Trip of the Snip
Based on The Antillean Navigator, October 1992
THE 1934 SNIP FLIGHT TO "THE WEST"
Mainly from the log of wireless operator S. van der Molen
loading the mail
since then, no progress
in mailbags at all?
S. van der Molen, J.J. Hongdong
J. van Balkom, L.D. Stolk
filling her up
for the Fokker F-XVIII Snip
Extra tanks for a total of 5500 liters of fuel were built in. As much weight as possible was taken from the plane; all seats were removed and taking out with the toilet, leaving a hole in the floor for its function. There were no pressure cabins in those days. Still, the standard take-off weight of 7.5 tons became 10 tons and the standard engines were replaced by 550 hp Wasp TIDIs; according to Ernest K. Gann running much smoother than the rough Wright Cyclones, if even noisier.
|Porto Praia, Cabo Verde
|La Guaira, Venezuela
Schiphol-Marseille, 15 December
Start point was the old Schiphol Airport. Weather forecasts for all of Europe were extremely bad; head winds of storm force, locally over 80 km/hr, with a low ceiling. Schiphol was very cold with continuous heavy rain. After a smooth take-off the aircraft was plodding through a thick cloud cover. Over the board telephone captain Hondong instructed van der Molen to ask for a position report every twenty minutes. It was pitch black outside and in the cabin, with just a small light over the radio table. Radio communications had heavy static.
There was no auto-pilot in those days; they had to rely on instruments for navigation as there was no visual ground contact. Because of static, it was impossible to get a good position report over France. Turbulence was so heavy that it was hard to use the Morse tapping-key. After 90 minutes of trying a position report came in, that a few minutes later turned out to be wrong; a search light they could see through the clouds was really located 85 km to the West of the reported position, which was 75km East of Dijon.
The French radio stations had remained in the air for this one aircraft that was flying in weather like that. Marseille came through loud and clear and gave another bad weather report. Turbulence was "frightening". Again, enormous static prevented all radio traffic, it was caused by St. Elmo's fire. Temperature was now down to -20º; as the heating had been removed from the aircraft to save weight, van der Molen and flight engineer Stolk tried to pack themselves in pillows. The static became so heavy that van der Molen got a heavy electrical shock when he touched his Morse key, with a fireworks-like display of blue flames. They had to retract the antenna, which left them without any contact with ground stations.
chairs, windows and more
were removed from cabin to save weight
At dawn, after a long night, Hongdong started to come down slowly. In the warmer air pieces of ice came loose from the aircraft body, hitting it with heavy blows, some even piercing it. Hongdong could see they were close to Marseille, when the antenna started functioning again and they got a reliable position report. Twenty minutes later they landed in Marseille.
After this flight of over 8 hours, they nevertheless took off again after refueling for an almost as long flight to Casablanca, low over the Mediterranean covered with white waves because of the wind. Radio conditions improved and even Paramaribo was received. Turbulence over Alicante was extremely heavy and even this crew was scared by it. As Tanger was unusable because of the heavy rains, they decided to stop over in Alicante.
Alicante-Casablanca, 16 December
The aircraft was on its way long before sunrise. The crew seems to have been pretty relaxed. Weather conditions had improved much: there was no wind or cloud cover at all and they landed in Casablanca at 1 o'clock in the afternoon.
Casablanca-Porto Praia, 17 December
The Dutch living in Casablanca treated the crew to a big surprise party; they had had little sleep when they took off for the next leg along the African coast via Agadir, Mogador and Cape Juby. A back wind kept growing stronger. Radio conditions were so good that, on ultra-short wave, van der Molen even got the Curaçao weather report: "No frost, no snow, no fog, much heat and much sun." All this was in Morse, then in use for no longer than 38 years and only abandoned in 1992 when satellite communications had taken over.
