On March 26, 1929, this biplane broke the record of flight duration over the sea ofor a land aircraft.
Among all the adventures that our aviation history treasures, Easter is very fond of one: the flight of the «Jesus of the Great Power». This biplane, piloted by two Spaniards, managed 91 years ago to break the record of a ground plane staying in flight over the sea after living a long list of adventures
The flight departed specifically from Seville to land in Bahia (Brazil) in a time of 43 hours and 50 minutes, something unusual for Spanish aeronautics. This milestone has meant that, almost a century later, the «Jesus of the Great Power» today has a privileged place in the «Air Museum» of Madrid, located in Cuatro Vientos, where its visitors can enjoy the almost centennial aeroplane.
The illusion of a record
The adventures of this Spanish plane began with a simple letter sent in 1927 by the pilot Ignacio Jiménez to the engineer Francisco Iglesias. In it, he proposed to undertake the challenge of exceeding the record for distance travelled in flight (at that time located at 6,290 kilometres).
Almost immediately, and despite the fact that in those years, taking such a trip was a serious risk, Iglesias accepted. Thus, gathering the adventurous spirit that thousands of Spaniards had shown several centuries before when embarking for the new world, both began to prepare this feat.
Breguet XIX, the chosen aircraft
To accomplish the feat, however, the Spaniards needed an aircraft that could carry an unusual amount of fuel. For this reason, they selected the Breguet XIX, one of the most modern aeroplanes of the time.
Manufactured by one of the best-known aircraft builders in Spain – Construcciones Aeronáuticas S.A (C.A.S.A) -, this biplane had a problem: a fuel tank that was too small. For this reason, the Spanish asked for the “Jerrycan” or “Gran Raid” version of this type of aeroplane, which had, among other things, a larger fuel tank.
With the aviators prepared for the adventure and the selected aircraft, it only remained for these two soldiers to request the corresponding permission from the authorities to make their particular raid towards America. Thus, two years after Ramón Franco’s trip to Argentina, Jiménez and Iglesias planned to add a new notch to the handle of Spanish aviation.
However, the airmen found that the military authorities prohibited this trip. “Jiménez and Iglesias now had their sights set on Cuba (…) where so many Spaniards lived (…) But this route had a peculiarity (…): most of its route had to be done over the ocean, and command were fully convinced of the safety of a land plane (…) over such a long stretch of water”, determines the Institute of Aeronautical History and Culture (IHCA) in its book” Great Flights of Spanish Aviation”.
As an alternative, the authorities proposed the pilots head towards Pakistan, whose distance also allowed them to break the international record. Officially, the airmen accepted without question, but secretly organized the trip to the Americas in parallel. His idea seemed simple: to make the army believe that they would leave for Asia and, after taking off, change course and head towards Havana.
After carrying out various tests, it was determined that the machine and the crew were ready to depart, which would be done after properly “baptizing” the aircraft. “On March 30, Breguet XIX Gran Raid nº 72 was solemnly baptized in Seville with the name of (…) Jesús del Gran Poder. The officiant at the blessing ceremony was the Cardinal Archbishop of Seville (…) and the godmother, none other than H.M. Queen Doña Victoria Eugenia, who (…) broke a bottle of wine on the propeller hub (as was traditional)”, says the IHCA.
However, after an unfortunate accident, then-Colonel Kindelán, in command of this operation, discovered the intentions of Jiménez and Iglesias just before they took off. With great irritation, the military officer stopped the trip and gave the pilots a choice: to leave for Asia or abandon the project. There was no other way, so the Spanish resigned themselves and began preparations to travel to the East.
A disastrous first trip
With no other option to fulfill their dream, the pilots began their journey to the East on May 29, 1928. “From Seville, Jiménez and Iglesias left for the Mediterranean through Gibraltar (…), then continued to fly towards Cabo de Gata (…). In the end, they entered Asia Minor through the Aleppo area”, the institution determines in its book.
All went well until they reached the 5,100 km. At that time, the Spanish had to face one of the biggest challenges of their pilots’ lives: a terrible sandstorm that they could not avoid.
Their expertise and skill allowed them to fly for hours in the storm. However, it seems that the Breguet’s engine was not willing to go through as much hardship as they did to achieve the record, because, in the end, it could not stand the massive entrance of sand into its mechanism and began to fail. After 28 hours, Jiménez and Iglesias had no choice but to land; the record had not been beaten.
