100th Anniversary of the World’s First Transatlantic Flight

Editor’s note: on May 8, 2019, Rear Adm. John B. Mustin, Deputy Commander of U.S. Second Fleet and Naval Surface Force Atlantic, spoke at an event hosted by New York City Council Member Eric Ulrich. The event commemorated the 100th anniversary of the first transatlantic flight and renamed a street in New York City, ‘US Navy Seaplane Division One Way’, honoring the pilots and Navy’s contribution to aviation history. The following are Rear Adm. Mustin’s amended remarks in which he talks about his personal connection to the historic date. After reading, if you want to know about the history of naval aviation, go here.

It’s an honor and privilege to be with you to recognize a small group of pioneer aviators who nurtured the early growth of maritime aviation. I know they’d be proud to see how naval aviation has evolved since they first slipped the surly bonds of earth, and how our nation depends on our fair service to this very day.

NEW YORK (May 8, 2019) Rear Adm. John B. Mustin, deputy commander of U.S. 2nd Fleet, fifth from right, attends a ceremony naming U.S. Seaplane Division St. to commemorate the first successful trans-Atlantic flight at the Rockaway Coast Guard Station in New York City, May 8, 2019. The ceremony marks the 100th anniversary of the historic flight in 1919, when the U.S. Navy’s NC-4 flying boat took flight from Jamaica Bay, New York, and successfully landed in Portugal to conclude a three-week journey

 

And for me, it’s a particular honor to share in this moment.  My great grandfather, Capt. Henry Mustin, U.S. Naval Academy class of 1896, was a friend, colleague and kindred spirit of those brave men who took the flight we commemorate today. For context, John Towers is one of the aviators we celebrate today, he was designated Naval Aviator #2.  Great Grandad was originally designated Naval Aviator # 3 – before being re-designated later as number 11 after returning to sea duty.  This was truly a band of brothers, a group that lived, worked, and embraced a vision that revolutionized the world during their own time, and certainly in ours.

Photo courtesy of Rear Adm. Mustin’s personal collection.

I never knew my Great Grandfather. For reference, I graduated from the Naval Academy nearly 100 years after he did, but family photos adorn my house and those of my relatives.  Stories abound that communicate the ‘work hard, play hard’ camaraderie shared between these men and their families. One of my favorite photos is an impressive image capturing the day – still celebrated in naval aviation circles – when then-Lt. Cmdr. Henry Mustin took the first successful catapult launch off of a ship underway. That was November 5, 1915.  My grandfather, also later a career naval officer — Naval Academy class of 1932 — was present on the beach that day, as a four year old watching with my great grandmother and his siblings. He referred to it, when we discussed it years later, as the first “SUCCESSFUL” launch…that is, he recalled it as the day it WORKED…as contrasted by the many other times when his father returned home, soaking wet but never discouraged…and immediately got back to work to tweak the next plan.  My seven-year-old son, for the record, is Henry C. Mustin V and I remind him often that he has a big name for a little man.

Photo courtesy of Rear Adm. Mustin’s personal collection.

In times of crisis, America has always relied on its best people to step forward, willing to risk and lose life and limb for an idea – the idea of America, the idea of this great country. When the call to arms came on April 6, 1917, the U.S. Fleet counted only one operating air station, 48 available aviators and students, and 54 aircraft on hand. Naval aviation expanded remarkably during the 19 months between the U.S. declaration of war with Germany and the Armistice.  By war’s end Naval aircraft flew more than three million nautical miles, and Navy and Marine Corps aviators were flying from 27 stations in Europe—two in Canada, one in the Panama Canal Zone, one in the Azores islands, and 12 in the United States. It is because of those wartime efforts, that in 1919 the Curtiss NC-type flying boats secured a place in aviation history as the first aircraft to fly across the Atlantic.  While the tools of our craft may have changed since these brave souls took flight, it’s safe to say that pioneering spirit and an obsessive focus on warfighting innovation and readiness, remain a universal constant.

F/A-18E Super Hornets from Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 136 fly in formation during a photo exercise over California. VFA-136 is an operational U.S. Navy strike fighter squadron based at Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., and is attached to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 1. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon Renfroe/Released)

 

And your Navy continues to rise to the occasion today. At this moment, we have 53 ships at Sea, including four aircraft carriers, and two big-deck amphibious ships.  In every fleet, in every corner of our globe, your Navy operates around the clock as the key strategic player in our nation’s most important away game. And the transatlantic link is just as important today as it was when the brave men we celebrate today were the first to dare to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. As I speak, the Navy’s newest command, of which I am the deputy commander, U.S. 2nd Fleet, is preparing to cross the Atlantic and operate in Europe for the first time. We do so because of the brave steps taken by the aviators who first flew across the Atlantic 100 years ago.

Before I close, I have a simple ask for those of you assembled here today . . . before you put your head down tonight, I ask you to remember all of our Sailors, Coast Guardsmen, Marines, Airmen and Soldiers – all of our men and women in uniform deployed around the world, working so hard, putting so much at risk, sacrificing so much so we may be here enjoying this beautiful day in New York – I ask you to keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

The Naval History and Heritage Command recently published a section dedicated to the history of the Naval Aviation Community. Click here to learn more about the warfighting spirit of our aviation trailblazers.