Balboa-to-Catalina: First water-to-water flight

NEWPORT BEACH—The man credited with the first-ever flight within the state of California is also the first person to have piloted a plane across the Catalina Channel. Glenn Luther Martin, who piloted a 12-second flight in California in August 1909, flew from Newport Beach to Catalina Island in May 1912.

Martin’s flight, at the time, was one for the record books: not only was it the first-ever flight to Catalina Island, it was also, at the time, the longest air navigation over open ocean. Orange County’s history books also label it as the first water-to-water flight, and the fastest over-water flight.

News coverage of the Newport Beach-to-Catalina flight said it took place on May 10, 1912. He made the flight just ahead of another aviator who planned to take to the skies from Catalina Island. That flight, which would fly from Catalina to Long Beach, was scheduled for May 11, 1912.

The return flight, which occurred the next day, was also the first-ever to carry mail from Catalina to the mainland.

The plane, a gossamer “pusher” biplane according to news reports, was built in Santa Ana. Martin boarded the plane and took off from the south end of Main Street at Ocean Front in Newport Beach’s Balboa neighborhood. Yes, he took off from the water.

Martin would make it to Avalon Bay on the other side, landing on the harbor’s water – with a crowd on land waiting to greet him. Total flight time was north of 30 minutes. The return trip back was about 45 minutes longer, according to The Catalina Islander.

The longest over-water flight before Martin’s took place was over the English Channel. That flight path, however, was not as long as the one Martin took from Newport Beach to Avalon, according to The Catalina Islander.

Martin would live until December 1955, and lived his final days in Baltimore, Maryland.


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