Suddenly the Skies Seemed Crowded
It was 1933. Dirigibles, balloons and especially airplanes, whether flown solo or in teams, made news throughout the year as men and women tested the limits of their courage — or recklessness — in efforts to fly faster and further than anyone had ever done before.

Some were successful, some died tragic, even horrible deaths, while a few fell short of their goals, but lived to fly, float or soar another day. Here is a sampling of the news made by several determined, occasionally desperate daredevils, whose exploits, unfortunately, often put others at risk.


Syracuse Journal, July 15
International News Service Correspondent

Aviation reached a new height today.

The eyes of many millions in many nations were turned toward the horizon as a three-ring spectacle of the air unfolds.

Wiley Post, with a robot pilot to keep him company, shot away from New York at 5:10 a.m. in an attempt to shatter the round-the-world record.

The solo hop-off of Post was turned into a trans-Atlantic flying race when two Lithuanians, without benefit of visa or official permission, suddenly hopped off from the same field, bound for their native land.

The Lithuanian-American fliers, who took off at 6:24 a.m. from Floyd Bennett Field, were Captain Stephen Darius and Stanley Girenas.

Meanwhile, the greatest mass formation flight in history, combining pageantry with hazards overcome, was nearing a happy ending.

The black and green and red and white seaplanes — 24 of them — which have flown from Italy, were flying from Montreal to Chicago, their destination.

Where was the man who started all this in 1927 by showing the world what could be done with a good plane and a good pilot?

Col. Charles A. Lindbergh, still in action, rested at Cartwright, Labrador, with his wife, after a flight to the north to survey Arctic regions for a proposed trans-Atlantic passenger service.


Most of the significant flights that began or ended in the United States did so at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. This was New York City's first municipal airport.

(Bennett Field did not handle dirigibles. The New York City stop for these airships was in Lakehurst, New Jersey, though the city most associated with dirigibles was Akron, Ohio.)

Floyd Bennett Field is now a park and a helicopter base for the New York Police Department. Bennett was a well-known pilot in the 1920s, having learned to fly while in the service in World War I. His biggest claim to fame was his 1926 flight to the North Pole with co-pilot, Commander Richard E. Byrd.

Bennett's death in 1928 was called courageous and tragic at the time, though today it seems rather foolish and avoidable. Ill with influenza, Bennett and another pilot, Bernt Balchen, volunteered to fly replacement parts to Canada's Greenly Island where three men in a German plane were forced to land during a trans-Atlantic flight that was supposed to end in New York City. Bennett and Balchen took off from Detroit, but it was soon obvious that Bennett was in no condition to make the trip. They landed in Quebec where Bennett was rushed to a hospital. He had developed pneumonia and was in critical condition, dying a few days later.

Balchen and another pilot delivered the spare parts to Greenly Island two days later, but it made no difference. The damaged plane remained on the island while the Germans took the rescue plane to New York City.

It wasn't long afterward that the airfield in Brooklyn was named in honor of Bennett. And here's a list of important flights that departed from or landed at Floyd Bennett Field in 1933, one of the most hectic years in early aviation history:

June 2: Lieutenant Commander Frank Hawks in his Sky Chief, arriving from Los Angeles, establishes a new West-East non-stop record.

June 3: James ("Smiling Jimmy") Mattern takes off, attempting the first solo around-the-world flight. His will be one of the year's most dramatic story after he is forced down in Siberia. His whereabouts will be unknown for several days.

June 4: Henrietta Sumner of Los Angeles wins the second annual Annette Gipson All-women Air Race. A crowd of more than 50,000 gathered at Bennett Field to watch 23 women pilots compete. Amelia Earhart was the race starter.

June 11: Captain J. Errol Boyd with Harold P. Davis and Robert G. Lyon takes off for St. Marc, Haiti in the eight year-old Columbia, a plane that twice carried other pilots across the Atlantic.

July 1: Seven pilots take off for Los Angeles in the Bendix Trophy Race, headed for Los Angeles. Roscoe Turner wins and sets a new East-to-West record, completing the trip in eleven hours and 30 minutes. Also in the race: Amelia Earhart.

July 15: Wiley Post in his plane, called "Winnie Mae," leaves in an attempt to make the first solo round-the-world flight, 15,957 miles. He encounters problems, but completes his trip seven days and 19 minutes later, a new speed record for circling the globe.

July 15: A few hours after Post departs, Captain Stephen Darius and Lieutenant Stanley Girenas begin an unauthorized flight to their native Lithuania. Two days later they are killed when their plane crashes in Germany.

July 19: Air Marshall Italo Balbo of the Italian Air Force lands at Floyd Bennett Field with his flotilla of 24 seaplanes. He had flown on a goodwill mission to the Century of Progress Exhibition (Chicago's World's Fair) from Italy via Iceland and Labrador, losing two planes on the way. New York City was the longest stop, an occasion to meet with the Italian community in New York as well thoroughly overhaul the flying boats in preparation for their journey back to Italy.

August 5: Lieutenant Maurice Rossi and Paul Codos of France take off in their plane, "Joseph Lebrix" in which they will establish a distance record of 5,650 miles when they land in Rayak, Syria, after flying 55 hours. The plane, loaded with 1,770 gallons of gasoline, uses nearly all of the 4,200-foot runway to gain airspeed.

