The end of the War brought a pause in which the multitude of aircraft constructors found themselves faced with the possible complete stagnation of the industry, since military activities no longer demanded their services and the prospects of commercial flying were virtually nil. That great factor in commercial success, cost of plant and upkeep, had received no consideration whatever in the War period, for armies do not count cost. The types of machines that had evolved from the War were very fast, very efficient, and very expensive, although the bombers showed promise of adaptation to commercial needs, and, so far as other machines were concerned, America had already proved the possibilities of mail-carrying by maintaining a mail service even during the War period.
A civil aviation department of the Air Ministry was formed in February of 1919 with a Controller General of Civil Aviation at the head. This was organised into four branches, one dealing with the survey and preparation of air routes for the British Empire, one organising meteorological and wireless telegraphy services, one dealing with the licensing of aerodromes, machines for passenger or goods carrying and civilian pilots, and one dealing with publicity and transmission of information generally. A special Act of Parliament 264 entitled 'The Air Navigation Acts, 1911-1919,' was passed on February 27th, and commercial flying was officially permitted from May 1st, 1919.
Meanwhile the great event of 1919, the crossing of the Atlantic by air, was gradually ripening to performance. In addition to the rigid airship, R.34, eight machines entered for this flight, these being a Short seaplane, Handley-Page, Martinsyde, Vickers-Vimy, and Sopwith aeroplanes, and three American flying boats, N.C.1, N.C.3, and N.C.4. The Short seaplane was the only one of the eight which proposed to make the journey westward; in flying from England to Ireland, before starting on the long trip to Newfoundland, it fell into the sea off the coast of Anglesey, and so far as it was concerned the attempt was abandoned.
The first machines to start from the Western end were the three American seaplanes, which on the morning of May 6th left Trepassy, Newfoundland, on the 1,380 mile stage to Horta in the Azores. N.C.1 and N.C.3 gave up the attempt very early, but N.C.4, piloted by Lieut.-Commander Read, U.S.N., made Horta on May 17th and made a three days' halt. On the 20th the second stage of the journey to Ponta Delgada, a further 190 miles, was completed and a second halt of a week was made. On the 27th, the machine left for Lisbon, 900 miles distant, and completed the journey in a day. On the 30th a further stage of 340 miles took N.C.4 on to Ferrol, and the next day the last stage of 420 miles to Plymouth was accomplished.
Meanwhile, H. G. Hawker, pilot of the Sopwith biplane, together with Commander Mackenzie Grieve, R.N., his navigator, found the weather sufficiently auspicious to set out at On Sunday, May 18th, in the hope of completing the trip by the direct route before N.C.4 could reach Plymouth. They set out from MountPearl aerodrome, St John's, Newfoundland, and vanished into space, being given up as lost, as Hamel was lost immediately before the War in attempting to fly the North Sea. There was a week of dead silence regarding their fate, but on the following Sunday morning there was world-wide relief at the news that the plucky attempt had not ended in disaster, but both aviators had been picked up by the steamer Mary at 9.30 a.m. on the morning of the 19th, while still about 750 miles short of the conclusion of their journey. Engine failure brought them down, and they planed down to the sea close to the Mary to be picked up; as the vessel was not fitted with wireless, the news of their rescue could not be communicated until land was reached. An equivalent of half the L10,000 prize offered by the Daily Mail for the non-stop flight was presented by the paper in recognition of the very gallant attempt, and the King conferred the Air Force Cross on both pilot and navigator.
Raynham, pilot of the Martinsyde competing machine, had the bad luck to crash his craft twice in attempting to start before he got outside the boundary of the aerodrome. The Handley-Page machine was withdrawn from the competition, and, attempting to fly to America, was crashed on the way.
The first non-stop crossing was made on June 14th-15th in 16 hours 27 minutes, the speed being just over 117 miles per hour. The machine was a Vickers-Vimy bomber, engined with two Rolls-Royce Eagle VIII's, piloted by Captain John Alcock, D.S.C., with Lieut. Arthur Whitten-Brown as navigator. The journey was reported to be very rough, so much so at times that Captain Alcock stated that they were flying upside down, and for the greater part of the time they were out of sight of the sea. Both pilot and navigator had the honour of knighthood conferred on them at the conclusion of the journey.
