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The first airlines in Norway (1912-1920)

By: Rob Mulder
For: www.europeanairlines.no

In another article on this website we have describe one of the most active airline companies of Norway: A/S Aero. But the first airline company registered in Norway was A/S Norsk Flyveselskap of 1912. It was after the Great War joined by Det Norske Luftfartsrederi A/S – DNL. This company was formed as early as March 1918 with a huge stock capital of 3.3 million Norwegian Kroner. It wanted to be the national airline company of Norway, but failed due to Government support and a weak Norwegian post-War economy. In addition there were some other smaller airline companies and even the military operated in 1920 some air services. They will be described in this article.

A/S Norsk Flyveselskap (1912-1937)

The company A/S Norsk Flyveselskap was founded in Kristiania (now: Oslo) on May 14, 1912 with a capital stock of 25,300 Norwegian Kroner divided in 253 shares of 100 Norwegian Kroner. The aim of the company was to trade and fly aircraft and arrange air meetings around Norway. The first Board of Directors consisted of J F S Barth, J Sverre, Rolf Thomessen and Mrs J Falck-Andersen (secretary and managing director of the company).

After the formation of the Board of Directors, offers from foreign aircraft manufactures were gathered and the choice fell on the French built Deperdussin. It was a monoplane with a 70 hp Gnôme engine and the price of the aircraft was Ffr. 20,500. This price included the training of one pilot. The man selected for this job was Jul Hansen, who went to the flying school of Deperdussin in France. He left Norway on June 14, 1912 and had to pass his exams soon afterwards. During the examination Jul Hansen and his aircraft came into an airbag and the aircraft was smashed against the ground and was destroyed. Jul Hansen was severely injured and taken to hospital, where he stayed a long time. He was not awarded the certificate and had to take the examination again. This time he managed everything without any problems

After his return in Norway, the Board of Directors did not allow Jul Hansen to start flying, because of the accident in France. This was no problem for Jul Hansen, because his aircraft had not arrived from France yet. This delay was caused by the accident of Jul Hansen in France. After long and hard negociations between Deperdussin and A/S Norsk Flyveselskap the ordered aircraft was released and shipped by the famous Norwegian ship owner Fredrik Olsen’s ship free to Norway.

The aircraft was assembled in the workshops of the Kristiania Public Transport Co. by Jul Hansen. It took him the winter of 1912-13 to build the aircraft. Spring 1913 it made its first successful flight and the company was in business. It planned a flight along the Norwegian coast, but as two cities in the inland of Norway showed interest (these were Gjøvik and Lillehammer) A/S Norsk Flyveselskap decided to start with an air meeting in Gjøvik. On June 7 Gjøvik would be visited followed by Lillehammer on June 8, 1913. The flight to Gjøvik had to be cancelled due to heavy winds and Lillehammer was never reached. On June 8 Jul Hansen flew with its Deperdussin in Gjøvik before a large crowd and a second flight in Gjøvik followed. However, this second flight ended with another sever accident. This time the crash ended with a slight injury for Jul Hansen, but the aircraft had to be repaired and was first ready for new flights in September 1913. The short summer in Norway was by then already over. Over the financial year 1912-13, the company made a lost of 1,545 Kroner. The outbreak of the Great War in 1914 grounded the aircraft and it was consequently impressed by the Norwegian Government and stationed at Kjeller, just north of Kristiania. It has not been used since. In 1920 the aircraft was lost in a fire in one of the hangars at Kjeller, so the company had lost its only aircraft forever.

The liquidation of the A/S Norsk Flyveselskap was first started in 1937, when one of its shareholders wondered what happened to the company since 1920. The company possessed a bank account with 7,000 Kroner on it, which was divided over the 253 shares.

