Don’t be surprised if you have never heard of Jens Tryggve Herman Gran, the first pilot to ever fly an aircraft across the North Sea. Like many aviators in the early days, Gran came from a privileged background after being born into a wealthy family. Gran’s father inherited a Norwegian shipbuilding business in Bergen when his son Tryggve was five years old.

After attending school in Bergen and Lillehammer, Gran was sent to Lausanne, Switzerland, for a year, where he learned to speak French and German. After meeting German emperor Wilhelm II, at a family gathering, Gran decided to become a naval officer, graduating from the Royal Norwegian Naval Academy in 2010.

Gran found Scott’s body

While in Norway training for an Antarctic expedition, Robert Falcon Scott was introduced to Gran by Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen. Gran, an expert Telemark skier, offered to help train the Scotts team for their journey to the South Pole. In 1912, Gran was a member of an 11-man team sent to look for Scott and his men. When he found Scott and the others dead in their tents, he organized the removal of their personal possessions and buried the bodies under the snow.

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Tryggve Gran in Antarctica (1911)

On the journey back to Norway, Gran met Robert Loraine, who had just become the first man to fly across the Irish Sea. Intrigued by the aviator’s stories, Gran decided to learn to fly. In early 1913, Gran enrolled in the Temple School of Aviation at the Hendon Aerodrome. While there is no record of him ever getting his British Aviator’s Certificate, he nevertheless went to France to buy a plane.

The plane he selected was a two-seater Blériot XI-2 “Artillerie”, from Blériot Aéronautique with an 80 hp Gnome engine. While training in the plane at the factory’s airfield in Buc, Yvelines, Gran became the first pilot to perform a loop the loop.

Gran Decided to fly from Scotland to Norway

Still enthralled by Loraine’s crossing of the Irish Sea, Gran decided that he wanted to become the first aviators to fly across the North Sea. 26-year-old Gran calculated that the shortest distance across the North Sea was to fly from Cruden Bay, Scotland, and land just south of Stavanger in Norway. Gran selected a slopping grassy hill near the Cruden Bay Hotel as his starting point.

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Grans route from Scotland to Norway

Despite being heavy with all the fuel Gran needed for the journey, he managed to get the plane airborne and flew for 70 minutes before deciding to turn back because of fog. Gran found the first place where he could land and set the aircraft down on a beach near where he had taken off from. Later the same day, Gran decided that he would give it another go and took off from the beach, headed for Norway.

Despite having a problem with fuel getting to the engine that saw the plane glide with no power, Gran managed to restart the aircraft and successfully made it to Norway, landing in a field 60 miles south of Stavanger. The North Sea crossing took Gran four hours and ten minutes, during which time he covered 320 miles.

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Gran and his plane

Gran attempted to be the first to fly across the Atlantic

Following WWI, during which he served as a pilot in Norway and England, Gran decided that he wanted to become the first aviator to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately, Gran was not the only aviator interested in winning the Daily Mails prize. While training for the flight in Newfoundland, the radiators on the Handley Page plane he was using for the attempt failed. Now while waiting for new radiators to arrive from England, Alcock and Brown successfully flew their Vickers Vimy across the Atlantic to Ireland, claiming the prize.


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