by Stuart Kline, Rev. 4-9-05
Preparations for Russell Boardman and
John Polando's record-breaking two-day flight from the New
World to the new Republic of Turkey lasted about two years. Though this was to be the first direct flight from the continental United
States to a Moslem country, it was not the first visit to Turkey made by American airmen. That honor belongs to aeronaut
Rufus Gibbon Wells, who flew a balloon over İstanbul 60 years earlier, in 1871. The first heavier-than-air
flight in İstanbul by an American piloting an American aircraft was made by John Cooper who, on
June 1st, 1914, piloted a Curtiss F2 seaplane from Europe to Asia, that is, from Küçükçemece Lake on the European side of Istanbul,
across the Marmara Sea to Kadıköy on the Asian side of the city.
There were two other significant aviation events involving Americans in Turkey prior to the historic flight of the Cape Cod. The first was the visit of the famous Douglas World Cruisers, which were the first aircraft to circumnavigate the globe during a six-month flight of 23,452 miles through 28 countries in 1924. Of the four aircraft that had originally taken off from Seattle in April of that year, three of them, the "Chicago," the "New Orleans" and the "Boston" had made it all the way to the newly established Republic of Turkey via Syria. The three planes made a non-stop flight from Konya to İstanbul with a 36-hour stopover at the former capital of the Ottoman Empire (10-11 July). Back then, Yeşilköy, where the airfield was established in 1912, was known as Ayastefanos and İstanbul was officially known as Constantinople.
In the May of 1930, just a year before the flight of the Cape Cod, the Curtiss Aircraft Export Co. sent four of its aircraft along with eight pilots and mechanics on a propaganda tour throughout Europe. Among those aviators was Lt. James Doolittle, who had made the world's first "blind" flight, using only instruments to take-off and land a Curtiss Fledgling, in the year 1929. The second stop on the tour was Turkey, and during the demonstration flights over Ankara, the American airmen took the young boys of Turkish Prime Minister İsmet İnönü, Ömer and Erdal up for their first flights. The two youngsters would eventually earn their wings from the Turkish Aeronautical Association, (THK) in 1942 and 1944, respectively.The intrepid flight of the Cape Cod was made in a specially modified Bellanca monoplane. The rugged Bellancas were, in essence, "The Model-T Fords of the Skies," as many long-distance and endurance records set in the 1920's and 1930's were made in this type of aircraft.
In an era decades before the Digital Age, this 5011.8-mile long flight was made without the aid of CAD, SITA, fax machine, Internet, GPS or the radio. Actually, radio was beginning to make its appearance in aircraft, but was considered too bulky and inefficient for this flight. The pilots flew with a large meteorological map and the dead reckoning of Meteorologist Dr. Kimball, whose weather reports all aviators of the time relied upon during their flights across the Atlantic Ocean.
As for relations between the U.S. and Turkey in the early-1930's, the U.S. Ambassador, Joseph C. Grew, who represented the United States at the Lausanne Conference in 1922-23, was appointed the first Ambassador to the new republic in 1927. Incidentally, Grew was also from Massachusetts, the state from which Boardman and Polando based their flying operations. The state of civil aviation affairs in Turkey in 1930 was as follows: Two airlines, one French and the other Italian, served Turkey and represented almost all civil aviation activity in the country. The sole exception was Turkish aviator Vecihi Hürkuş, who had built the country's first aircraft, the K-VI, in Seydiköy, İzmir in 1924 and the first civil aircraft, the K-XIV, in Kadıköy, İstanbul in 1930. Though the country had become a member of the F.A.I. in 1929, it did not possess the proper infrastructure in place to certify Vecihi's aircraft. As a result, he was forced to dismantle it in İstanbul and load it on a train for Prague, Czechoslovakia, where it received an airworthiness certificate.
The Societa Anonima Aero-Espresso Italiana maintained a semi-weekly seaplane service between Büyükdere, İstanbul and Brindisi via Piraeus, Greece. The Compagnie Internationale de Navigation Aérienne (French) initiated service between İstanbul and Paris as early as 1921 as the Franco-Roumaine Compangie. Numerous sections of the country were marked off as military zones through which no airplane might pass. This fact had no small influence upon the curbing of private interest in aviation. The Ministry of National Defense directed all military aviation in Turkey and the government maintained a rigid censorship of all matters pertaining to the conduct of its affairs. So, in essence, one could imagine the impact that the flight of the Cape Cod had on the collective conscious of the Turkish nation.
A transcript of his address
5/17/01 Rev. 4-9-05
The second flight, also witnessed by Evliya Çelebi, was made by Lagari Hasan Çelebi in the year 1632, when he tied seven rockets onto his back and launched himself into the night sky off of Sararyburnu to honor the birth of the Sultan's daughter, Kaya Sultan. Supposedly, his rockets are still at the bottom of the Marmara Sea.
That was it until the year 1785, when two Iranian balloonists along with a Turkish Imperial Guard alighted from Topkapı Palace and landed in Bursa. This was considered to be the world's intercontinental flight and it took place only two years after the hot-air balloon was invented in France.
France was also the place where the first flight of a steerable motorized balloon took place, when Henri Girard flew such a machine in 1852.