Det Norske Luftfartrederi A/S (1918-1920)

The foundation

By the end of 1917 an international plan was presented to come to a worldwide network of airlines. Norway was however not taken up in this network and this led to the foundation of Norway’s first airline company. Dr Wilhelm Kielhau was the man behind the foundation of this airline company. He started to develop the idea in January 1918 and his plan was to open air routes between Norwegian and foreign cities. These routes had to be flown by seaplanes, as seaplanes seemed to serve the cause best. Dr Kielhau took up contact with Naval Captain Gyth Dehli at the Norwegian Naval Shipyard at Horten, just south of Kristiania ¹. A working-committee was formed and from March 18, 1918, shares could be bought by the public. And shares were sold! Soon 61 firms or private persons had shown interest and among them were famous Norwegian Consuls, ship owners, banks, Members of Parliament, trading-houses, etc. They soon had gathered the 3.3 million Kroner needed for the foundation of the company. The following plans were presented by the working-committee:

Route 1: Kristiania – Göteborg – København;

Route 2: Stavanger – Aberdeen;

Route 3: Kristiania – Arendal – Kristiansand S. – Stavanger;

Route 4: Bergen – Haugesund – Stavanger;

Route 5: Stavanger – Haugesund – Bergen – Florø – Ålesund -Molde – Kristiansund N. -Trondheim;

Route 6: Kristiania – Hamar – Trondheim;

Route 7: Trondheim – Namsos – Mo i Rana – Bodø – Narvik;

Route 8: Narvik – Tromsø – Hammerfest – Kirkenes; and

Route 9: Kristiania – Bergen (over land).

The reason for planning so many routes was to get the local authorities interested in supporting the airline company. Det Norske Luftfartrederi A/S wanted to become a national airline company and not just an airline company for the rich south.

In March 1918 Captain Dehli travelled to England to find suitable aircraft for the planned service and to find support in Aberdeen for the planned international line. During the year 1918 not much more happened. First when the Great War was ended the company became active again. In February 1919 Dr Kielhau and the well-known polar traveller Fridtjof Nansen travelled to England again to see the selected aircraft. They were not impressed by what they saw. Most aircraft had fine military possibilities, but were not at all suited for civil use. After their return they advised the Board of Directors to wait with the purchase of any aircraft and the opening of any routes. But also in Norway it seemed to be possible to get an aircraft. The A/S Norsk Aeroplanfabrik offered a beautiful design, the F.B.12.

Nordic co-operation

Already in 1918 a number of important Scandinavian figures met in Kristiania to discuss the co-operation on air routes. The Scandinavian partners were beside DNL, from Sweden the Svenska Lufttrafik AB – SLA and from Denmark Det Danske Luftfartselskab A/S – DDL. They now planned the route Kristiania – Stavanger – Aberdeen or Dundee in England, with connection in Kristiania to Trollhättan and Stockholm. Finally this route could be prolonged to Petrograd in the Russia. DNL would continue the route from Stavanger further north. During the Skandinavisk Flyvemaskin og Luftmotorutstilling (the Scandinavian Aircraft and Aero Engine Exhibition) held in Kristiania from May 2-9, 1918, the three companies signed an agreement for co-operation. Later (in Den Haag, Holland, on August 28, 1919) all three were present at the foundation of the International Air Traffic Association – IATA. DNL was represented by Dr Wilhelm Kielhau and Captain Dehli and with this all believed that Norway had earned his position in the world of airline companies. But one obstacle had to be overcome: the Norwegian Government. The Norwegian Government was not too keen about these plans. More about this later.

The first aircraft and the first air service

Meanwhile Dr Kielhau, now the Managing Director of DNL, and Captain G Dehli, who had become Technical Director of DNL, started to purchase land for the planned airports. In Stavanger the company bought a piece of land near the Hafs Fjord and in Kristiania a part of the island Lindöen was bought and here the main base for DNL would be erected. The purchase of these two bits of land cost the company along 150,000 Kroner. A new trip to England was undertaken by the newly employed Chief of Air Routes Hjalmar Riiser-Larsen to see if any new developments had emerged on the seaplane-front. Seaplanes were needed for the planned trial flights. The company wanted to buy first three aircraft. Two for the service and one as a reserve. DNL decided to buy three Supermarine Channel I seaplanes, capable of carrying three passengers and a crew of one. The aircraft (a biplane) had a 160 hp Breadmore-engine and could be delivered in May 1920. In that way the planned trial route could be opened in the Summer of 1920.