Instead, there could be something worse than being lost in the middle of Asia. “After landing in those distant lands with the Jesus of the Great Power, Jiménez and Iglesias had to remain prisoners of the Bedouins for a few days, until, in due course, British forces aided by RAF personnel came to rescue them”, explains the IHCA.
But that was not all. Once released, the pilots asked the Peninsula for a series of damaged parts in order to repair the biplane and return. However, and for some strange reason, the authorities made a mistake and sent them to none other than Japan. “They spent the whole summer enduring an average temperature of more than 50 degrees in the shade that ended up damaging the rubber coating of the aircraft’s gasoline tanks”, conclude the members of the military entity.
Finally, and since misfortunes never come alone, Jiménez and Iglesias were informed in Baghdad that the world record for distance in flight had been broken again by Italians Ferrarin and Del Prete. These, onboard their Savoia Marchetti S-64, had traveled a distance of 7,188 km.
A new journey
Despite all the hardships, the aviators did not intend to surrender and, once they reached Spain, they again requested permission to carry out a raid to America. In this case, luck smiled on them, as the military authorities gave them the go-ahead after observing, through the Savoia trip, that it was a feasible flight.
The new route had Rio de Janeiro as its first stop and its preparations began almost immediately. Dozens of weather reports were ordered, the Jesus of the Great Power was carefully reviewed and all possible routes were considered to make the trip as dangerous as possible.
The premise was not to carry one more gram of extra weight. For this reason, Jiménez and Iglesias decided that they would use the astronomical navigation system (using logarithms) and that they would not load any radio into the Breguet. In addition, they filled the food compartments with light foods such as dried figs, dates, chocolate, mineral water, cognac, and various thermoses with coffee.
Once everything was ready and the pilots had taken enough astringent to avoid relieving themselves on the plane for two days, the journey began. In this case, the press was not notified and the takeoff was carried out with the greatest possible discretion at 5:35 p.m. on March 24th, 1929 from Tablada (Seville).
The immensity and danger of the Atlantic
With the destination marked in Rio de Janeiro, the pilots began their journey, which was intended, in addition to breaking the record for distance in flight, to establish ties between the Spanish-speaking countries.
During the first hours of the flight, everything went smoothly. In fact, the Jesus of the Great Power covered the initial kilometres in an impeccable way bordering the African coast. However, the great test did not come until Jiménez and Iglesias had to face the South Atlantic: a huge body of water.
Airmen soon discovered how hard it was to slide through the clouds with the only view of miles and miles of water on the horizon. “It is logical to miss people, to talk to someone, at a time when only the noise of the engine was heard in a silent and deserted scene; how much would they have given now by a radio through which they could communicate with each other (…) And thank goodness that they still had a drum for internal correspondence”, explains the IHCA in the text.
In turn, the possibility that the plane suffered a breakdown became much more dangerous over the ocean. And, being the Jesus of the Great Power a land biplane and not a hydroplane, falling on the water meant the end of the trip. Therefore, the senses of the military sharpened during this journey, they could not allow anything to go wrong.
After the first 36 hours in the journey, and having taken turns for a brief nap during the night, the aviators sighted the lighthouse of Natal (in northwestern Brazil). The first test, to overcome the water desert that was the South Atlantic, had been passed. His happiness could not be greater. With 5,680 km traveled, the pilots were quite optimistic about their destination.
However, fate was once again elusive with them. In this case, they encountered strong gusts of wind that they could not avoid, and, finally, they had to capitulate and land in Cassamary, near Bahía (Brazil), on March 26. That left the record in a harsh situation since they had traveled a total of 6,550 kilometers in 43 hours and 50 minutes, something insufficient to enter History.
But, although the distance mark had not been beaten, what Jiménez and Iglesias did achieve was another record: the longest in flight over the sea with a land plane. In turn, they took the international “podium” by obtaining the second-best time of absolute duration of a flight.
From Cassamary they traveled to Rio de Janeiro, where they were received as heroes. In fact, upon arrival they received several telegrams from both Kindelán and the Spanish monarchs congratulating them on their feat. In the days that followed, the aviators toured alongside the Jesus of the Great Power throughout much of Latin America, eventually returning to Spain, where they were welcomed as the adventurers and victors they were.