August 8: Brothers Benjamin and Joseph Adamowicz take off, hoping to eventually reach Warsaw, Poland. Their plane is damaged while landing in Newfoundland, and they are forced to abandon their adventure.

September 2: A horrible tragedy results when former Chief of Staff of the Royal Italian Air Force, General Francesco de Pinedo is burned to death while trying to take off in an overloaded plane he intended to fly 7,500 miles from New York to Baghdad, Iraq.

September 25: Roscoe Turner breaks his trans-continental record in a flight from Burbank, California, averaging 250 miles per hour to complete his trip to Floyd Bennett Field in ten fours and five minutes.


IT WAS A TIME pilots were in competition to fly the furthest and the fastest; airplane designers and manufacturers were determined to outdo each other as well.

Glory went to the pilots, but some of the most important developments during the year weren't fully appreciated at the time. For example, in January, Britain's Royal Navy put back into service the HMS Courageous, originally a cruiser, modified to carry airplanes. The 1933 modification was hydraulically controlled arresting gear for planes landing on the deck.

A month later the United States launched USS Ranger, the country's first ship designed as an aircraft carrier.

Neither event attracted much public notice and none of the noteworthy flights during the year involved a carrier, but there was much speculation in the press about the next great war and how it would be fought and the role airplanes would play. Carriers would be vital, particularly in the Pacific, but journalists in 1933 were more fascinated by the mass flights staged by Italy and France, and seaplanes that refueled after landing in ports or on rivers.

MORE SIGNIFICANT, perhaps, was the U. S. Navy's first mass seaplane flight in April that had planes take a 750-mile round trip that originated in Oahu with the turnaround at the French Frigate Shoals to the northwest. This was one of the few military flights to bring planes back to their point of origin, an important consideration overlooked by most of the journalists who mistakenly concluded from Italo Balbo's that the United States was vulnerable to bombing attacks from a European country.

But the biggest headline-grabbers were the pilots, whether they flew solo or with a partner or a small crew. France's Jean Mermoz was one of the world's best-known aviators; in January he and his crew flew non-stop from Senegal to Brazil in 17 hours and 27 minutes.

Three weeks later, Squadron Leader Oswald R. Gayford and Flight Lieutenant Gilbert E. Nicholetts made the first non-stop flight from England to South Africa in a Fairey Long-Range Monoplane. They set a new distance record of 5,309 miles. That record would be broken in August by two French fliers, Lieutenant Maurice Rossi and Paul Codos, who flew from Floyd Bennett Field to Rayak, Syria.

In April some English fliers attracted attention by doing something that seemed very interesting at the time:


Syracuse Journal, April 4
PURNEA, India (INS) — Mount Everest, highest peak in the world, has been conquered by aircraft, and today congratulations poured in from all parts of the world on the victors.

Two airplanes crossed the summit of the mountain, permitting men for the first time in history to look down on the lofty peak.

The Marquis of Clydesdale, accompanied by Lieut. Col. L. V. Stewart Blacker, was in one of the planes, while the other contained Flight Lieutenant D. F. McIntyre and a photographer who filmed the ascent and descent.

The ascent over the 29,141-foot mountain took 90 minutes and was accomplished in the teeth of a 60-mph gale. And only one of the fliers showed effects from their freezing ride. That was Lieutenant McIntyre, who suffered slightly from frostbite.

The photographer was able to take a number of pictures, providing an authentic record of the conquest of the mountain on whose slopes many have lost their lives in attempts to reach the top.


The Mount Everest flight had been financed by one Lady Huston, who a few days later, in response to stories that the Marquis of Clydesdale wanted to take another flight across the mountain, sent him this message:

“The Good Spirit of the Mountain has been kind to you and brought you success,” her message said. “Be content. Don’t tempt the Evil Spirit of the Mountain to bring disaster. Intuition tells me to warn you there is danger if you linger.”

In July, a Peruvian military pilot, Carlos Martinez de Pinillos, flew 25,000 feet high over the Andes Mountains from San Ramon to Lima and managed to avoid any evil spirits that might be at work there.

On April 10, Francesco Agello, a warrant officer in the Italian air force, set a new airspeed record of 424 miles per hour in a Macchi MC-72 seaplane, and on August 28 was a subject in a popular newspaper feature:


ANOTHER STORY, one that began on April 11, 1933, wouldn't be finished for almost 29 years. That's how long it took to find the remains of William N. "Bill" Lancaster, who took off from England, attempting to set a speed record for a flight to South Africa. But he crashed in the Sahara Desert. He survived the crash, but died while waiting for help that never arrived.

Records are meant to be broken. An altitude record set in 1932 was broken on September 28, 1933 by a French stunt pilot, Gustave Lemoine, who went soaring in a Potez 50 plane and reached a height of 44,816 feet. Lemoine took every precaution; his plane was well-equipped to handle the hazards he might encounter at that altitude.

However, his record was short-lived. Italy's Renato Donati, in a Caproni 113 AQ biplane, reached an altitude of 47,352 feet on April 11, 1934.

Six months later Lemoine was busy testing a new bomber when he encountered problems controlling the plane. He was forced to jump, but his parachute malfunctioned and he was killed.

An Australian-born flier, Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, attracted attention in October when he flew solo and hopped from England to Australia in a few hours more than seven days. Two years later he disappeared when he attempted the flight again

It seemed hardly a day went by in 1933 that something — usually tragic, sometimes inspiring, often incredible — didn't happen in the air.