On March 16, 1920 Det Norske Luftfartrederi A/S was formally registered in the Trade Register of Kristiania and negotiations were started that month to reach an agreement on mail surcharges and subsidy from the Norwegian Post Office. The two parties decided to run the trial route Stavanger – Haugesund – Bergen during a period of two to three months. Beside DNL there were two other Norwegian companies interested in flying the service. They were the A/S United Sardine Factories and the A/S Phoenix Packing Co. Ltd., which had purchased two Lübeck-Travemünde F.4 and one Friedrichshafen FF 49C aircraft for the service. The two companies applied for the concession and a subsidy of NOK.15,000. But on May 20, 1920 a Post Contract could be signed and DNL received a Government subsidy of 75,000 Kroner for two month and 100,000 Kroner for three month of exploitation. Letters and postcards needed beside the normal charge, a special airmail surcharge of 40 øre and for newspapers and magazines 9x the normal charge had to be paid. DNL protested against this high surcharge, but the Norwegian Post Office did not change the surcharges. This may well have been one of the main reason, why so little mail was carried. More problems came on the horizon, when the ordered Supermarine Channel I Seaplanes could not all be delivered in time. The first seaplane (Norwegian registration N-9) was delivered at the railway station of Southampton on June 3, 1920, while DNLs second aircraft (N-10) was not delivered until July 10. Finally the third seaplane (N-11) was delivered on July 30. Because all aircraft had to be shipped to Norway first, the opening of the trial route could not take place before August. The two delivered Supermarine Channel I-seaplanes made fourteen trial flights in June and July, without carrying any mail or passengers. During one of these flights, N-9 was slightly damaged at his tail during a landing.

Another problem was the bad connection on the night train from Kristiania to Bergen, which arrived first at 12 noon, instead of the previous planned hour of eleven. At arrival at 11 am, the aircraft could have made one round-trip a day, but as it was now impossible to start before 12.30 noon, the company had to station a second aircraft in Stavanger, to prevent any delays on the return flight. Darkness comes fast in these parts of Norway and the company wanted to have an aircraft in reserve, which it did not have at that time.

DNL took up contact with another Norwegian airline company, A/S Aero and from August 15 two Friedrichshafen FF 49C (with the registration N-6 and N-8) were leased to DNL and flown to Stavanger. The aircraft had crews from A/S Aero, which operated under Hjalmar Riiser-Larsen. Now the company had two Supermarine Channel-flying boats and two Friedrichshafen FF 49C at its disposal. The last Supermarine Channel I-boat arrived at Stavanger on August 24 and was used from Stavanger the following day. On August 16 the line Bergen – Haugesund – Stavanger was opened for traffic. The three pilots, beside Hjalmar Riiser-Larsen, employed by DNL were Fr. Lie Vogt, Arthur Christoffersen and O Stangeland. In Bergen DNL used the local Norwegian Naval Base, Flatøen. However, the aircraft had to fly to the centre of Bergen to pick-up mail and passengers. This meant an extra flight of 16 km.

The aircraft of A/S Aero were flown by the Norwegians Oscar Omdahl (on the N-6) and C Luxdorph (on the N-8), while Fr Lie Vogt later joined the group on the Friedrichshafen FF 49C, N-3. This aircraft was purchased in September 1920 from the A/S Phoenix Packing Co. Ltd. in Haugesund and put into service on September 17.

The company did not had much fortune with its proving flights on this line. The weather during the months August and September can be really extreme in these parts of the world. On August 28 the Friedrichshafen FF 49C, N-8 slipped near Haugesund and had to be take out of service. This accident was followed by one of the Friedrichshafen FF 49C, N-6, on September 10. During take-off one of the floats was damaged. The aircraft was flown by Oscar Omdahl. As a replacement for the damaged aircraft, A/S Aero sent the Friedrichshafen FF 49C, N-7. Unfortunately the pilot on this aircraft was one experienced with the flying of land aircraft. The pilot drove at one of its first landings with the seaplane on the beach at Jæderen, after engine-failure. Soon afterwards the aircraft was damaged beyond repair and never managed to join the DNL-fleet. On September 10 the Friedrichshafen FF 49C, N-6, had to be transferred to Tønsberg for major repairs, after which DNL was left without any extra aircraft. Again new aircraft had to be purchased to consolidate the service and DNL bought the Friedrichshafen FF 49C N-3, which joined the two Supermarine Channel I-flying-boats left.

