After successfully completing the first transatlantic flight from Long Island, New York to Lisbon, Portugal, Read was asked if he expected to fly the Atlantic again. He replied, “Yes, I expect to do so inside a few years and I will take my wife and baby with me.”
- In 1919 Read commanded the NC-4 flying boat which successfully completed a transatlantic flight from Long Island, New York to Lisbon, Portugal, with stops in Newfoundland and the Azores.
- During Read’s naval career he commanded aircraft carriers, taught at the Naval War College, and served at the Bureau of Aeronautics.
- During World War II he was Chief of the Air Technical Training and later Commander Air Fleet, Norfolk, Virginia.
Read was born in New Hampshire in 1887 and graduated with high honors from the Naval Academy Class of 1907.
While he served in the fleet, he studied all the information that he could find on aviation. When the Navy opened its first training school at Pensacola, Florida, in 1912, Read was among the first to be selected for training. After he soloed in 1915 he was designated Naval Aviator No. 24. When he served aboard the USS Carolina, the first Navy ship provided with aircraft, Read made numerous catapult take-offs as part of his regular flight operations.
When America entered the World War I in 1917, the Navy ordered a series of large Navy-Curtiss flying boats and planned to deliver them to Europe by flying across the Atlantic. They were magnificent specimens and their wings spanned a distance greater than the Wright’s first flight. Their hulls resembled large covered lifeboats and they were the first four-engine airplanes built in America.
The war ended abruptly before they were finished. After the war the Navy decided to attempt the first transatlantic flight with a fleet of these planes. The route began at Long Island, ran to Nova Scotia, proceeded to Newfoundland, then southeastward across the Atlantic via the Azores to Portugal, finally finishing in England. A string of destroyers would cruise along the route and pour out black smoke to mark the route in the daytime. At night, their orders were to point their searchlights windward and fire star shells periodically to identify themselves.
The Navy placed Read in command of the NC-4 and its crew of five. Trouble plagued the venture right from the start. A mechanic lost a hand while spinning a propeller. Fire broke out and threatened destruction of the flying boats. By May 8th, they were ready and four-leaf clovers were handed out among the men as the flying boats were pulled down the track to the skidways. The engines thundered alive as the planes glided down the launching ways and taxied into the bay. Cheers arose from the onlookers as they sped down the long stretch of water and headed upward through the morning skies for Halifax. The fliers were out over the ocean when Read discovered an oil leak and had to cut off one engine. A few minutes later another engine threw a connecting rod and he had to make a forced landing on the open sea, some eighty miles East of Cape Cod. Unable to secure help, he taxied through the waves for five hours and reached Chatham Naval Air Station on Cape Cod safely. Personnel there fixed the oil leak and Read headed for Trepassey on three engines. A joyous reunion ensued among the crews when they arrived.
By May 16th the flying boat was repaired and townspeople lined Trepassey’s harbor. Ship decks were crowded as each of the flying boats took off down the long narrow harbor. The NC-3 was in the lead, followed by the NC-1 and his NC-4, and they headed eastward into the gathering night for the Azores. Shortly after dawn, the boats entered a large fog bank and visibility dropped drastically. They became lost and confused. The fog was so thick the plane dripped water continuously and once it sideslipped dangerously near the water when the pilot lost all reference to the horizon . The NC-1 and NC-3 became lost and landed on the open ocean. The NC-1 taxied for five hours before a steamer picked it up. The NC-3 crew had to drift-sail their battered flying boat over two hundred miles of ocean to reach the Azores. The NC-4 completed the flight safely and taxied triumphantly into Horta’s harbor. Its crew received a warm greeting. When Read was sure the other crews were safe, the NC-4 took off for Lisbon. It encountered fog again but it landed safely at dusk and taxied into Lisbon’s harbor. Warships and the guns of forts in the Lisbon area sent echoing booms across the harbor. A Navy boat took Read and his crew off the NC-4 and they went aboard the USS Rochester to receive a hero’s welcome from Navy and Portuguese officials. The triumph of the first flight across the Atlantic was theirs and Read received the Portuguese award of Commander of the Military Order of the Tower and Sword.
They proceeded to take off for Plymouth, England and arrived on May 31st. There the crews received a welcome from the Mayor of Plymouth and were honored during a two week tour of both England and France. The British presented Read with the Royal Air Force Cross for his historic flight. When the crews returned to America, Navy officials met them in Washington, and Read received the Distinguished Service Medal and a special medal struck to commemorate the NC-4 flight. He and his crew then made an extensive goodwill tour of the country in the NC-4.
Returning to regular Navy Aviation duty, Read successively served in numerous important commands until World War II. During that war, he became Chief of the Air Technical Training in Chicago and then commanded the Navy air activities at Norfolk until the end of the war. For this service he received the Legion of Merit.
Albert Read died on October 10th, 1967.
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