terça-feira, 9 de dezembro de 2008


On October 21, 1936 Herberts Cukurs embarked on his second epic flight, this time to Tokyo, Japan. Once again, the destination was selected because of others' failures - at least four other aviators from other European nations had tried a similar flight and failed. This flight was much longer than his first, with stopovers in Lithuania, Germany, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, India, Burma, China, Viet Nam, Korea and, finally, Japan. The total round trip was 40,350 km (twice that of the Gambia trip) and, aside from an incident in Hong Kong, was relatively free of mechanical difficulties. The aircraft was his new C.6 "Tris Zvaigznes" (Three Stars) which he had completed in the spring of 1936. It was assigned the registration number YL-ABA and, while it was designed and built as a two-seater, he made the flight alone.

October 20, 1936 (Riga - Kaunas - Danzig)

Departed from Spilve, Riga. Upon arriving in Kaunas he is greeted by journalists and officials from the local aeroclub. He is presented with a gold medal from the aeroclub, refueled (at no charge - a gift from the local aeroclub) and then he sets out on the next leg of his flight. Shortly, he lands at Danzig and spends his first night there. Throughout the outward bound journey Cukurs wrote a regular column for the Latvian newspaper "Jaunakas Zinas", and his first report was from Danzig.

October 21, 1936 (Danzig - Stettin - Berlin)

He continues on towards Berlin. Unfortunately, poor weather over Berlin forces him to land at Stettin, 160 km away. Later, when the weather has cleared, he completes the flight to Tempelhof airport, in Berlin. He remains in Berlin for two days, arranging travel visas for other countries which he would pass through later in the journey.

October 23, 1936 (Berlin - Budapest)

Cukurs leaves Berlin, passing over Dresden in the direction of Prague. When he arrives over Prague, the weather is so poor that he decides to continue onwards without landing, now towards Vienna. Vienna is also under a heavy cloud cover, so he continues yet further and finally lands at Budapest.

October 25, 1936 (Budapest - Belgrade)

The weather is not ideal, but Cukurs sets out for Belgrade. He flies low, only about 300 metres above the ground, and arrives safely. They weather has deteriorated, however, and he cannot continue his journey for a few days until the weather clears.

October 30, 1936 (Belgrade - Sofia)

The flight to Sofia is treacherous if the weather is not clear. Cukurs must fly at a minimum altitude of 3000 metres as the hills reach a height of about 2500. Sofia itself is in a valley surrounded by hills, but he lands safely and then must remain there for three days of steady rain.

November 1, 1936 (Sofia - Istanbul)

Cukurs sets out for Istanbul, 550 km distant. Istanbul is 580 metres above sea level, but en route Cukurs has to once again climb to 3000 metres to safely clear the hills. The last part of the journey is over the Black Sea, flying about 10 km from shore. The aerodrome is 25 km from the city, and Cukurs finds the aerodrome surface to be uneven, but is able to land without mishap.

November 2, 1936 (Istanbul - Konya - Adana - Halab)

The flight to Konya, in the Turkish interior, passes without incident. After a four hour flight he lands at Konya's airfield, 100 x 2000 metres in size, on the side of a hill. After refuelling, he continues on to the southeast. He has to climb to pass over the hills which reach a height of 3500 metres in this region, then returns to lower altitudes as he approaches the Mediterranean Sea. He passes over Tarsus and lands in a clearing which serves as Adana's airfield. He completes his paperwork, the seals are removed from his camera (it was forbidden to take photos in Turkey), and then sets off for Syria. He lands at a difficult airfield near Halab - the field is uneven with a 400 metre stretch of highway crossing diagonally across the field. This highway is also used for takeoff runs. In Halab he finds french-speaking aviators, and for a while it seems just like the days of his flight to Gambia.

November 4, 1936 (Halab - Baghdad)

Some of the french fliers accompanied Cukurs on his flight to Baghdad. They flew over the Iranian desert and crossed over the Euphrates river. The flight, lasting a total of four hours, ended without incident.

November 5, 1936 (Baghdad - Basra - Bushehr)

Cukurs sets out early in the morning. He has been warned that there is unrest in some of the territory over which he will be flying so he climbs to an altitude of 2000 metres in case anyone is tempted to fire on his aircraft. The airfield at Basra is excellent - fully paved, surrounded by a forest. He refuels and immediately sets off for Iran. In tremendous heat he arrives safely at Bushehr, on the Persian Gulf.