Another setback was the loss of the Supermarine Channel I flying boat N-11 on September 23, when the structure holding the engine collapsed near Tungenes. DNL had to find a replacement and found the ex-Navy Lübeck/Travemünde F.4 (with the military registration F.46). Thus DNL had four aircraft at its disposal for the service.

On October 4 the decision was made to close down the service on October 15, 1920, as enough experience was gained. The Lübeck/Travemünde F.4 was returned to the Navy and the Friedrichshafen FF 49C, N-3 was sold to the Norwegian tobacco company J L Tiedemands Tobakfabrik. This factory used the aircraft on advertising-flights.

After the closure of the service DNL continued flying passengers from Stavanger, Haugesund and Kopervik and Bergen on joy-riding flights, after which the aircraft were stored for the winter. In the end the Supermarine Channel I, N-9 was sold to S A Bredal, N-10 was used for spares and N-11 was sold to the Navy, where it received the registration F.42.

The end of the company

The results made that year were not too good. Of 212 planned flights 200 were carried out (= 94,4 %) on which 22.000 kilometer was flown. The company carried on these flights 64 passengers. The Supermarine Channel I-flying-boats flew 121 hours, DNLs FF 49C (N-3) 30 hours, A/S Aero’s aircraft 38 hours and the Naval Lübeck/Travemünde F.4 (F.42) flew just 17 hours. Seven flights had to be cancelled due to lack of equipment, five aircraft were grounded due to bad weather and one aircraft had to written off: this was the A/S Aero’s Friedrichshafen FF 49C, N-8.

Mail played an important role in the history of the line, but so far no results of the number of mail carried have been found. On the first fourteen days 1,174 letters were carried by the aircraft, while on the last two weeks the total was reduced to 300 letters! It shows that not much mail was carried on the daily flights between Bergen, Haugesund and Stavanger. But it was not only the earlier mentioned high surcharges that stopped the development of DNL, but also local strikes in Bergen and Stavanger had a bad influence on the results of the line.

The post-war economy was very week, and the shareholders of DNL wanted their money back. It was therefore decided by the shareholders to liquidate the Det Norske Luftfartsrederi A/S on the meeting held at Kristiania on November 13, 1920 (2,205 votes in favour against 117 votes). 75 % of the value of the shares was returned to the shareholders, not a bad result. Dr Wilhelm Kielhau wanted to use the money for a newly to be formed airline company, but did not managed to keep enough interest in Norway for the aviation cause. On May 8, 1922 Det Norske Luftfartsrederi A/S was officially liquidated and most of the company’s capital was returned to the stockholders.

A/S Nordisk Luftkraft (1918-1920)

One of the early Norwegian airline companies was beside the Det Norske Luftfartrederi A/S, the A/S Nordisk Luftkraft, which was founded at the end of 1918 by R Sandberg. He founded the company together with S Sverre, E Lund and A Bryn. Managing Director of the company was Arthur Kallevig and in the Board of Directors sat the later Chief of Air Routes at DNL, Hjalmar Riiser-Larsen. The NLK bought eight Caudron G.III in France and one AVRO 504 in  England. All aircraft were biplanes with dual controls and were all tested by NLK before their delivery. For this purpose Sandberg opened offices in Paris and London. Only one Caudron G.III, N-21, was delivered in 1919 and in addition the company acquired a Curtis MF, N-4, which was registered in September 1919 on NLKs name. In April 1919 the American citizen imported this particular aircraft. He registered the aircraft as N-4 and departure for a demonstration flight through the Nordic countries. He flew to København (Copenhagen, Denmark) and on May 25 he continued to Kalmar and on May 26 to Stockholm (Sweden). Five days later he arrived in Helsinki (Finland) and continued to Tallinn in Estonia (arrival June 6). He returned to København on June 15. Later (July 10) he made a trial flight on the air route Stockholm – Göteborg – Oslo. The Caudron G.III, N-21 was not used by NLK, but stored at Gardermoen Airport.

