Bridge of Boats to Guide Trans-Atlantic Air Mail (May, 1931)

Bridge of Boats to Guide Trans-Atlantic Air Mail

by BEVERLY BARNES

Within a few weeks you’ll be able to drop a letter in your local mail box and have it delivered in Europe in a few hours, carried by airplane all the way. How this trans-Atlantic air mail will be guided by a bridge of boats or seadromes is explained in this timely article.

THE “bridge of boats” which America rushed to completion thirteen years ago to carry an American army to France and help win the war, may become a bridge again to guide the first trans-oceanic air mail line across the North Atlantic.

While this is being written, in early March, the postoffice department at Washington is busy preparing an advertisement soliciting bids for a trans-Atlantic air mail service. By the time these words appear in print the invitation will have been issued, and it is possible that the first mail flights may be made before the end of the year.

Irving Glover, second assistant postmaster general, in charge of all air mail activities, is sponsor for the suggestion that some of the old war-time vessels, laid up by the shipping board years ago, be refitted and anchored at intervals across the Atlantic to form service stations, radio beacons and mile posts for the air mail line. Ten ships anchored at intervals would be sufficient to safeguard the route from New York to Bermuda and Bermuda to Lisbon, Portugal, by way of Fayal, in the Azores. The use of the old ships as radio and light ships and spare parts and fuel stations would be only a temporary expedient until the “floating islands” designed by Edward R. Armstrong can be built and placed along the route, as his company plans to do.

Glover’s suggestion of using the war-time ships depends on who the successful bidder is, for the method of hopping off across the ocean will be left to the winning bidder.

If carried out, however, a single ship anchored midway between New York and Bermuda would divide the first leg of the ocean hop into sections of slightly less than 400 miles each. From the ship constant radio bearings could be sent day and night, assisted by a beacon light at night.

Seven ships anchored between Bermuda and the Azores would be sufficient to divide the longest leg of the flight into 300 mile sections. With ships at those intervals the planes would never be more than 150 miles from a radio direction beacon, and a fuel and repair station, while in event of a forced landing between ships the nearest vessel could drop its moorings and proceed to the rescue.

Two, or possibly three ships, would be needed between the Azores and Lisbon. From the Portuguese city a land route via Bordeaux and Havre would connect with London, or a shorter land and sea route could be laid out up the Portuguese coast, across the Bay of Biscay to Brest, and from there to Southampton, England.

The French Compagnie Generale Aeropostale already is operating an air mail line from Europe to South America, although fast steamers have been used for the comparatively short hop from Dakar, West Africa, to Natal, Brazil, by way of St. Paul Rocks and Fernando Noranho, the famous Brazilian penal island off the coast of South America. The steamers are shortly to be replaced by seaplanes, and, in fact, several experimental trips have been made by plane.

At Natal, the French line connects with the east coast lines of the Pan-American Airways, the American mail and passenger lines which reach from Miami, Florida to Buenos Aires, by way of Cuba, Porto Rico, the Leeward and Windward Islands, and Trinidad, Georgetown, Cayenne, Para, Maranhao and Natal. The ocean hop from Dakar to Natal on the French route is not much greater than the famous flight of the U. S. Navy’s “NC” boats from the tip of Newfoundland to the Azores, just after the war.

Regardless of whether or not Glover’s suggestion to use the war-time ships as floating islands is adopted, it is practically certain the successful bidder for the first north Atlantic air line will use either flying boats or amphibians with boat hulls, and not land planes. The experience of the Pan-American air lines, operating, with its subsidiaries, a total of 19,190 miles of air mail and passenger routes, has shown that multi-motored amphibians, such as the Sikorski, are sufficient for the fairly short hops between the islands of the West Indies and across the Caribbean.

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