Image courtesy of the Library of Congress
Lieutenant Commander Albert C. Read (center) posed with Massachusetts Representatives Willfred Lufkin (left) and John J. Rogers. Read and his crew completed their monumental flight in May 1919.
On this date, Congress awarded a Congressional Gold Medal
to a naval aviation crew for the successful completion of the first transatlantic flight. Although Charles Lindbergh, a 1928 Congressional Gold Medal recipient, was celebrated for completing the first non-stop, solo flight from New York to Paris in May 1927, the naval aviators had accomplished their mission eight years earlier. In the wake of the euphoria surrounding Lindbergh’s flight, James Leech
of Pennsylvania submitted a citation commending the journey of Lieutenant Commander Albert C. Read and his five crew members (and Commander John H. Towers, who conceived of the effort), who successfully flew a Curtiss NC flying boat bi-plane, from Rockaway Beach, New York, to Plymouth, England, via the Azores Islands and Portugal from May 8 to 19, 1919. Three Navy bi-planes began the flight, but Read's NC-4 was the one that completed the journey. Lt. Commander Read noted that the airworthy design “filled the crews with confidence that the planes were able, with ordinary luck, to cross the ocean safely.” Making multiple stops along the way, the aviators flew for a total of 3,900 miles, at an average speed of 72 miles an hour. The total in-air time for the journey was 54 hours and 16 minutes. Lindbergh’s non-stop flight, by comparison, took 33 and one-half hours. These aviators were part of a long line of servicemen honored with the Gold Medal. The first Gold Medals were awarded by the Continental Congress to the heroes of the American Revolution. The tradition continued with the Federal Congresses which eventually honored explorers, doctors, sports figures, and peace makers.