts during the previous 34 minutes. The aircraft faced low speed NNE winds. By 6:10 land was out of sight. At 8:00 Sacadura Cabral noted with surprise that the gas tanks in the floaters were already completely empty, leaving no more than 195 gallons left which would last less than 10 hours! Meanwhile, the wind had slowed down even more. At this stage, Cabral exchanged notes with Gago Coutinho (see photos of messages) about the fuel prospects and the critical choice of continuing further or turning back. He realized that in addition to the fuel lost during the two unsuccessful take-off attempt, the high temperatures at Praia may have caused some of the fuel to evaporate during the night (the tanks had to be filled before midnight in order to leave by early morning). He calculated that the aircraft may have taken off with only about 235 gallons, thus with less than 12 hours of flying time. Therefore, to fly the 918 miles between Praia and St. Peter (& St. Paul’s) Rocks, a speed of 76 miles an hour would be required, but this would not be possible under the wind conditions observed in the last two hours. They decided to continue hoping for a favourable change in wind speed. By 9:10 a ship was seen and Coutinho approached it in the hope it would report its position to other ports and ships. Meanwhile Cabral calculated that fuel consumption was at least 20 gallons an hour and that St. Peter (& St. Paul’s) Rocks was 690 miles away. To reach it, the airplane needed 80 miles an hour, but it was barely doing 72. The logical thing to do would be to turn back, but Praia had no aviation gasoline left. Furthermore, he figured that if they turned back they would have failed to accomplish what they had sought out to do, namely "to demonstrate that air navigation could be subject to as much accuracy as sea navigation". After several notes and hesitation, they decided to continue. The wind conditions remained unfavourable until 10:00 but began to improve slightly thereafter, thus reviving their hopes of reaching their target. At noon, they estimated a 15 mile NE wind as the aircraft reached lat. 7 41 N and long. 26 26 W, thus suggesting an average speed of 80 miles an hour. On the other hand, temperature had increased significantly which implied possible fuel evaporation. By 15:00, the aircraft crossed some light rain and the wind slowed down significantly but favourably between NE and NNE. The distance to St. Peter (& St. Paul’s) Rocks was about 175 miles. At 16:00 the main fuselage tanks were empty, and the 24 gallons left in the emergency tank would last only one hour and 15 minutes. At 17:00, the two airmen spotted St. Peter (& St. Paul’s) Rocks and the refuelling ship Republica some 8 miles to the NW. At 17:15 the engine was shut off while the aircraft initiated its descent towards the ship with no more than two or three litres left in the tank. The sea was far too rough for an easy landing, however. They directed the aircraft along the surf, but even so a larger wave split apart one of the floaters. The hydroplane continued its landing course for some seconds but, as it stopped, it tilted and dove its nose into the water. The airmen with their instruments and books were rescued without incident by the Republica and the Fairey Lusitania sank soon thereafter in between attempts to salvage its faithful engine.

Armand F. PEREIRA

 

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