November 7, 1937 (Bushehr - Langeh)

At 7 am Cukurs departs Bushehr for Langeh, about 1000 km distant. While flying at 1500 metres over a range of cliffs and ravines his engine suddenly begins to spew oil into the cockpit. Immediately he has to turn off the engine before it can seize and search for a safe spot to make a forced landing. He sets it down in a sloping clearing at the edge of a cliff. When landing, he broke off the tail skid, which also damaged the fuselage where it was attached. He discovers that an oil line had a 10 cm split, and now the interior is awash in oil, there is no more oil in the oil tank, and he is about 20 km from the town of Langeh.
With some regrets, Cukurs abandons his airplane and goes to search for help.

November 8, 1936 (Langeh - Jask - Karachi)

The next day he returns with a small caravan of helpful locals. They patch the leak as best they can, refill the oil tank with oil taken from an automobile, and drag his aircraft nearly a kilometre to find a suitable take-off space. Fortunately, he has a strong headwind as he makes his takeoff run and he takes to the air without difficulty. He climbs to 1500 metres and flies to Jask, a small town with a good, firm, landing ground. He examines the repairs, decides that the aircraft is fit to continue to Karachi, Pakistan where he can make more permanent repairs. He tops up the airplane, refuels, and departs, flying along the coastline. En route he encounters a duststorm, but is able to avoid it by climbing to 2500 feet. Hours later he lands at the civilian airfield at Karachi, where he arranges for the mechanics from the local De Havilland shop to fully inspect and repair his engine.

November 11, 1936 (Karachi - Jodhpur)

Three days later, with the engine repaired and tuned, he departs for Jodhpur, India. En route he flies over Hyderabad and from there, flying at an altitude of 3000 metres, he follows the railway line to Jodhpur.

November 12, 1936 (Jodhpur - Agra - Allahabad)

Cukurs leaves in the morning and flies eastward to Agra, just south of Delhi. He reports that the desert has ended and is replaced with lush green vegetation. The airfield at Agra is a challenge. It is small, and does not have good, clear approaches. He lands and refuels, but the takeoff was difficult. Immediately after leaving the ground he must turn 180 degrees to avoid the trees at the edge of the aerodrome. As the day was overcast, he almost immediately had to enter the cloud base and climb above it, which was unsettling in the unfamiliar territory. Once above the clouds, he used instrument navigation to find his way to Allahabad. There, he was forced to end the day's flight as fog had set in. His small airplane was parked in a huge empty hangar and left there for the night.

November 13, 1936 (Allahabad - Calcutta)

Immediately after taking off, Cukurs flew into thick fog. Once again he was forced to climb blind through these clouds and navigate by instruments. There were very few gaps in the clouds, though occasionally treetops would appear through the clouds, reminding him that there was little clear airspace between the cloud cover and the ground. He estimated that he had passed over Benares, his first way-point, but could not confirm this visually. Finally the cloud cover began to break up and, by the time he was approaching Calcutta, the visibility was excellent. He found the narrow little airfield in the wetlands near Calcutta and was able to land safely.

November 14, 1936 (Calcutta - Akyab - Rangoon)

The next segment of the journey took Cukurs into Burma, to the coastal city of Akyab (Sittwe). This 300-km stage entailed some risk, flying over swampy territories which offer no emergency landing sites. Another aviator, an Englishman named Smith, lost his life in this territory while making a similar long-distance flight. Fortunately, Cukurs experienced no mechanical failures and completed the flight to Akyab without difficulty. At Akyab the swampy terrain ends and is replaced with forested hills and valleys. He refuels, and then sets out for Rangoon, about 600 km distant. This segment presents different challenges. The hills rise to a height of 4,000 metres, so Cukurs has to climb to 4,500 to cross them. At this altitude, he is unable to avoid a violent storm, with high winds, rain and lightning. He is considerably tossed about, but emerges on the other side of the mountains to fly over the rice paddies which surround Rangoon. He lands at Rangoon without incident.

