The Pioneers

The main names associated with the first crossing of the South Atlantic are Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral. Others should be remembered together, who supported or contributed to the achievement of this feat.

Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral forged mutual trust, and their friendship, in the harsh topographical missions in Africa:

Between 1907 and 1910, they established the geodetic network of Mozambique, from Ponta do Ouro to Bazaruto, where they covered more than 32 000 km2.

Sacadura Cabral

Sacadura Cabral was born in 1881-03-23, in Celorico da Beira, near Serra da Estrela. During the years that he was embarked in the Portuguese Navy, always on the coast of Mozambique, Sacadura became familiar with life at sea, knowing all the ports of that Overseas Province. Sacadura Cabral and Gago Coutinho worked together on geodesic missions between 1907 and 1910. It was during these missions that Sacadura revealed his skills as a geographer, astronomer and organiser. In 1915, at the age of 34, Sacadura Cabral began to serve the country in Military Aviation. After a brief period as an Instructor, he was responsible for the defence of Portuguese interests in Mozambique against Germany during the First World War. He idealised the Portugal-Brazil air crossing. He invited Gago Coutinho to study the problem of air navigation, and on his initiative, he devoted himself to studying and creating a device to calculate the drift caused by the wind. In 1921, with the help of precision instruments, he managed to make the straight-line journey between Lisbon and Funchal. In 1922, with Gago Coutinho as navigator, held the first Air Crossing of the South Atlantic, using only, for guidance, devices and methods of astronomical navigation (without relying on beacon ships 60 miles apart, as in the voyage of Mead in 1919). In 1923, he started organising the First Air Circumnavigation Voyage over land, together with Brazil. Sacadura argued that the Portuguese should make this first trip around the world. Several bureaucratic delays prevented this project from materialising. Sacadura foresaw the future importance of aviation in air transport. On November 15, 1924 he disappeared in a cross-Channel flight while piloting a Fokker 4146 from Amsterdam to Lisbon. This was one of 5 aircraft that were bought by public subscription, and were to be used on an air journey to India, as the start of the circumnavigation voyage. The bodies of the crew members were never found. The sea kept forever the body of a Great Portuguese. (Adapted from “Sacadura Cabral and the Dawn of Portuguese Aviation” – AIAA-2010-6544)

Gago Coutinho

He was born on 17th February 1869, in Belém, in the “old Praia do Restelo”, as he liked to call it. After attending the Liceu Central de Lisboa (now Liceu Camões), he enrolled in the Escola Politécnica (1885), before joining the Naval School in 1886. He finished the Navy course first in 1888.

He was in Mozambique until 1891, and Angola until 1893, with service commissions aboard numerous vessels such as the gunboat “Loge” (1892), the steamer “Pero de Alenquer” (1896-1897), and the gunboat “Patria” (1911-1912), where he supported land forces in Betano (Timor). In the first and last of these missions he was in command.

As Field Geographer he delimited colonial boundaries in Timor (1898), Zambezi (1900), North Angola (1901) and Barotze (1902) and Tete (1904). By 1910, Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral established the geodesic network of Mozambique, from Ponta do Ouro to Bazaruto, where they covered more than 32 000 km2. Finally, 22 years after the signing of the Luso-British Treaty (June 11th 1891), Gago Coutinho left with Vieira da Rocha and Sacadura Cabral, on October 1st 1912, for Lobito and the Benguela plateau. He crossed the African continent twice, on foot (about 5200 km² from Angola to Mozambique). He demarcated more than 2000 km of borders using the pedometer and the compass and carried out triangulation work in areas exceeding 800 km². In September 1915 he was appointed head of the Geodesic Mission of São Tomé, and in 1919 he was a full member of the Cartography Commission. His constant astronomical observations demonstrated the passage of the equator through the Rolas islet, and not between it and São Tomé as was thought, which earned him a contribution to the Earth’s geography.

Gago Coutinho produced a revolution in air navigation with the creation of a Sextant, with an artificial horizon. On 22nd March 1921, he took off from Bom Sucesso docks and reached Funchal, covering 530 miles in 7 hours and 40 minutes. The crew was formed by Sacadura Cabral (captain and pilot) and Gago Coutinho (navigator), Ortins Bettencourt (second pilot) and Roger Soubiran (mechanic). From March 30 to June 17, 1922, without TSF support, they made the first aerial crossing of the South Atlantic, between Lisbon and Rio de Janeiro. They flew 4,527 miles in 62 hours and 26 minutes.

In 1925 he was appointed President of the Cartography Commission, as he was its oldest member and the one with the most papers presented. He was at the head of the Cartography Commission until it was reorganised into the Board of Geographic Missions and Colonial Investigations (in 1936) and of which he was its first President.

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