On August 10, Lufthansa Group is commemorating the 75th anniversary of the first non-stop transatlantic flight of a land-based passenger aircraft to New York.
Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor registered D-ACON of the original Deutsche Lufthansa took off from Berlin Tempelhof Airport at around 9:00 p.m. local time on August 10, 1938, on a non-stop flight bound for New York’s Floyd Bennett Field.
Thousands of people gathered at Floyd Bennett Field on August 11, 1938 to watch the Lufthansa aircraft landing. Shortly before 4:00 p.m. local time, just under 25 hours after taking off, the Condor landed to the sound of cheers from the onlookers.
Crew and aircraft completed roughly 3,728 miles across the Atlantic, non-stop ‒ a new world record for a land-based aircraft. The aircraft was piloted by Alfred Henke, a captain for the original Lufthansa, which the Allies began liquidating in 1945 after World War II.
Today’s Lufthansa is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the record flight of the Focke-Wulf Fw 200 on August 10, and the Condor will be en route to New York once again ‒ but this time only as a postcard motif aboard a Lufthansa aircraft, since no Fw 200s are flying today.
In memory of the Condor’s 1938 aviation achievement, Lufthansa flight LH400 will carry illustrated anniversary airmail for enthusiasts.
On arrival in New York at 12:45 p.m. local time, the postcards will receive a special stamp and then will be returned to Berlin to their senders.
Since the Boeing 747-400 will complete the westbound sector in around eight hours and thirty minutes, passengers as well as postcards will travel three times faster to America than they did 75 years ago.
Lufthansa now offers seven daily flights to New York, from Frankfurt, Munich and Düsseldorf.
As the world’s first four-engined, land-based passenger aircraft, offering record distance and speed performance, the Fw 200 demonstrated that transatlantic air travel should be possible in the future.
In Lufthansa service, Fw 200 Condors provided seating for 26 passengers, who traveled in comfortable upholstered seats. Specially trained stewardesses were employed onboard and looked after the passengers. These were only a few of the many requirements Lufthansa set manufacturer Focke-Wulf-Flugzeugbau GmbH for the design of the Condor.
The current Lufthansa is also a trend-setter, particularly in the testing of biofuels on regular commercial flights. In January 2012, Lufthansa conducted the first scheduled transatlantic flight from Europe to the United States powered by a blend of biofuel and conventional Jet A-1.
A Boeing 747-400 with 40 tons of bio-kerosene mix in its tanks flew from Frankfurt to Washington Dulles International Airport. Lufthansa had previously tested the biofuel-conventional fuel mix in an Airbus A321 over six months of commercial operations on the Frankfurt-Hamburg route.
During the six-month period the aircraft performed nearly 1,200 commercial flights using the biofuel blend.
With the start of the Second World War, Germany’s National Socialist regime showed an interest in the Fw 200.
Throughout the war the Luftwaffe used Fw 200s for military purposes ‒ primarily as a long-range transport and reconnaissance aircraft, particularly during the Battle of the Atlantic between U-Boats and Allied shipping, but also as a bomber.
However, designed as it was for civil aviation, the Condor proved relatively unsuited for military action. After the war, the long-range aircraft had become obsolete due to the rapid technical progress made in aviation during World War II.
By the end of the war, larger and faster four-engined aircraft such as the Douglas DC-4 and Lockheed Constellation were already in service and the B-29-based Boeing Stratocruiser began commercial flights shortly thereafter. By the early 1950s, turboprop-powered airliners such as the Bristol Britannia and the revolutionary de Havilland Comet jet were entering service, quickly followed by the world-changing Boeing 707.
No Fw 200s are flying today ‒ unlike the contemporary Junkers Ju-52 tri-motor, a 1936 example of which Lufthansa restored to flying condition in the 1980s and operates today on special flights. However, Airbus, Rolls-Royce, the Deutsche Lufthansa Berlin-Stiftung and Lufthansa Technik are now restoring probably the last surviving Fw 200 to non-flying condition to make sure the record-setting type is not lost to posterity.
In 1981 the remains of the aircraft were located in a fjord near Trondheim in Norway. The aircraft had made an emergency landing on water in February 1942 due to a technical defect and since then had lain at the bottom of the fjord under 196 feet of salt water.
Salvage of the Fw 200’s hulk was completed 18 years later, in 1999, but the metal hulk had been badly damaged by its immersion in salt water.
Lufthansa Technik is contributing technicians’ skills and time to the Fw 200 restoration project, together with the German Technology Museum Berlin, Airbus in Bremen and Rolls-Royce Deutschland in Berlin-Dahlewitz.
Although the restored Condor will not fly again, it should eventually at least be able to taxi along a runway, according to Lufthansa.