November 15, 1936 (Rangoon - Bangkok)

Cukurs continues his journey to the southeast, now into Thailand to the capital city, Bangkok. He shortens the trip somewhat by flying the first 50 km across open water south of Rangoon. He then crosses the shoreline continuing south and turns inland, crossing the base of the Malaysian peninsula to reach Rangoon on the Gulf of Thailand. Arriving at Rangoon, he finds the airfield almost totally under water from torrential rains, and it is difficult to find a dry spot on which to set down. Finally, he finds a taxiway which serves, on this occasion, as a runway. Landing at Rangoon, he has reached the most southerly point of his journey to Tokyo.

November 16, 1936 (Bangkok - Vinh)

Early on the following morning, Cukurs goes to the airfield to prepare for his flight to Hanoi. Weather reports warn of a typhoon nearby, but Cukurs believes his course will allow him to avoid the heavy weather. He sets out to the northeast and climbs to a height of 3500 metres to safely clear any hills in the region. The cloud cover becomes heavier and thicker, and he is forced to fly blind through this fog for much of the time. Eventually, with little idea of his location, he decides he will have to carefully descend through the clouds to find the coastline of Viet Nam. At an altitude of about 500 metres he breaks out from the cloud cover and realizes that he is already over the Gulf of Tonkin. He turns the airplane to the west in order to reach the shore as his fuel reserve is dwindling. He finds the small town of Vinh, which has an airfield, and lands there safely. He refuels, with the intent to continue on to Hanoi. However, when restarting the engine, he suffers an injury. He had set the contact switch in the wrong position and, when he turned the propeller the engine started. As a result, his right hand was struck violently, lacerating the skin to the bone. He required medical attention and was unable to continue that day. He spent the night with a local Vietnamese family.

November 17, 1936 (Vinh - Hanoi)

Cukurs completes his flight to Hanoi (280 km distant). The airfield is also largely flooded and undergoing repairs, but he manages to land safely. Cukurs is delighted to discover french aviators at the airfield, including one whom he had befriended in Dakar on his Gambia flight. He cleans the aircraft and, with the help of the local mechanics, properly repairs the tailskid and fuselage mount, which were damaged in the forced landing near Langeh. His departure is delayed for a few days as he tries to obtain visas and permissions for the Chinese portion of his journey, but he is happy for the opportunity to spend some time with the french fliers.

November 19, 1936 (Hanoi - Hong Kong)

The flight to Hong Kong takes Cukurs over 900 km to the east. The plan is to fly from Hanoi to the coast, then across the bay to the Chinese city of Zanjiang, and finally along the China coastline to Hong Kong, a british colony. This last segment of the flight took Cukurs across territory which he had been told was largely unregulated. Pirates would pick up downed aviators and, at best, the unucky flier would live long enough to be ransomed back to his country of origin. These thoughts added a certain anxiety to Cukurs' state of mind, particularly when the clouds and wather turned thick and he became thoroughly lost. Eventually, he had to risk descending through the cloud cover to determine if he were over land or sea. He broke through the cloud cover over a busy port city and eventually realized that he was over Macao. From there it was a simple matter of taking a heading for Hong Kong and he landed at Hong Kong's Kai Tak airfield - located on the shoreline, backed by hills which immediately rise to an altitude of 700 metres.

Cukurs Arrival in Hong Kong - Translation of article in Jaunakas Zinas.

November 20, 1936 - May 25, 1937 (Hong Kong)