Meanwhile, commercial flying opened on May 8th (the official date was May 1st) with a joy-ride service from Hounslow of Avro training machines. The enterprise caught on remarkably, and the company extended their activities to coastal resorts for the holiday season--at Blackpool alone they took up 10,000 passengers before the service was two months old. Hendon, beginning passenger flights on the same date, went in for exhibition and passenger flying, and on June 21st the aerial Derby was won by Captain Gathergood on an Airco 4R machine with a Napier 450 horse-power 'Lion' engine; incidentally the speed of 129.3 miles per hour was officially recognised as constituting the world's record for speed within a closed circuit. On July 17th a Fiat B.R. biplane with a 700 horse-power engine landed at Kenley aerodrome after having made a non-stop flight of 1,100 miles. The maximum speed of this machine was 160 miles per hour, and it was claimed to be the fastest machine in existence. On August 25th a daily service between London and Paris was inaugurated by the Aircraft Manufacturing Company, Limited, who ran a machine each way each day, starting at 12.30 and due to arrive at 2.45 p.m. The Handley-Page Company began a similar service in September of 1919, but ran it on alternate days with machines capable of accommodating ten passengers. The single fare in each case was fixed at 15 guineas and the parcel rate at 7s. 6d. per pound.
Meanwhile, in Germany, a number of passenger services had been in operation from the early part of the year; the Berlin-Weimar service was established on February 5th and Berlin-Hamburg on March 1st, both for mail and passenger carrying. Berlin-Breslau was soon added, but the first route opened remained most popular, 538 flights being made between its opening and the end of April, while for March and April combined, the Hamburg-Berlin route recorded only 262 flights. All three routes were operated by a combine of German aeronautical firms entitled the Deutsch Luft Rederie. The single fare between Hamburg and Berlin was 450 marks, between Berlin and Breslau 500 marks, and between Berlin and Weimar 450 marks. Luggage was carried free of charge, but varied according to the weight of the passenger, since the combined weight of both passenger and luggage was not allowed to exceed a certain limit.
In America commercial flying had begun in May of 1918 with the mail service between Washington, Philadelphia, and New York, which proved that mail carrying is a commercial possibility, and also demonstrated the remarkable reliability of the modern aeroplane by making 102 complete flights out of a possible total of 104 in November, 1918, at a cost of 0.777 of a dollar per mile. By March of 1919 the cost per mile had gone up to 1.28 dollars; the first annual report issued at the end of May showed an efficiency of 95.6 per cent and the original six aeroplanes and engines with which the service began were still in regular use.
In June of 1919 an American commercial firm chartered an aeroplane for emergency service owing to a New York harbour strike and found it so useful that they made it a regular service. The Travellers Company inaugurated a passenger flying boat service between New York and Atlantic City on July 25th, the fare, inclusive of 35 lbs. of luggage, being fixed at L25 each way.
Five flights on the American continent up to the end of 1919 are worthy of note. On December 13th, 1918, Lieut. D. Godoy of the Chilian army left Santiago, Chili, crossed the Andes at a height of 19,700 feet and landed at Mendoza, the capital of the wine-growing province of Argentina. On April 19th, 1919, Captain E. F. White made the first non-stop flight between New York and Chicago in 6 hours 50 minutes on a D.H.4 machine driven by a twelve-cylinder Liberty engine. Early in August Major Schroeder, piloting a French Lepere machine flying at a height of 18,400 feet, reached a speed of 137 miles per hour with a Liberty motor fitted with a super-charger. Toward the end of August, Rex Marshall, on a Thomas-Morse biplane, starting from a height of 17,000 feet, made a glide of 35 miles with his engine cut off, restarting it when at a height of 600 feet above the ground. About a month later R. Rohlfe, piloting a Curtiss triplane, broke the height record by reaching 34,610 feet.