Jetrader - Spring 2017 - 42
In New York, the Curtiss Company was called on to overhaul all
12 engines in preparation for the journey home next year. This was
during the Great Recession; money was tight and living in New York
hotels was expensive, so the majority of the crew was summoned
home to Germany by steamship to return later when it was time
to take off again.
The luxurious passenger accommodations on the Dornier X.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons from the German Federal Archives.
well exceed the monthly earnings of the average citizen. For that,
the passengers expected to be pampered. Some compartments could
be converted to sleepers on long flights, while off-duty crew got
to sleep in hammocks.
The lowest level of the Do X was divided by waterproof bulkheads
to ensure flotation in the event of damage, and occupied by fuel
tanks and other stored equipment.
The Grand Tour
In the summer of 1930, with the new water-cooled Curtiss engines
in place, Dornier decided the Do X could now venture out into the
world. The plan was to have a route-proving flight from Europe via
West Africa to South America, and thence to New York. The trip
would be partly financed by carrying loads of special commemorative
post cards and postage stamps. Dornier hoped Pan Am would order
some Dornier flying boats for their Caribbean and South American
operations, but in the end nothing came of that.
There would be 40 stops along the way; the reason for all the stops
was the Dornier X was not really a long-range aircraft. First, while
the Curtiss engines brought increased power, their cooling systems
made them heavier, and they burned more fuel. Second, much of
the flight would be in the tropics where heat and humidity sapped
power from the engines, so fuel loads had to be light to allow the
Do X to take off. In fact, for the leg from Africa across the South
Atlantic to Natal in Brazil, most of the galley supplies and cabin
furnishings of tables, chairs and rugs were removed and sent ahead by
ship. Finally, as the Do X was a flying boat, all takeoffs and landings
had to take place in daylight, and heavy seas had to be waited out.
In any event, the ship with its 20-man crew departed the home
port on Lake Constance on 5 November 1930. It would be 20 months
before they arrived back home in Germany.
It was an eventful trip with many mishaps. At Lisbon the fabric
covering on one wing caught fire, and a repair crew had to come
from Germany to make repairs. During an attempted takeoff in the
Canary Islands, the Do X plowed into a heavy swell, calling for
repairs that lasted another three months. Underpowered in the
hot and sticky air at Guinea-Bissau on the western tip of Africa,
the Do X needed 26 attempts before it could get airborne. At Natal
on the eastern tip of South America, the hull sprang a leak, and
the plane was driven onto the beach to keep it from sinking. In
June passengers arrived in Rio, and after more repairs they finally
reached New York in August 1931. It may not be a fair comparison,
but four years earlier Charles Lindbergh had flown non-stop from
New York to Paris in only 36 hours.
With mostly favorable tailwinds and about nine months after
arriving, the return flight left New York on 19 May 1932, stopping at Newfoundland, the Azores, Vigo in Portugal and finally
Germany, arriving on 24 May. For the long, non-stop segment from
Newfoundland to the Azores, the Do X was so heavily loaded with
fuel that it required an agonizing takeoff run of almost two minutes
to gather enough speed to lift off. To save fuel and reduce drag,
most of the journey was flown at an altitude of only three to five
meters above the sea where the "ground effect" created a cushion
of high-pressure air under the wing.
There were months-long celebrations in Germany when the Do X
came home. It went on tour, landing at various cities with lakes,
and on the Rhine where crowds of people could buy tickets to walk
through the aircraft; in some places, people purchased tickets for
short rides. The proceeds helped to cover the debts incurred by
the flight to the Americas.
Production at Last, But Only Briefly
While the prototype Do X was away on its "world tour," Italy
placed an order for two of the giant flying boats, identified as Do
X 2 and Do X 3, which were delivered in August 1931 and May 1932
respectively. These were only slightly different from the original
Do X, but they came fitted with V-12 water-cooled engines by Fiat.
These two ships were just as under-powered as the original. In
order to ferry them from the factory on Lake Constance, they had
to make a long, circling climb over the lake before they could gain
enough altitude to head south and clear the Alps on the way to Italy.
While Mussolini could proudly boast of having two of the largest aircraft in the world, it seemed the Italians had no particular
use for them. Initially the two aircraft were going to be used for
commercial passenger service between Italy and Egypt, but that
plan was dropped and the aircraft were taken over by the Italian Air
Force. After a publicity tour of Italy, the two Dorniers were flown
only on ceremonial occasions to impress the crowds but never really
went to work carrying passengers anywhere.
Two Months, Two Disasters
In March 1933, the original Do X 1 was handed over to Deutsche
Luft Hansa and was sent off on a European tour, with planned stops
at all the major cities along the Danube and Rhine rivers and the
Dornier X prototype cruising somewhere near New York in 1931.
Photo: U.S. Navy via San Diego Air & Space Museum.
42 The official publication of the International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading