German pilot Hermann Köhl, Irish aviator James Fitzmaurice and Baron Ehrenfried Günther Freiherr von Hünefeld, the expedition’s financier, completed on this day, April 13, 1928 the first Europe to North America transatlantic flight, taking off from Ireland and landing safely on a small Canadian island.
The prevailing winds in the North Atlantic blowed from North America towards Europe, hastening Eastbound airplanes on their way but making headwinds a major problem for those flying West. Köhl, who had flown in the German Army Air Service in World War I, and von Hünefeld, who had been turned away from the Air Service due to his health, attempted the crossing already in 1927 but turned back due to poor weather. With the addition of Fitzmaurice, who had served in the British Royal Air Force before resigning to join the Irish Air Corps, they staged a second attempt the following April, using one of von Hünefeld’s two Junkers W33 aircraft, the Bremen.
The trio gathered in Dublin in late March, but foul weather delayed takeoff for 17 days. Finally, on April 12, they took off from Baldonnel Aerodrome, intending to fly to New York.
All ok at first, but a combination of storm clouds and a faulty compass put them roughly 40 degrees off course as they approached Canada. Their problems didn’t end there: the aviators soon realized they had an oil leak, at which point they abandoned the plan to land in New York and looked for the nearest place to set the plane down, which was Greenly Island.
Köhl and Fitzmaurice put the Bremen down in a frozen pond, damaging it in the process, but they walked away unharmed and having made the first-ever East-West crossing of the Atlantic.
When they later arrived in New York (having left the plane behind for repairs) they received a parade and a hero’s welcome. They spent the next several months traveling the United States and Europe, meeting with dignitaries and enjoying their celebrity status. Their semi-planned landing in Canada on April 13, 1928 represents a very important moment in aviation history, because it was the first successful nonstop flight from Europe to North America.