51 years later in December, 1903, it was the brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright of Dayton, Ohio who made the first heavier-than-air flight on the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. It was six years later, in December, 1909 when the first airplane flight was made in Turkey, by Belgian Baron de Catters. That same month, Frenchman Louis Bleriot, who was the first to fly across the English Channel five months earlier, came to Istanbul to demonstrate his aircraft in front of the people of Istanbul. Though his flight ended in disaster, it made enough of an impression upon the Ottoman War Ministry, for they established the Ottoman Army Air Force within two year's time. To put this into even more perspective, the first flight in Turkey's neighboring country Iran was not made until the year 1914. 1911 was also the year in which aircraft were first used in wartime condition, during the Italian-Turkish War in Libya. The Turks are in the aviation record books as the first to shoot down an enemy aircraft during that war of 1911-12. A Bleriot aircraft was also flown from Istanbul to Alexandria, Egypt during a goodwill flight through the Ottoman Empire in 1914.
It was also in the year 1914 that the Ottoman Army purchased its first American aircraft, a Curtiss F2 seaplane which was demonstrated by an American pilot John Cooper. It was flown for about a year but because of a lack of spare parts and the great distances involved, this was to be the last purchase of American aircraft until the year 1932. This was not the last visit by American fliers, as three American aircraft called on Yeşilköy, which known as San Stefano back in 1924, during the epic first flight around the world. They had flown non-stop from Aleppo, Syria to Istanbul on July 10, and called on the newly established Republic of Turkey for just 36 hours.
The next visit by American aviators took place in May, 1930, when four Curtiss aircraft and their eight pilots called on Turkey during a tour around Europe to sell aircraft. They flew from Istanbul to Eskişehir, then onto Ankara, where they put on an acrobatic show to the people of Ankara. They also flew the Turkish Prime Minister, Ismet Inonu, his wife, Mevhibe Hanim and their children, Ömer and Erdal. Interestingly enough, Turkey was the only country to make an agreement to purchase of Curtiss aircraft during that propoganda tour.
The next visit by American fliers was made in July, 1931. But before I discuss this flight, I would like to put it into historical context. The first non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean was made in 1919, when two English pilots flew a twin-engine Vickers Vimy bomber from Newfoundland, Canada to Ireland in May, 1919. The third successful crossing of the Atlantic from west to east was made by Charles Lindbergh, when he flew solo in the Spirit of St. Louis from New York to Paris in 33 and a half hours. His flight also set the long-distance record of 3,600 miles. By the way, Lindbergh's mother was to escape from the U.S. media in late-1928, when she came to Turkey to teach a semester of chemistry at Robert Girls College. The French were to capture the long-distance record from him soon after and were to hold it until the flight of Boardman and Polando in July, 1931. French pilots Dieudonne Costes and M. Brix were also the first to fly across the Atlantic Ocean east to west in 1930. French fliers also held the long-distance record at the time when they flew from Paris to Manchuria, China, a distance of 4,911 miles, in 1929.
Russell Boardman, who first started flying in 1921 and John Polando, who learned to fly in 1927 were both from Massachusetts. They were car mechanics before they took to the air. They first started training together for almost two years in their attempt to set the long distance record. It was Russell's intention to fly solo to Ireland in the American Legion, but his backers insisted that he have a co-pilot, so he took on John Polando, who weighed only 120 pounds. The American Legion was badly damaged in a fire in October, 1930 and was sent back to the factory to be rebuilt at a tremendous cost of $25,000. The Bellanca was renamed the 'Cape Cod,' after the coastal area of the state of Massachusetts, where they trained for the flight.
Modifications to improve wind co-efficiency were made to the aircraft such as an engine cowling and spats on the undercarriage, which was moved forward by about five inches. Their initial target was Teheran, a distance of over 6,000 miles, but they were told that flying that far would be too much of a risk. They also considered Moscow and Rome as possible destinations, but neither of those cities were far enough to claim the record. One needed to fly at least 60 miles further than the previous mark, so they decided on Istanbul and announced there plans to the press. Having paid Slim Lindbergh $25,000 for the scoop four years earlier. the New York Times paid the two fliers $2,500 for their exclusive story. As far as keeping the aircraft in the air for a long time without mid-air refueling, Boardman and Polando knew that two Frenchmen set a close-circuit duration record of 67 hours in a Bleriot in March, 1931. That record was broken in June of the same year when two American fliers in a diesel Packard- Bellanca for 84 hours 33 minutes. That endurance record was to remain for 55 years, until Burt Rutan's Voyager made the first non-stop flight around the world in 1986, a flight which lasted 9 days.
Loaded down with 728 gallons of fuel, they first attempted to takeoff from New York on July 24th, but because there was no tail wheel to compensate the plane's heavy and unbalanced weight, they were forced to ditch most of the fuel over New York City and land back at the airport.
An historical first occurred during the morning of July 28th, on their second attempt to fly from Floyd Bennett Field. It was to be the first time two aircraft were to cross the Atlantic on the same day. The first to take off were Pangborn and Herndon in their Bellanca, determined to break the time it took to fly around the world, which was set just two weeks earlier by Post and Gatty.
