Joseph Costa (aviator)

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Joseph Costa
José Costa American Eagle A1 NC834W.jpg
José Costa by his American Eagle A1 NC834W
Born José Costa
February 22, 1909
Died November 11, 1998
Nationality  Portugal United States
Occupation Aviator
Spouse(s) Catherine Cuda Costa

Joseph Costa (Caniço, Santa Cruz, Madeira Island, Portugal, February 22, 1909[1]Corning, New York, United States of America, November 11, 1998) was a distinguished Luso-American aviator,[2] who achieved high international notoriety with his flight between the United States and Portugal, in 1936.


Joseph Costa (born José Costa in Caniço) emigrated to the USA at age 6, but spoke Portuguese and never lost his tie with the homeland. Commonly known as Joseph A. Costa or Joe Costa, he settled in Corning, New York, and was a pilot, flight instructor, FAA inspector, airplane mechanic and reseller. He founded an aviation company, the Costa Flying Service, operating in Corning–Painted Post Airport, until the early 2000s also owned by Costa and known as "Costa Airport" or "Costa Field". His son Joseph R. Costa manages the Costa Flying Service company, and despite having sold the airport grounds to the town of Erwin he is still the airport manager.[3]

In April 1936 he obtained USA citizenship.[4]

He was married to Catherine Cuda Costa, who was Italian. They had a son, Joseph Ronald Costa (born on 31/12/1941) and a daughter, Donna Louise Costa (born on 25/08/1945).[5]

Transtlantic flight in 1936[edit]

José Costa made aviation history when in 1936 he attempted a transatlantic flight from the US to Portugal in his Lockheed Vega.

An early enthusiast of aviation, he dreamt about flying in his hometown in Madeira, thrilled by the seagulls' graceful flight. Costa was the first resident of Corning to get a pilot's licence, obtained at the Syracuse branch of the Curtiss Wright Flying Service when he was only 21 years old. His flight instructor was Fred. T. McGlynn. After a few hours he flew solo, over the Onondaga lake. After teaching Costa how to fly, McGlynn left Curtiss for the General Electric Company in Schenectady. He was assigned to test GEC beacon equipment and new altimeters. He had been the chief pilot of General Aviation Company, before the acquisition by Eastern Aeronautical Corporation, having then moving to Curtiss. He completed his pilot exam in Binghamton, with inspector Asbury B. Meadows of the Department of Commerce.[6]

Once while flying from Syracuse to spend the weekend at home, he was about to land at Scudder Field in a bright orange monoplane when some children came onto the runway. He managed to avoid them but the plane skidded off the runway, took a part of the fence away, and clipped three fence posts. He was unharmed, but the airplane was damaged and he had to stay overnight while the plane was repaired.[7]

Soon afterward, he started to earn money from his pilot's licence, advertising passenger flights in the newspapers at prices from $1.00 to $5.00, and operating from nearby Erwins Field on the Painted Past-Coopers Road. A flight from Erwin Farm (one mile west of Painted Post on the Coming-Bath Highway to Elmira) to Watkins Glen, Hammondsport, with two passengers, cost five dollars in 1932. Among the planes Costa flew was the Fairchild 24 four-seat airplane, owned by Thomas Taxi and made available for charter flights.

In 1930, José Costa had become determined to fly from New York to Madeira. At that time he owned an American Eagle A1, registered NC834W, which was not capable of such a long flight. His father, John Costa, a railway worker, always provided support for his son's quest.

In the next few years he tried to raise money to buy a suitable airplane. The Lockheed Vega was the perfect aircraft for solo transatlantic flights, and was Amelia Earhart's preferred plane. Other models were coveted, like the Bellanca aircraft, the Lockheed Air Express.

Corning Painted Post airport took Costa's name, and flying events such as the Federal Air Circus of Saratoga, NY, were held there, with Freddy Weisher. The event included parachute-jumping (performed by George Seaver), bomb-dropping, and stunt-flying [8]

In 1932 he announced his intention to buy a Lockheed Vega, with partner Carlos Gallo sponsoring the project. The Portuguese Gallo had invented a new propeller.[9] The purchase target was a purpose-built Vega for aviation pioneer Laura Ingalls, the first woman to fly over the Andes.[10] The plane had been adapted for a transantlantic flight, capable of carrying fuel for another 2,000 miles, but Ingalls never did the trip. It was also announced that the Aviation Clearing Company, the broker for the plane, was offering the Vega in which John Henry Mears planned to circle the globe in 1931.[11][12] However, this purchase was not completed and, in 1934, he bought an American Eagle biplane for his flights in the US.[13]

On July 24, 1935 Joseph Costa finally acquired a Lockheed Vega in New Jersey,[14] registered as NC105N. The Vega model 5, built in 1929, production number 117, was initially owned by Statoil and flown by the father of astronaut Buzz Aldrin.[15] It was sold again on October 15, 1935 to Monroe T. Breed of Corning, NY. According to the NASM record, as of July 13, 1936, Mercury Aircraft, Inc. of Hammondsport, NY, installed additional gas tanks and heavy-duty landing gear “from Art Goebel’s Vega” and oil tanks from Amelia Earhart’s Vega (registration numbers not mentioned for either airplane).

The NC105N was sold again to Joseph Costa in the Summer of 1936 and an NR registration was approved for “testing and long-distance flying”.

