The First Ever Air Crossing of the South Atlantic in 1922 – Portuguese Naval Aviators Never Give Up!

The Fairey III seaplane was first flown in Great Britain in 1917 and was in use by various air arms until 1941 as a reconnaissance and general purpose naval aircraft. Despite more than 960 Fairey III variants being produced the only complete surviving (and immaculate!) example is Fairey IIID “Santa Cruz at the Museu de Marinha (Naval Museum) in Lisbon, Portugal. Portuguese naval aviators Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral flew Santa Cruz in the completion of the first air crossing of the South Atlantic from Lisbon, Portugal to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 1922 to mark the centennial of Brazil’s independence.

Fairey IIID "Santa Cruz" at the Museu de Marinha (Naval Museum) in Lisbon, Portugal
The Fairey IIID “Santa Cruz”, that completed the first South Atlantic air crossing in 1922 at the Museu de Marinha (Naval Museum) in Lisbon, Portugal (photo taken January 2017)
Portuguese naval aviators and national heroes, Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral 1922 South Atlantic Crossing
Portuguese naval aviators and national heroes, Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral (photos taken January 2017)
Fairey IIID "Santa Cruz" at the Museu de Marinha (Naval Museum) in Lisbon, Portugal
The “Santa Cruz” was the third Fairey IIID seaplane used to complete the first South Atlantic air crossing in 1922 (photo taken January 2017)
Fairey IIID "Santa Cruz" at the Museu de Marinha (Naval Museum) in Lisbon, Portugal
Fairey IIID “Santa Cruz” in profile
The Museu de Marinha (Naval Museum) in Lisbon, Portugal
The Museu de Marinha (Naval Museum) in Lisbon, Portugal is within the impressive UNESCO World Heritage listed Jerónimos Monastery (constructed 1501-1601)
Fairey IIID "Santa Cruz" at the Museu de Marinha (Naval Museum) in Lisbon, Portugal
The Fairey IIID doesn’t really look sturdy or big enough to undertake a South Atlantic crossing and the journey was very much fraught with danger and near disaster!

They took off from the waters near the famous Torre de Belém in Lisbon on March 30th, 1922 and headed for Brazil. Due to some incidents on the way, they actually used three Fairey IIID aircraft to cover the distance of 8,383 kilometres between March 30th and June 17th, 1922. The first aircraft “Lusitânia was lost upon landing on heavy seas near Saint Peter and Saint Paul Archipelago in Brazilian waters on April 17th, 1922. The second aircraft “Pátria was taken by sea to the same area to recommence the journey but was lost on May 11th during an emergency ditching in the ocean!

Fairey IIID "Lusitânia" prepares to take off from near the Torre de Belem, Lisbon on March 30th, 1922 to begin the first ever South Atlantic Air Crossing
Fairey IIID “Lusitânia” prepares to take off from near the Torre de Belém, Lisbon on March 30th, 1922 to begin the first ever South Atlantic Air Crossing (photo of a photo from the Museu de Marinha collection displays)

Santa Cruz was shipped out to the same area (to the waters off Fernando Noronha) and the flight recommenced on June 5th, 1922 with Coutinho and Cabralto finally arriving safely aboard “Santa Cruz” in Rio de Janeiro on June 17th, 1922. The third times a charm! The journey had taken 79 days but the crew actually only flew 62 hours and 26 minutes to complete the crossing!

Fairey IIID "Santa Cruz" at the Museu de Marinha (Naval Museum) in Lisbon, Portugal
The “Santa Cruz” and South Atlantic crossing trophy (photos taken in January 2017)

A more or less full-scale and amazingly detailed South Atlantic Air Crossing Fairey IIID aircraft monument today stands near the spot in Belém where the original Lusitânia took off in 1922. It’s an impressive piece of work (unfortunately the site was under some sort of restoration whilst I was in Lisbon so the fence and warning tape take away from the aesthetics somewhat)!

The 1922 South Atlantic Air Crossing Memorial in Belem - Lisbon, Portugal (photos taken during my visit in January 2017)
The 1922 South Atlantic Air Crossing Memorial in Belém – Lisbon, Portugal (photos taken during my visit in January 2017)

The monument and seeing the actual “Santa Cruz” nearby is a nice little piece of aviation history and one that is heralded in Lisbon as a great achievement in those relatively early days of aviation and record-breaking ocean crossings. Both the Museu de Marinha and monument are worth visiting. The museum has plenty of history on Portuguese naval exploration and artifacts plus a number of royal barges, boats and other historic seaplanes that are worth checking out too.

18th Century Portuguese Royal Barges - The big one was built in 1778 and remained in use until 1957 when it transported H.M. Queen Elizabeth II on her official visit to Portugal - Museu de Marinha, Lisbon
18th Century Portuguese Royal Barges – The big one, manned by 80 Oarsmen, a Coxswain and a Bowman was built in 1778 and remained in use until 1957 when it transported H.M. Queen Elizabeth II on her official visit to Portugal (photos taken during my visit to the Museu de Marinha, Lisbon in January 2017)
Schreck F.B.A. - An Anglo-French design that was the first seaplane to enter Portuguese naval service in 1917 Museu de Marinha, Lisbon
Schreck F.B.A. – An Anglo-French design that was the first seaplane to enter Portuguese naval service in 1917 – one of two purchased at the time (photos taken during my visit to the Museu de Marinha, Lisbon in January 2017)
Grumman G-44 Widgeon amphibious seaplane operated by the Portugueuse Navy from 1942 to 1952 Museu de Marinha, Lisbon
Grumman G-44 Widgeon amphibious seaplane operated by the Portuguese Navy from 1942 to 1952 (photos taken during my visit to the Museu de Marinha, Lisbon in January 2017)

 

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