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Charles Backman - Gander's First Overseas Flight

By J. Pinsent

An insignificant individual in the worlds history of aviation but to Gander his name is remembered as an aviator that started the airport on it's journey into recognition as the start of overseas trans atlantic travel.

On May 15, 1939, an aircraft arrived at the Newfoundland /Gander Airport from Bangor, Maine. The Monocoupe 90A, registration SE-AGM, the first aircraft to land at the airport from outside Newfoundland. The pilot was Mr. Charles Backman, who was delivering the aircraft to a Mr. Gunner in Leksand, Sweden. It was also the first aircraft to attempt a transatlantic crossing from Gander.

"I remember Mr. Backman coming to the office. He sent two telegrams, one to St. Louis and the other to a Scandinavian country. He took off the next morning and was never heard of again." (Milley E. )


Backman, 25 a pilot of Swedish extraction took off from Gander airport in 1939. Backman's flight began in St. Louis, Mo. He stopped in Bangor, Maine before heading off to Gander, Newfoundland. His destination was Stockholm, Sweden. Since such flights from US territory were illegal, Newfoundland was convenient place to start his flight since it was out of reach of the FAA and closer to Sweden via the Great Circle Route. His plane was a 90 hp Monocoupe, with a fuel capacity that was expanded to 160 gallons. Backman had no radio and his food supply consisted of a few sandwiches and a thermos of tea.



C. Backman (left), H. Pattison (center, back to camera), T. McGrath (right)

He told Gander Airport officials that he was involved in a race with two other airplanes to fly to Stockholm.. This was a fabricated story to give his flight legitimacy. Although it was believed, they urged him not to proceed.



He did not heed their warnings and left for Europe in his tiny airplane. Airport officials were not surprised when he was never seen again, they regarded the flight as entirely suicidal. Some months later a bottle known to have been on the plane was picked up near the coast of Greenland.


Charles Backman may not have accomplished many of the earlier aviators feats that he wanted to accomplish but he did etch himself into Gander airports early history. He was involved with flying:

The first aircraft to land at Gander airport from outside Newfoundland.
The first aircraft to land at Gander airport from USA
The first aircraft to depart Gander for a trans Atlantic flight
The first airplane accident/lost after departing Gander
The first person to die as a result of an accident/lost after departing Gander.

He definitely should be remembered as a part of Gander Airport’s history, as fatal as it was.

Source: F. Tibbo's History of Gander, Phil Mosher

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