BY TAMMY SCILEPPI
So, you thought Charles Lindbergh was the first ever to make that treacherous and historic trans-Atlantic flight. Well, turns out he wasn’t.
May 8 marks the 100th anniversary of the first successful trans-Atlantic flight in 1919 by the U.S. Navy’s NC-4 flying boat, the very first aircraft to blaze across the airways over that huge ocean.
Surprisingly, this remarkable event happened eight years before that popular hero’s memorable Paris flight, which was cheered on by an incredulous nation. But for some reason, folks barely noticed NC-4’s amazing expedition; perhaps they didn’t find the story of the seaplane as interesting or exciting … though indeed it was.
Join Queens Councilman Eric A. Ulrich, the Queens Historical Society and the Rockaway Artists Alliance on May 8 at 10 a.m., as they celebrate NC-4’s historic flight. The ceremony will take place at the old Rockaway Coast Guard Station at the nearby Riis Landing, and will feature speakers from Navy and Coast Guard, veterans’ groups, local schools, bands and a military flyover, with participation by the NYPD and FDNY. Family members of the crews, their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, will be coming in from all over the country to join in as well.
“One hundred years ago, three Navy seaplanes took off from Jamaica Bay. After a series of stops, one of those planes (NC-4) would land in Lisbon [Portugal]. Despite making headlines, their important journey soon became a forgotten piece of history,” said Ulrich.
“When I learned about the long forgotten story behind the world’s first trans-Atlantic flight, I knew we had to bring the story out from behind history’s shadow.”
The celebration event is a reminder of that rocky journey. After NC-4 was assembled and took off from the Rockaway Naval Air Station in May of 1919, it took the aircraft about three weeks to fly across the Atlantic. There were impossible delays in weather, engine repairs and other problems, but the plane finally made Lisbon on May 27.
A special free exhibition – “The Forgotten Fliers of 1919” – is on view through Sunday, June 2. It honors this monumental event and will be hosted at the Rockaway Artists Alliance’s Studio T-7 Gallery in Fort Tilden on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays – 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The exhibit will present storyboards telling the tale of the epic flight, along with pictures, video, models, diaries and other artifacts from NC-4.
The aircraft was restored by the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and the U.S. Navy for its 50th anniversary and placed on permanent display at the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida.
And thanks to citizens of the Rockaway community, on the flight’s 50th anniversary in 1969, a marker was placed where it all began. While no memorial to the NC Trans-Atlantic Expedition has ever graced JFK Airport, every flight that takes off from its runway 25L overflies the site of that long-gone NAS Rockaway.
Few people realize that it took four presidents until the NC-4’s courageous crew of six were honored with special medals at a White House ceremony.
“I am proud to have funded this project, and to honor the brave men and women in our armed forces whose sacrifices were forgotten. I encourage my constituents – and all Queens residents – to check out this special exhibit celebrating a local legacy that has been lost for far too long,” Ulrich said.
“Till this day, the majority of people believe Charles Lindbergh was the first man to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. But contrary to popular belief, five members of the U.S. Navy and the first U.S. Coast Guard pilot were the first to fly across … and their journey began right here in our backyard.”
Special exhibition: The Forgotten Fliers of 1919
Rockaway Artists Alliance
Studio 7 Gallery
Gateway National Recreation Area
Rockaway Point, NY
Fort Tilden, Rockaways
This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Dept. of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.