On the morning of November 20th, Cukurs was at the airfield before dawn. He wanted to make an early start and, even with a few delays, was still able to start his engine at dawn and begin taxiing in preparation for his takeoff. The takeoff posed some problems - the wind was blowing down from the hills towards the water, but with the peaks looming over the field taking off into the wind was out of the question. However, the airfield was large enough to permit a take off with a tailwind, provided he executed a minor dog-leg maneuver about half way through the takeoff roll.
With the airplane rolling quickly at full throttle, and just before the wheels would leave the ground, disaster struck. Cukurs felt the aircraft take a tremendous blow, followed by a lurch to the side. The nose came down and the propeller began chopping into the hard ground. He quickly killed the engine and held on as the aircraft bounced and slid to a halt.
At first, Cukurs had absolutely no idea what had happened to cause the crash. However, when he stepped out of the airplane and looked around the cause became immediately obvious. During the night, after he had left the airfield, work crews had deposited piles of sand on the airfield with the intention of raking and shovelling them into the low spots the following morning. They have left no markers to warn aircraft landing or taking off, and in the half-light of morning Cukurs could not see them until he had actually run into one of them.
Cukurs was furious. The sand should have been marked with a lantern or flags. The British, who own and operate the airfield, do not come out to the wreck to speak with him. Eventually an ambulance comes out, circles him from a safe distance and, seeing that Cukurs is walking about apparently unhurt, it departs again. Finally, a team of chinese laborers appears and silently rakes the sand into the low spots, effectively removing all evidence of the crime.
The plane sustained some damage. The prop, prop shaft and engine mounts were broken, as were the navigation lights. The undercarriage was completely destroyed. The fuselage and wings were of very solid construction and survived the crash without major harm. And still no help from the British.
Eventually a couple of chinese flight students came to his aid and they worked with him as he got the aircraft under cover and began removing the engine to determine what repairs would be neccessary. The British, who charged Cukurs for absolutely everything (and eventually would even demand to be paid for the work which these students did in their spare time) were uncooperative, almost to the point of being hostile. When the local media learned of the way in which Cukurs was being treated the British came under some public scrutiny and, while they did not admit their guilt in the affair, a great number of warning lanterns and flags were purchased and distributed liberally about the airfield.
Ordering the parts, getting them shipped to Hong Kong, and completing the repairs took many months. It was not until the following May that Cukurs was ready to once again resume his flight to Tokyo.

May 25, 1937 (Hong Kong - Xiamen (Amoy) - Fuzhou)

FInally, with repairs completed and weather conditions permitting, Cukurs was able to resume his journey. The months spent in Hong Kong have now moved the journey into a less-desirable time of year, with monsoon rains and windstorms much more common. He had to climb above the clouds for the first leg of the flight, eventually landing at Amoy (now called Xiamen) to refuel. From there he continued, once again flying by compass above the clouds, to Fuzhou. Fuzhou's airfield was nestled into a narrow gap between two hills, but he was able to land safely. His intention was to push on to Shanghai, but after taking off and flying in that direction he ran into a very powerful storm. He was forced to return to Fuzhou and remain there for the night..

May 26, 1937 (Fuzhou - Shanghai)

On the morning of the 26th, Cukurs flew to Shanghai without incident. Here, he remained for a few days while he arranged for the various visas and permissions he would need for the remainer of the flight to Toyko. There was a surprisingly large number of Latvians living in Shanghai, and he spent his time with them. The Finnish attache, who also served in that capacity on behalf of Latvia, helped him with his documents and Cukurs gave many interviews to newspapers who were interested in news of his journey.

May 29, 1937 (Shanghai - Qindao - Beijing)

Refuelled and with papers in order, Cukurs sets out for Beijing. En route he stops at Qindao, formerly a German colony and also known as Tsingtao. Here it was difficulty to find the airstrip among the forested countryside. Finally, he spotted a tethered balloon floating abover the woods, marking one end of the airfield. He landed safely, refuelled, and then continued on to Beijing, over 600 km distant. The flight was easy, but the landing proved to be a problem. The airfield was constantly being crossed by pedestrian and rickshaw traffic and, even though he flew low over them to chase them away and clear a landing spot, they would not clear the space. Finally, he found a landing spot at a small military parade ground some distance away and the aircraft had to be taken to the aerodrome by ground transport. That night he dined as a guest of the Shanghai Aero Club.

May 30, 1937 (Beijing - Shenyang)

The flight to Shenyang, 600 km over cultivated fields and relatively level countryside, was uneventful. In 1937 this city was actually known as Mukden, in the Japanese-controlled state of Manchukuo. He flew past the military airfield, searching for the landing area designated for civilian use. He landed safely, then learned that this airfield had been turned over to an aviation-related manufacturer and he had to fly a bit further to find the new civilian airfield. The correct field was something to behold - beautiful hangars, well-lit, many aircraft of all sizes parked in the hangars and on the aprons. Cukurs decided this would be a good place to stay for a few days to perform some maintenance on his aircraft and prepare for the next leg of his journey, which would require flying across water. Cukurs commented that he had been warned by the British, with whom he always seemed to have problems, that it was difficult to work with the Japanese. He found quite the contrary to be true. As soon as he landed, the airport administrator assigned a team of ten workers to help him clean the airplane, repair a few parts and replenish the fluids. They would not accept any payment for their service, and were most generous of their time and efforts.