The Christian cross symbol, the Portuguese military aircraft marking, was painted on the "Crystal City", despite the plane bearing an American registration.

By the middle of 1936 everything was set for take-off, but several setbacks made Costa postpone departure for a few months. The start of the Spanish Civil War caused the US government to block a direct flight to Portugal, due to the risk that a navigation error could lead to a landing in Spanish territory, thus forcing a trip via South America. Furthermore, concerns about flight safety from the authorities forced him to rebuild the engine, get approval for the additional fuel load, and undergo blind tests.

The flight departed on December 10, 1936[16] from the American Airlines Field (now Elmira-Corning Regional Airport[17] bound for San Juan, Puerto Rico, with a stopover in Miami.

Bad weather forced him to divert to Jacksonville (Florida), instead of Miami. On December 16 he sailed off to San Juan, Puerto Rico, departing Miami at 9:15 am assuming the risk of having to divert to Cuba or Haiti depending on weather conditions and fuel supply.[18] He had six hours of autonomy, but at 5:30 pm the Pan-American Airways communication system was closed and there was no sign of him in any of the airports covered by Pan Am, Camp Columbia, outside of Havana (now Ciudad Libertad Airport), Santiago de Cuba, and in the Dominican Republic. Pan Am reported the day after that once more bad weather caused a diversion to Dajabón in the Dominican Republic[19] amidst the border definition problems with Haiti. He was jailed immediately, but freed the next day, so he was able leave the country and avoid bureaucratic problems. He arrived in San Juan on December 17.

The subsequent legs were to Paramaribo in Suriname and Belém in Brazil. The most complicated part followed, a long flight over the jungle to Rio de Janeiro. Due to fuel exhaustion, gas having been pilfered from one of the tanks, he had to ditch in a field in Conceição do Serro, Minas Gerais, on January 15, 1937.[20][21] Although he sustained hardly any injuries,[22] the Vega was damaged beyond repair,[23] only the engine being salvaged. He still arrived in Rio at the controls of an airplane, a WACO having been provided by the Brazilian Military Aviation[24] for him to complete the last leg, after taking off from Belo Horizonte.[25]

Despite having to abort the journey, he received plenty of attention in Brazil, his feat being widely reported in the news. The local Portuguese community gave him honours,[26] inviting him to visit cultural centres and participate in several events. He returned to the US in May. While in Brazil he had the opportunity to go the Carnaval in Belo Horizonte.

The feat is mentioned in the book "Revolution in the Sky: The Lockheeds of Aviation's Golden Age" written by Richard Sanders Allen.

Later years[edit]

During WWII Costa was a CAA (later renamed FAA) examiner in Kansas and Iowa, evaluating young cadets seeking to enter the air force.

After the war, starting in 1946, he dedicated his life to civil aviation. There was the option to become a test pilot for new aircraft, but he considered it to be a dangerous job and declined the opportunity, focusing instead on developing the Costa airport and flying services.


In 1993 the Empire State Aerosciences Museum gave him the Aviation Pioneer Award "in recognition of your outstanding contributions to the development and advancement of General Aviation."

In 1994 the Rochester Flight Standards District Office of the Federal Aviation Administration gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award, in recognition of his 65 years in aviation.

Also in 1994, the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Administration Administration, Eastern Region, gave him a Certificate of Appreciation in recognition of 65 years of distinction as an aviator.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 1940 Census USA NY
  2. ^ Aviador José Costa - Blog Histórico
  3. ^ Corning-Painted Post Airport - FAA INFORMATION EFFECTIVE 22 AUGUST 2013
  4. ^ Corning NY Evening Leader 1936-07-13, p12
  5. ^ Corning NY Evening Leader, 1945-08-28, p2
  6. ^ Syracuse NY Journal, The World of Aviation, 1930-04-06
  7. ^ THE EVENING LEADER, CORNING, N. Y. l930-04-06
  8. ^ THE EVENING LEADER, CORNING N.Y, 1931-09-23, p12
  9. ^ The Evening Leader Corning NY, 1932-05-26, p6
  10. ^ The Evening Leader Corning NY, 1932-06-11
  11. ^ The Evening Leader Corning NY, 1932-06-18
  12. ^ THE NIAGARA FALLS GAZETTE 1931-03-24, p5
  13. ^ The Evening Leader Corning NY, 1934-08-30, p2
  14. ^ The Evening Leader Corning NY, 1935-09-12, p14
  15. ^ Vega NR105N airplane history
  16. ^ The Evening leader N.Y., 1936-12-08, p12
  17. ^ Earlyaviators: José Costa's quest for a prize
  18. ^ Schenectady NY Gazette 1936-12-16, p1
  19. ^ Rochester NY Democrat Chronicle 1936-12-17, p1
  20. ^ Desastres Aéreos Brasil 1908-1949
  21. ^ Diário Carioca, 16-1-1937, p1
  22. ^ Correio da Manhã, 1937-1-17, p3
  23. ^ Accident NR105N
  24. ^ Voz de Portugal, 1937-1-16, p1.
  26. ^ Suplemento do Jornal A Noite, 1937-3-9

External references[edit]

  • ALLEN, Richard Sanders; Revolution in the Sky: The Lockheeds of Aviation's Golden Age; Rev Sub edition;

Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.; 2004; ISBN 978-0887405846