Boardman and Polando's flight was to be the 14th successful crossing of the Atlantic. However, theirs was the first trans-Atlantic flight in four years, since Lindbergh's NY - Paris flight, to reach the pre-determined destination announced to the press.
In addition to the fuel and motor-oil, they brought along a mailbag containing 10,000 postcards, which they mailed from Istanbul, 16 copies of the New York Times, one of which was presented to Gazi Mustafa Kemal, a letter to him from the Turkish Consulate in Boston, Ahmet Muhtar. There was no radio, as it was too inefficient and too heavy back then. This is why they decided on the newspapers, some of which they parachuted along the way. They had two pressed suits on hangars, as well as some food. They didn't have a toilet, any parachutes, any lifeboat, any generator. They had an oil lubricating device, which malfunctioned during the flight, an artificial horizon instrument, which didn't work properly, either. They had a large map, which is not here today. They also had a device, called a barograph, which recorded the flight information, and was sealed before the flight by an FAI official to prevent tampering and was removed from the aircraft immediately after they landed in Istanbul, and subsequently sent to Paris in a diplomatic pouch to determine whether they broke the record or not.
When they landed at 1:08 pm local time on July 30th, they had about 15 minutes of fuel left in the tank and a new world's record, a distance of 5011.8 miles, which they covered in 49 hours 8 minutes. The Governor of Istanbul, Muhittin Üstündağ as well as the American Ambassador, Joseph C. Grew greeted them at the airport. Grew and his family waited in Yeşilköy for 10 hours for them to land. Again, there was no such thing as sending in-flight fax or e-mail messages back then.
By sheer coincidence, the previous world distance record holder, Costes just happened to be in Istanbul when they landed and they all met up here at the Pera Palas. A French aviation delegation was in Turkey to sell the Turks new military aircraft. They had hopes to meet with Gazi, but when he heard that two Americans had just flown all the way from New York, he disregarded the French aviators and summoned the Americans to visit him in Yalova, where he was staying. Not having met the Gazi, and their cherished record broken, the French delegation went home dejected with no sales of any aircraft, either. In the meanwhile, two diamond-studded pendants, which were entered in the official registry on July 28th, were prepared by the Turkish Aeronautical Association. In Yalova, just before their reception with the Gazi, they were presented the pendants by Prime Minister İnönü and the Chairman of the Turkish Aeronautical Association, Fuat (Bulca), who was also the Gazis childhood friend. The Gazi spoke in Turkish, which was translated into French by his Foreign Minister, Tewfik Rüşitü (Aras). Ambassador Grew translated the French so that Boardman and Polando could understand. As it was, neither Boardman nor Polando had been out of America before.
Well, as you can tell from these photographs, their ten-day stay in Turkey was beyond all expectations. There were banquets, visits to the city's historical sites, sporting events in their honor, gifts of carpets, Turkish Medal of Honor ribbons, silver medallions from the Governor's office, Turkish cigarettes, even custom-made suits and shoes, which the two wore proudly throughout their stay, and even a great, big 'evil-eye' which three Turkish girls hung from the tail of the Cape Cod on their departure from Turkey.
You see, their visit to Turkey was novel in every way. There was no military objective, no push to sell any aircraft, just the desire to see a new country and to push the known limits a little further. This flight was made to promote civil aviation, which did not exist at the time in Turkey. There were only two airlines operating in Turkey, Aero Espresso Italiano, which flew seaplanes from Brindisi to Büyükdere on the Bosphorus, as well as CIDNA, which was the predecessor to Air France. One of their planes had crashed in Hungary just a week before the arrival of the 'Cape Cod.' All aboard had perished, including two American passengers. During their stay in Istanbul, Boardman and Polando laid a solemn wreath at the grave of the Turkish civilian pilot İhya Bey.
Well, their record was to hold up for about 18 months. It was broken by the English, who flew from England to South Africa in January, 1933. Then the French recaptured the record once more, when they flew from New York to Ravak, Syria in July, 1933.
Russell Boardman managed to set one more record, that one for speed, when he set an unofficial record of 300 miles per hour on August 15th, 1932 while flying the tricky GeeBee Sportster.
Neither Russell Boardman nor John Polando were destined to return to Turkey. Russell died at the age of 35 in July, 1933 as a result of injuries sustained on takeoff in a GeeBee during the cross-country Bendix Cup air race. He left behind his wife, Ruth and four-year old Jane. John Polando came close to seeing Turkey again, having landed in Athens and on Cyprus with pilot Jack Wright during the famous England to Australia air race in October, 1934. When John was a captain flying bombers in the US Air Force during World War II, he proudly pinned on the broche presented to him by President Ismet Inönü, when his country entered the conflict during the final few weeks.
The name of the airport where Boardman and Polando operated from was changed from Hyannis Port Municipal Airport to that of Boardman-Polando International Airport in 1981, to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of their flight to Turkey. John died in 1985 as a result of injuries sustained on take-off from Hyannis Port Field. He was 83 years old.
He is survived by his wife Dorothy, who wrote and published 'Wings Over Istanbul' in 2000.