June 3, 1937 (Shenhang - Seoul - Ulsan)

After all the repairs are made, Cukurs sets out for Korea's capital city. The authorities at Seoul were expecting him and he was greeting with a great deal of ceremony. However, he still had further to fly and, after refuelling, he continued his journey southward to Ulsan, which at that time was known as Urusan. Ulsan was a small town, but it had an aerodrome and was a good 'jumping off' point for the flight across the Korea Strait which would be attempted early the next morning.

June 4, 1937 (Ulsan - Kobe - Tokyo)

Cukurs rises early and departs on the final outward leg of his journey. He was fortunate to cross the Korea Strait with almost no wind or disturbed weather, only a fog/ground mist which obscured the shoreline, so the first time he saw Japan he was already flying over land. He flew past Hiroshima and Okayama and landed safely at the port city of Kobe. Upon landing, his aircraft was surrounded by photographers, members of the press, local officials, and other well-wishers. His flight had received a great deal of advance publicity and his refuelling stop at Kobe did not pass without ceremony and celebration.

Shortly, Cukurs departs for Tokyo. He flies past Mt.Fuji and lands at Tokyo's Haneda aerodrome without problems. Here, he is met by a huge crowd of people. The Japanese Foreign Minister, Minister of Transport and Defense Minister greet him on behalf of the Japanese government. The Latvian Ambassador is in attendance, along with many Japanese aviation officers and the members of the Tokyo Aero Club. A Japanese newspaper, Asahi Shibun, has set out a banquet in the hangar and Cukurs' aircraft is parked in a place of honor, next to the Japanese aircraft which recently completed a flight to London, England and back. After the celebrations, Cukurs is taken to stay at the Latvian embassy.

June 10, 1937 (Tokyo - Osaka - Ulsan - Seoul)

Cukurs had hoped to receive permission from the Soviet Union to fly through their territory. At his departure this was denied but he hoped that such permission might still be forthcoming for the return journey. This would have permitted a somewhat tropical route going one way, and a more northern route the other. However, the Soviets had not changed their attitude towards the project, so Cukurs was forced to follow a return route very similar to the one he followed on his outbound journey.
The flight to Osaka, past Mt.Fuji, was uneventful, but poor visibility made the airfield itself difficult to locate. After refuelling, Cukurs flew across the Korea Strait, landing at Ulsan. There had been so much rain at Ulsan during the preceding week that the airfield was like an island surrounded by standing water. He refuels once again and continues on to Seoul, where he lands after sunset.

June 12, 1937 (Seoul - Shenyang)

The flight to Shenyang (Mukden) fights a strong headwind. He lands safely and immediately begins preparations for a long flight next morning. On this, Cukurs' return flight, the goal has been achieved, the airfields are familiar, and there is little ceremony or socializing to be done.

June 12, 1937 (Shenyang-Qingdao)

Cukurs plans an ambitious day of flying - from Shenyang to Qingdao (also known as Tsing-tau or, locally, as Zhong Guo), a total of 1,050 km. Again, he had to fight a strong headwind. He tried flying at low altitude, then much higher, but could not escape the headwinds. The flight took him a total of 7 hours and fifteen minutes, and he landed at Qingdao just minutes before it was blanketed with fog. Qingdao airfield had no hangars, so the C-6 had to stand outside in the rain. Weather was generally poor, and Cukurs would have to stay at Qingdao for a few days while it cleared both there and also at his next objective - Shanghai.

June 17, 1937 (Qingdao - Shanghai)

The weather improved just enough for Cukurs to set out for Shanghai. Arriving in Shanghai he is met by the leader of a thriving little community of Latvians (over 300 of them) living in Shanghai.
The next day he is invited to dinner with the local chapter of the International Aviators Society. It is a most pleasant evening and, noting that they have an array of national flags representing their membership, he adds a Latvian flag to the collection. Before leaving he signs their guest book, which contained the names of many noted aviators of the time.

June 22, 1937 (Shanghai - Hong Kong)

With a full tank for the long flight to Hong Kong, Cukurs departs early. The flight is almost entirely in the clouds, but after four hours he already sights Fuzhou. He would have liked to have landed there for a break, but the airfield is entirely under water, so he continues on towards Hong Kong. After a total flight of 7 hours and 45 minutes, travelling about 1400 km, he lands at the familiar Kai Tak airfield in Hong Kong. He has to spend four days in Hong Kong, waiting for the weather to clear for the next leg of his journey.

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