INTRODUCTION: The date was August 27, 1931 and a strange looking monster of an airplane was photographed flying from the south over the Stone Harbor beach. What a strange sight given this particular German-made aircraft Dornier Do X was heralded at that time as the “largest, heaviest and most powerful flying boat in the world”. So, what’s all the excitement about, you might ask?
THE BACKSTORY: The Dornier Do X was financed and produced by the German Transport Ministry in 1929 and only three such aircraft would ever be built. It can be said that in order to avoid and get around the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles that officially ended World War I, which incidentally forbade any aircraft exceeding certain speed and range limits to be built by Germany in the post World War I era, a specially designed aircraft manufacturing plant was created just across the German border in Switzerland.
PART I: We’ll get to the story about what the Dornier Do X flying boat was doing flying over Stone Harbor shortly, but first a bit of information about this type of new aircraft. If you look closely at the photographs shown at the outset of this article, you will notice that the plane appears to have 6 engines mounted above the expansive wing. However, close inspection will reveal the aircraft actually had 12 engines with 4-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propellers set up in a tandem push-pull fashion. After 103 flights during 1930, the Do X was refitted with more powerful engines and thereby could be placed into service to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. It is however noteworthy to mention, that with the greater power, this very large plane could only fly at a rather low altitude of just 1,600 feet. This plane had a flight crew of 14 and was designed to carry up to 100 passengers on short-haul flights but no more than 66 passengers on long-haul flights. Just like the LZ-129 Hindenburg airship which would see service 6 years later and crashed at Lakehurst in 1937, the Dornier Do X also provided luxurious accommodations for traveling passengers. Pictured above are two interior views showing the cockpit area and the passenger cabin in all its splendor.
PART II: This aircraft was developed and intended to conduct commercial operations ferrying passengers between Europe and the United States market. The image just portrayed showing the Do X route map is provided above. A long-distance tour was planned for 1930. Using this map for reference, the inaugural trans-oceanic “test” trial flight to New York departed from Friedrichshafen, Germany on November 3, 1930 with an established route that would take the Do X flying boat first to the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, Spain and Portugal. A serious mishap involving a fire destroying a good part of the left wing would occur in Lisbon that would ground the aircraft for six weeks. Repairs made, the large flying ship continued its journey leaving Portugal and proceeded to points southward along the western coast of Africa where it encountered even more problems and further delays. These problems could not be rectified in short order and consequently the Do X was only finally able to reach the Islands of Cape Verde on June 5, 1931 whereupon it crossed the Atlantic Ocean and reached Natal, Brazil in South America.
PART III: Uninterrupted progress was then achieved and the flight continued northward along South America’s eastern and northern coasts to San Juan, Puerto Rico and finally arrived in New York City on August 27, 1931, just about 10 months after departing Germany. Close examination of the route map shown above enables us to trace the route up the eastern seaboard from Miami, Charleston and Norfolk prior to arriving at its final destination New York. The distance from Norfolk, Virginia to New York City is about 350 miles which would place the Do X in a position to fly along the South Jersey coast and skirting by Stone Harbor heading northward on the last day of the trip, August 27, 1931.
PART IV: As our story draws to an end, please know that the Dornier Do X flying boat and its German crew would end up remaining in New York City for a total of 9 months while maintaining the aircraft and overhauling all of the engines. In the meantime, the Do X made quite a spectacle and became a very popular tourist attraction where many sightseers traveled to the Glenn Curtiss Airport, the forerunner to today’s LaGuardia Airport in New York. Notice the American Flag fluttering in the breeze and prominently displayed on the top of the aircraft’s wing. With the onset of the global economic depression of the 1930s, all future marketing plans for long-range service to the United States for the Do X were trashed. The Dornier Do X finally departed New York on May 21, 1932 where it followed a route to Newfoundland, Canada, the Azores and finally arriving at last at Berlin, Germany on May 24.
During the latter half of the year 1932, the Do X went on a tour to 24 other European cities to show-off the plane that was then considered the pride of Germany. While two more variants or derivatives of the Do X called the Do X2 and Do X3 aircraft were released, these 2 new versions were placed into short-haul service on a very limited basis. Finally, in 1936, all Do X flights came to a halt and were discontinued.
CONCLUSION: So there you have it! Some unknown person standing on the beach of Stone Harbor at the right moment on August 27, 1931 had a camera and was fortunate to snap the very photo shown at the beginning of this article. Most assuredly the Dornier Do X flight plan had been published in area newspapers in advance and people along the path of the final leg of the route would plan to witness and even take photographs of this history-making aircraft on its epic making flight. Please bear in mind that in this period of the very early 1930s, airplanes and the aviation industry were still in their infancy and the very sight of airplanes created a lot of excitement for the general public. Aviation overall would in that decade go on to make tremendous advancements. But alas, this is where our story ends for now.
Once more we are able to present yet another special moment in the history of Stone Harbor, New Jersey. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple snapshot or a post card to start us off on a new journey!