1910: An Ambitious Transatlantic Airship Voyage Comes to an Early End

October 18, 1910

The efforts of journalist and adventurer Walter Wellman to pilot the first transatlantic flight ended when he had to halt the ambitious trip about 450 miles (643.7 kilometers) east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. With his dirigible America unable to travel any further across the Atlantic Ocean due to both mechanical failures and harsh weather conditions, Wellman and his crew of five men – along with a cat named Kiddo – were forced to abandon the drifting aircraft so they could lower themselves into the sea in a lifeboat in order to be rescued by the British steamship SS Trent.

The end of the flight took place just over 71 hours after Wellman, his crew, and Kiddo had departed from Atlantic City, New Jersey, in the dirigible for their airborne journey. “Whether Walter Wellman and his party return to land, sink in the ocean, or perform a miracle and reach European shores, they are to be credited with supreme daring,” noted the Washington Post the day after the launch of the flight.

Not all that long after taking to the skies, the crew of America had to deal with challenges ranging from a powerful gale out at sea to engine problems on board. Wellman soon realized that they would not be able to reach Europe or even the Azores. He instead focused on safely terminating the flight. After rescuing Wellman and the others who had been on board the dirigible, the Trent gave them safe passage to New York City.

Wellman and those accompanying him on America did establish at least a couple of new records at that point in aviation history: the longest non-stop distance flown (1,008 miles, or 1,622 kilometers) and the longest continuous time spent up in the air. The first transatlantic flight, however, would not be achieved until 1919 when a U.S. Navy crew led by Lieutenant Commander Albert Read piloted a Curtiss NC-4 flying boat from Long Island to Plymouth, England.

For more information on Walter Wellman’s 1910 transatlantic flight attempt, please check out https://www.airships.net/first-attempt-fly-atlantic-wellman-vaniman-airship-america/ and https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-11547569​.

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