On their request a searchlight was pointed to the sky in Villa Cisneros for their orientation. Van der Molen somewhat later sent a message to Holland: "Stolk is asleep, so everything goes fine", which next day made headlines in Dutch newspapers. There were some problems with radio bearings, but not serious enough to prevent them finding their position on the chart they used, designed for ship navigation.
In Porto Praia, Cabo Verde islands, they were welcomed by mr. Pattist, a KLM-official who had arranged all facilities. Porto Praia was in use by the French for flights to South America; their famous Jean de Mermoz was largely responsible for the airport having been built there. One can feel a certain satisfactory righteousness in the fact that KLM has now been acquired, or even saved, by Air France, after always underplaying France's crucial role in helping them succeed here. There was not much else in Porto Praia than dust, dirt and flies. The road from the airport to town had no hardtop and was richly furnished with potholes; on their trip over it the crew had occasion to be more frightened than while flying.
Engineer Stolk worked on the engines all next day, assisted by two French mechanics, not even taken time out to lunch. Meanwhile weather reports came in from KNSM steamship Stuyvesant and Royal Dutch Navy submarine Hr. Ms. K18. Co-pilot van Balkom and van der Molen practised with the sextant, adjusted the compasses and checked the chronometer by radio signs. Engine oil and thousands of liters of fuel, hand-pumped from drums, were taken aboard.
extra fuel tanks
Porto Praia-Paramaribo, 19 December
Fifty men pushed and pulled the Snip to her start position, loaded to the gills with 5500 liters of fuel, resulting in a take-off weight of 10,000kg. After an easy start at 19:00 hrs. they climbed to 3500 meters.
Almost immediately, they lost their radio. Van der Molen soon discovered the antenne had worn through in the conducting tube and could repair it without returning. After some 5 hours and 30 minutes they passed submarine K18, much to the enthousiasm of its crew who had forsaken Christmas in Dakar to serve as navigational aid to the Snip. (Maybe it wasn't a real hardship to forsake Christmas in Dakar?) However, no contact could be made with Stuyvesant or another KNSM ship, Van Rensselaer on a route more to the North. They did receive a message from Curaçao: "Keep it up [hou je taai], we all on Curaçao wish you a happy landing."
Stuyvesant; from VB PICTURES by C.E.A. van Boeckel
Much on the nighttime navigation was by the stars, by which they figured a speed of 250 km/hr, most respectable in those days. They made their landfall at the South-American coast just South of Cayenne, only 18 kms more to the South than expected. This they thought quite good (but Columbus was totally disgusted when, on his Third Voyage via Trinidad, lasting for two months where no one had ever gone before, he finally arrived at Hispaniola/Santo Domingo with the same error).
An hour later, after (but naturally!) having changed to clean uniforms to please the Dignitaries, they landed at Zanderij, Paramaribo airport. There were 1650 liters of fuel still left in the tanks—they had used only 2/3rd.
arrival on Hato airport
welcoming crowd on Hato
Paramaribo-Curaçao, 22 December
The Snip flew on to La Guaira and from there to Curaçao, where they were received by an enthousiastic crowd. All crew members were knighted on the spot. Next day, the Snip flew on to Aruba, probably Dakota airfield, but for some reason this is hardly ever mentioned.
No Joy in the East
At the time of the Snip record, KLM's pride, their first DC-2 Uiver
that had won the London-Melbourne race crashed in the Syrian desert. (The crew had been on duty for 30 hours.)
This coincidence is hardly ever mentioned, either.
This was the start of KLM's West Indian operations.
The next FXVIII Oehoe, renamed Oriol, was transported to Curaçao by ship; you may find this remarkable, but that same year the first DC-2 for KLM went across the Atlantic by ship, as well. The Amsterdam-Curaçao service did not become regular until after World War II, with Douglas DC-3 and DC-4 aircraft.
monument on Hato Airport
KLM wanted to use Curaçao as a hub
between the Far East, the Americas and Europe.
(here's the story)
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