Commander and Aviator Francesco de Pinedo crosses the Atlantic to New Orleans in 1927.
Francesco de Pinedo (February 16, 1890 – September 2, 1933) was a famous Italian aviator. A Regia Marina (Italy’s Royal Navy) officer who transferred to the Regia Aeronautica (Italy’s Royal Air Force), he was an advocate of the seaplane who is best known for his long-range flying boat flights in the 1920s that demonstrated the feasibility of global air travel.
“Francisco” de Pinedo flight to the Western Hemisphere was to inspire pride in people of Italian ancestry who had emigrated to the Americas.
This idea developed into the “Four Continents” flight of 1927, intended to demonstrate the ability of a flying boat to fly from Italy to Africa and across the Atlantic Ocean to Brazil, followed by several stops in South America and the Caribbean, a tour of the United States and Canada, and a transatlantic flight back to Europe ultimately ending in Rome.
Pinedo, his copilot Capitano (Captain) Carlo Del Prete, and mechanic Vitale Zacchetti embarked on the “Four Continents” flight in the Savoia-Marchetti S.55 flying boat Santa Maria under Pinedo’s command. Leaving Cagliari, Sardinia, on 13 February 1927, they stopped at Villa Cisneros in Spanish Sahara and Bolama in Portuguese Guinea before attempting to take off from Bolama on 16 February to cross the Atlantic Ocean to Brazil. Sweltering conditions prevented their plane from becoming airborne until they dumped a large quantity of gasoline, forcing them to fly to the Cape Verde Islands instead, where cooler conditions prevailed. On 23 February, they finally made their Atlantic crossing, braving a storm and landing on the ocean near Fernando de Noronha, where the Brazilian Navy protected cruiser Almirante Barroso met them and towed them into port.
After stops at various cities in South America including Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Montevideo, Uruguay, and Asunción, Paraguay, the three Italians began a long leg over the dense jungle of Brazil’s Mato Grosso region on 16 March 1927.
After a stop at Georgetown, British Guiana, and a crossing of the Caribbean with stops at Pointe-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe, Port-au-Prince in Haiti, and Havana in Cuba, Pinedo, Del Prete, and Zacchetti crossed the Gulf of Mexico and arrived at New Orleans, Louisiana, on 29 March 1927, the first time in history that a foreign airplane had flown into the United States.
They then flew through Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, intending to reach San Diego, California, but during a refueling stop on Theodore Roosevelt Lake in Arizona an accidental fire broke out when a teenage volunteer helping to refuel the Santa Maria carelessly discarded a cigarette that ignited gasoline on the water’s surface. The three Italians then flew to San Diego as passengers on a United States Navy plane and traveled by train to New York City, where they arrived on 25 April 1927 to meet a new S.55 shipped there.
The new plane – identical to the Santa Maria – arrived in New York by ship on 1 May 1927, and, after reassembly, was christened Santa Maria II on 8 May. Following a revised schedule Pinedo drew up that eliminated all stops west of the Mississippi River, Pinedo, Del Prete, and Zacchetti visited Boston, Massachusetts; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Charleston, South Carolina; Pensacola, Florida; and New Orleans before setting out on 14 May 1927 northward up the Mississippi River into the Midwestern United States. They stopped at Memphis, Tennessee, flew over St. Louis, Missouri, and stopped at Chicago, Illinois. They then flew into Canada, stopping at Montreal on 17 May 1927 after an 11-hour flight from Chicago.
Pinedo, Del Prete, and Zacchetti flew on to the Dominion of Newfoundland. On 22 May, they departed Trepassey Bay, planning to cross the Atlantic to the Azores, refuel, and then fly on to Portugal, retracing the transatlantic route of the United States Navy Curtiss NC-4 flying boat in 1919.
After stops in Portugal and Spain, Pinedo, Del Prete, and Zacchetti completed the “Four Continents” flight on 16 June 1927, landing Santa Maria II in Ostia’s harbor outside Rome. Their 29,180 miles (46,960 km) flight had taken 124 days. After returning from the flight, Pinedo was promoted to generale di brigata aerea (air brigade general), and declared to be the Messaggero d’Italianita’ (Messenger of Italy) and bestowed as the sobriquet “Lord of Distances.” The United Kingdom awarded Pinedo its Air Force Cross for the “Four Continents” flight and the United States awarded its Distinguished Flying Cross to him by special act of Congress on May 2, 1928.
[table id=11 show_rows=”random” random_rows=”1″ /]