The Pioneers

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

Gago Coutinho e Sacadura Cabral

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

Between 1907 and 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.

Sacadura Cabral

Gago Coutinho e Sacadura Cabral

Sacadura Cabral Born on 1881-03-23, in Celorico da Beira, near Serra da Estrela.

In the years that Sacadura Cabral was on board in the Portuguese Navy, always on the coast of Mozambique, Sacadura Cabral became familiar with life at sea, knowing all the ports of that Overseas Province. Carrying out geodetic work missions, Sacadura Cabral and Gago Coutinho worked together between 1907 and 1910. It was on these missions that Sacadura Cabral revealed his talents as a geographer, astronomer and organizer.

In 1915, aged 34, Sacadura Cabral began serving the country in Military Aviation. After a brief period as an Instructor, Sacadura Cabral was responsible for the defense of Portuguese interests in Mozambique, against Germany, during World War I.

Sacadura Cabral idealized the Portugal – Brazil air crossing. Sacadura Cabral Invited Gago Coutinho to study the problem of air navigation, and on his initiative, Sacadura Cabral dedicated himself to studying and creating a device to calculate the drift caused by the wind.

In 1921, Sacadura Cabral, with the help of precision instruments, managed to make the journey, in a straight line, between Lisbon and Funchal, with Gago Coutinho.

In 1922, Sacadura Cabral, with Gago Coutinho as navigator, carried out the first Air Crossing of the South Atlantic, using only astronomical navigation devices and methods for guidance (without relying on beacon ships 60 miles apart, as in the Mead’s trip in 1919).

In 1923, Sacadura Cabral began to organize the First Terrestrial Circum-Navigation Air Trip, together with Brazil. Sacadura Cabral, argued that the Portuguese should make this first trip around the world. The various bureaucratic delays prevented Sacadura Cabral from materializing this project.

Sacadura Cabral foresaw the future importance of aviation in air transport.

On November 15, 1924, Sacadura Cabral disappeared on a flight over the English Channel while piloting a Fokker 4146 from Amsterdam to Lisbon. This was one of the 5 planes that were purchased by public subscription, and that would be used on an air trip to India, as the beginning of the circumnavigation trip. The bodies of Sacadura Cabral and the other crew members were never found.

The sea forever guarded the body of a Great Portuguese.

(Adapted from “Sacadura Cabral and the Dawn of Portuguese Aviation” – AIAA-2010-6544)

Further Reference:

Gago Coutinho

Gago Coutinho e Sacadura Cabral

Gago Coutinho was born on February 17, 1869, in Belém, on the “old Restelo Beach”, as he liked to say. After passing through Liceu Central de Lisboa (now Liceu Camões), he enrolled at the Polytechnic School (1885), before joining the Naval School in 1886. Gago Coutinho completed his Navy course in first place in 1888.

Gago Coutinho 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 “Pátria” (1911-1912), where Gago Coutinho supported the land forces in Betano (Timor). In the first and last of these missions, Gago Coutinho exercised command functions.

Gago Coutinho, as Field Geographer, delineated colonial borders in Timor (1898), Zambeze (1900), Northern Angola (1901) and Barotze (1902) and Tete (1904). Until 1910, Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral established the geodesic network of Mozambique, from Ponta do Ouro to Bazaruto, where Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral covered more than 32,000 km2. Finally, 22 years after the signing of the Luso-British Treaty (on 11 June 1891), Gago Coutinho left with Vieira da Rocha and Sacadura Cabral, on 1 October 1912, for Lobito and the Benguela plateau. Gago Coutinho, He crossed the African continent twice, on foot (about 5200 km² from Angola to Mozambique). Gago Coutinho demarcated more than 2000 km of border using the pedometer and the compass and carried out triangulation work in areas greater than 800 km². Gago Coutinho, in September 1915 is appointed head of the São Tomé Geodesic Mission, and in 1919 effective member of the Cartography Commission. Constant astronomical observations demonstrated the passage of the equator through the Ilhéu das Rolas, and not between it and São Tomé as was thought, which earned Gago Coutinho, thanks to his contribution to terrestrial geography, respect for his colleagues.

Gago Coutinho produced a revolution in air navigation with n the creation of a Sextant, with an artificial horizon. Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral, on March 22, 1921, took off from the Bom Sucesso dock and arrived in Funchal, covering 530 miles in 7 hours and 40 minutes. The crew consisted, in addition to Sacadura Cabral (as captain and pilot) and Gago Coutinho (as navigator), Ortins Bettencourt (2nd pilot) and Roger Soubiran (mechanic). From March 30 to June 17, 1922, Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral, without TSF support, made the first aerial crossing of the South Atlantic, between Lisbon and Rio de Janeiro. 4,527 miles were covered in 62 hours and 26 minutes.

In 1925, Gago Coutinho was appointed President of the Cartography Commission, as he was its oldest member and the one with the largest number of works presented. Gago Coutinho headed the Cartography Commission until it was reorganized into the Board of Geographical Missions and Colonial Investigations (in 1936) and of which Gago Coutinho would be its first President.

In 1928, Gago Coutinho was chosen by the Ministry of War to chair the commission in charge of reorganizing the geographic, cadastral and cartographic services and in the following year he became the first president of the Board of National Education, which would become the future Institute of High Culture, currently the Camões Institute.

In the early 1930s, Gago Coutinho was invited by the German airline Dornier to be part of the crew of the huge seaplane of the X as a co-navigator, on a trip to South America, where he applied his Sextant. Reconstructing the journeys and looking for results, namely the route taken by Pedro Álvares Cabral, led Gago Coutinho, now aged 74, to undertake a journey aboard the ship “Foz do Douro” for 105 days (103 of which without seeing land), covering 8740 miles.

In 1959, Gago Coutinho died at the age of 90.

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