ARTICLE-PHOTO ARCHIVE: STUART KLINE
New York to Istanbul 49 hours and 15 minutes
Two young American pilots who made the longest flight in history from New York to Istanbul in 1931 in the Bellanca ‘Cape Cod’, were received personally by Atatürk.
“ If this flight does materialize, it will be one of the biggest events in the history of aviation and we can’t afford to run the least risk of missing it; let’s go back, Anita.” The speaker was Joseph C. Grew, America’s first ambassador in Turkey, and Anita was his daughter.
It was July 30th, 1931. After a ten-hour wait, they had practically given up the vigil and started homewards. But Grew didn’t want to be caught napping. For Istanbul was about to witness a world record. Together with Anita he turned back to the airfield. They were not the only ones waiting with bated breath. The Governor of Istanbul, the local Kaymakam, and a handful of local and international correspondents were all on hand to witness the historic event.
What they were waiting for were two American pilots with nerves of steel—33-year-old Russell Boardman and 29-year-old John Polando, who had taken off earlier from New York in their aircraft, the ‘Cape Cod’. Their aim to cross the Atlantic and fly to the farthest point on the European continent in their high-wing, single-engine Bellanca monoplane. And these two pilots had never been outside of the United States before!
FOR THE LONG-DISTANCE RECORD
Purchased by Russell Boardman in 1930, the black & yellow painted Cape Cod had been specially prepared for long-distance flight. He wanted to attempt to break the long-distance record held by French fliers Dieudonnes Costes and Maurice Bellonte, who flew the Breguet XIX ‘Question Mark’ 4912 from Paris to Manchuria, China, in late-September, 1929. In April, 1931, Boardman had announced his destination; Istanbul, apple of the eye of the world’s newest and boldest country, the Republic of Turkey. And he had chosen the 115-pound John Polando as his co-pilot. Cape Cod’s seats were replaced with a 400-gallon fuel tank, its wingspan extended by more than three feet to 50 feet, and its landing gear covered with aerodynamic spats and moved forward by six inches.
When Cape Cod took off from Brooklyn’s Floyd Bennett Field on that historic morning of July 28th, it was loaded down with 728 gallons of gasoline, which constituted the greatest weight ever lifted by a 300-hp Wright-Cyclone engine to date. Under those arduous conditions, Boardman and Polando had begun a journey that would take them exactly 49 hours and 15 minutes to complete.
“The darkest hours were spent circling in a valley near Munich. As the rays of the rising sun finally fingered their way between the peaks, the fearful suspense lessened and we grinned at each other. The odds were now tipped in our favor,” John Polando would later tell the New York Times. “The city of Munich, the Danube, the Balkans slipped slowly under our wings and, finally, the minarets of the ancient city of Istanbul became visible on the horizon. We were going to make our destination.”
Ambassador Grew describes the scene as follows in his memoirs: “The appearance of the Cape Cod and its landing were probably the most thrilling moments of our lives. A good many planes, military and civilian, had arrived during the morning, so that the appearance of one more in the sky led me merely to get out my glasses in leisurely fashion. And then I saw that she was yellow and black and we all began to shout. A prettier landing was never seen.”
Boardman and Polando set the plane down on the grass field at Yeşilköy at 1:20 p.m. local time on July 30th. Warmly greeting the two weary pilots, who got out, gingerly, untangling their stiffened joints, Grew congratulated them. Following a brief toast, they were taken to the Pera Palas Hotel.
“MIRACLE OF MIRACLES”
While Boardman and Polando were resting at their hotel, another piece of news reached Ambassador Grew. The founder and first President of the Republic of Turkey, Gazi Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), wanted to see the two pilots, too. And at his residence in Yalova no less! Let us hear the rest of the story from Grew himself:
“Miracle of miracles... the Gazi has sent word that he wishes to receive our noble aviators at Yalova. Foreigners of great distinction, Admirals, Generals, Ministers of State, are often denied access to that sacred sanctum even when audiences are requested in the official capital, and at the best they are kept waiting for days, but these two American boys are immediately summoned so that the great Gazi may promptly do them honor. At 2:15 we write in the Gazi’s book at Dolmabahçe Palace and at 2:30 set out for Yalova on the Gazi’s own private yacht, the Sakarya, together with the Governor and a numerous group of officials, Turkish newspaper correspondents and press photographers, Boardman, Polando, the military aide, Foreign Service Officer Shaw and myself.”
Two hours later they reached Yalova, where an official deputation and a great crowd received the aviators with immense enthusiasm, cheers and handclapping. “Indeed I have never seen such spontaneous enthusiasm,” writes Ambassador Grew. They drove to the ‘Gazino’ at Yalova Springs to be received by Prime Minister İsmet İnönü, and a large group of high Turkish officials. İnönü pinned on their coats the highest decoration of the Turkish Aeronautical Association, diamond pendants. Finally the time had come to meet Gazi Mustafa Kemal.
A SPLENDID WELCOME
“We drove to the Gazi’s house and are shown by Tevfik Rüştü Bey into his sanctum where I introduce Boardman and Polando. The Gazi seats himself behind his desk, the aviators on the sofa opposite, with Tevfik Rüştü and the military aid, Shaw, and myself in a half-circle. The Gazi makes his speech without notes in Turkish, Tevfik Rüştü translates into French and Shaw into English—a very warm and splendid welcome. They tell me that the Gazi has been unable to think or speak of any other subject since the aviators arrived. Then I make my reply on behalf of Boardman and Polando, again extemporaneously, for we had not anticipated speeches. The Gazi begins to ask questions about the flight, which I put into English and translate into French Boardman’s answers... Finally the Gazi remarks that he doesn’t want to take up too much of their time and prevent their seeing Yalova, so the audience breaks up and we all, including the Gazi, go on to the terrace to be photographed. That ends the visit. As we start homewards, İsmet comes with springy step across the garden from his house to say goodbye with that charming, magnetic smile of his, and he waves to us until we are out of sight... Yalova, fortunately, is at its best. Cool and green and refreshing...”
Of course, this momentous flight from New York to Istanbul had repercussions in the United States as well. The two aviators were greeted with wild enthusiasm on their homecoming. On the first anniversary of the flight they were invited to the White House where President Herbert Hoover presented each aviator with the Distinguished Flying Cross. “One does not, cannot, expect such adulation to last,” remarked Polando in a statement years later, “and it dwindled to infrequent speaking engagements and mostly old, close friends who remembered our days of glory.”
Boardman and Polando’s historic flight will of course never be forgotten. Not in New York nor in Istanbul anyway. As determined as he was capable, aviator Russell Boardman died in 1933. John Polando passed away at the Cape Cod Hospital on August 13th, 1985 at the age of 83. Perhaps they met up again in the skies, who knows?
U.S. Ambassador Joseph C. Grew’s memoirs were published by Houghton Mifflin, Boston, in 1952 under the title ‘Turbulent Era, a Diplomatic Record of Forty Years 1904-1945’.