In order to get first class pilots NLK decided to found a sister company with a share capital of 25,000 Kroner. The name of this company was to be A/S Norsk Flyveskole (Norwegian Flying School) and was to be situated at Gardermoen. It would train 40-80 pupils a year. The school was to be founded on August 23, 1919, but as no financial means could be found, both companies were liquidated in July 1920. The Caudron was sold to O Ødegaard & Partners and the Curtis MF to A Johannesen. But as can be seen, no flying activities were executed by A/S Nordisk Luftkraft, so why mentioning this company? Well, the reason for mentioning this company is that it was the driving force behind the Skandinavisk Flyvemaskin og Luftmotorutstilling (Scandinavian Aircraft and Aero Engine Exhibition) from May 2 to 9, 1918 in Kristiania. It was on this exhibition that the three Scandinavian airline companies (Svenska Lufttrafik AB, Det Danske Luftfartselskab A/S and Det Norske Luftfartrederi A/S) signed the first Scandinavian aviation agreement. For this, the three companies can thank A/S Nordisk Luftkraft.

Thor Trangvald Flyveselskap (1920)

 

There was no lack of initiative in the first year after the Great War. On January 24, 1920 the energetic Norwegian lieutenant Thor Trangvald and his friend Fred. Kierulf formed the Thor Trangvald Flyveselskap. June 1920 they wanted to purchase some English constructed aircraft for joy ride flights, but as these were nearly impossible to get they ordered two LFGs in the Netherlands. The stored aircraft were never registered in Norway, nor were the imported. Both were great believers of flying air service by landplanes rather than seaplanes, but they never had a change to prove themselves. They made one demonstration flight including a parachute jump, but never started up their airline company.

Military air service in Norway (1920)

Beside Det Norske Luftfartsrederi A/S there were two other airmail routes operated in 1920. Although DNL had applied for the coastal route Kristiania – Kristiansand S. – Stavanger – Bergen, it only received a concession for the Bergen – Haugesund – Stavanger route, which was of course of no interest, as Bergen had a merely 100,000 inhabitants and Stavanger just 43,000. The need for air transport between two such small cities was not too big. Beside this there were no further international connections from Stavanger. Had there been air routes to England or via Denmark to Germany many more passengers and mail would have been carried.

The Royal Norwegian Navy purchased, as Det Norske Luftfartsrederiet A/S did, aircraft of the Supermarine Channel I type. In all it received from England four of these machines and opened a trial route from Horten Harbour (were the Navy had its flying base) to Kristiania, Arendal and Kristiansand S. On July 12, 1920 the Navy started with the Supermarine Channel flying boats the service Kristiania – Horten and Kristiansand – Horten. Departure from both cities was at 1 pm and the service was flown three days a week and not on Sundays. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday Kristiania – Horten – Arendal – Kristiansand S. was flown and on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday the return flight took place. Just after the start of the service one of the Supermarine Channels had an accident (due to unfortunate manoeuvring during the start)  and had to be taken out of service. After this two further aircraft (Lübeck/Travemünde F.4s) were purchased and later the Sopwith Baby joined the small fleet. Just two flights out of 216 planned flights were cancelled during the period of the proving flights. These ended on September 11, 1920. By then 67 passengers and approx. 90 kg of airmail was carried. In all ten aircraft were used by the Navy for the service. They flew 197,5 hours and approximately 22,000 km. No loss of life was registered, although the two cancelled flights (one due to an accident and the other due to a piece of wood floating on the sea, where the aircraft landed) cost the Navy 45,000 Kroner in all. Nobody was hurt at these accidents.

Another military trial route was flown by the Army’s Søndenfjeldske Flyveavdeling. It opened just one day after the Navy (on July 13) a service from Kjeller, the military airfield just north of Kristiania, to Hamar (Brumunddal Valley), a distance of just 100 km. On July 19 a second service was opened by the same section of the Army, this time between Kjeller and Fredrikshald (Berg) near Halden (Norwegian-Swedish border). Both services were flown until August 23 and by that time 84 out of 124 planned flights were made, transporting 35 passengers. A total of 108 hours and 8,368km were flown by the ten army aircraft used. Also on this service one aircraft had to be written off while a further four had to make a emergency landing. Thus, by 1920 three routes were flown in Norway, which looked to be promising for the future. But as the Norwegian Government and Parliament did not managed to grant more money to the civil aviation, no regular air services within Norway were flown in the period 1921 – 1934.

1) From 1624 until 1924 the city of Oslo was called Kristiania/Christiania. But on January 1, 1925 the name was finally changed into Oslo, which was the original name of the city since its foundation well 1,000 years ago.

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