Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S (1934-1945)

By: Rob Mulder
Written for:

Starting up an airline company

In October 1932 five Norwegian met each other in Oslo to discuss plans for a promotion tour through Norway. The group consisted of the brothers Viggo and Arild Widerøe, Halvor Bjørneby, Helge Skappel and Leiv Brun. In connection with lectures, they wanted to give air shows all around Norway. The first air show was on March 13, 1933 at Ringerike, some 50 km north of Oslo. Participating were the Norwegian Aero Club’s glider LN-ABO of the type Hol’s der Teufel. Furthermore, the De Havilland D.H.60M Moth, LN-ABL, owned by the company J Lotsberg & Skappel A/S (one if its directors was Mr Helge Skappel), joined the company. Mr Ditlef Smith flew this aircraft. Second aircraft was a Mr Viggo Widerøe’s Simmonds Spartan I, LN-ABG, which was flown by Halvor Bjørneby. The start of the tour became a big success. Bjørneby and Widerøe formed another company under the name of Widerøe & Bjørneby A/S. On March 20 a second air show was held at Akersvika near the city of Hamar. As the aircraft used the frozen lakes as landing site the air shows had to stop by the middle of April, when the ice became too weak. As the tour turned out to be a success, the participants started to work with other activities, like taxi flying, advertisement flights, etc. The Widerøe & Bjørneby’s Simmonds Spartan was converted to floats and made joy-riding flights along the shores of the Oslo Fjord.

In the autumn of 1933 Viggo Widerøe left Norway to buy what was to become the first modern airliner in Norway. He left for the United States of America and bought a Waco UIC4, which he took over to Norway again and registered it on January 20, 1934 as LN-ABE. The aircraft was painted in the later so well-known Widerøe-colour green, a colour still used today. On the side under the windows of the aircraft was proudly the name Widerøe & Bjørneby painted. Its first public appearance was at an air show at Lake Vannsjø near Moss, just 60 km south of Oslo. Later it could be seen at the air show at Tønsberg, Sarpsborg, Horten and Drammen.

In January 1934 it was decided to form the airline company and after a period of preparations Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S was founded on February 19, 1934 with a stock capital of 25,000 Norwegian Kroner. Halvor Bjørneby withdrew from the company and started flying his autogiro. The Board of Directors consisted out of Viggo Widerøe (Chairman), Ing Einar Isdahl and Arild Widerøe. During 1934 Helge Skappel joined Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S and the company was reorganised. Helge Skappel would run the aerial photography division and the flying school, Arild Widerøe would manage the technical division and the general manager became Viggo Widerøe. Beside the taxi- and joy-riding flights it was time for regular domestic service and Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S bought, after an increase of the stock capital to 65,000 Norwegian Kroner, a second Waco Cabin aircraft, this time the Waco UKC, LN-ABW.

Norway’s first domestic air service since 1920

With two modern airliners in its fleet Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S applied for a concession for an air route and a contract for the carrying of airmail on the service Oslo – Haugesund. This concession was given on June 15, 1934 and just 3 days later the company started up an air service that called for respect. Between June 18 and September 1 the company’s two float-equipped Waco Cabins achieved 100% regularity. The 530 km long service called at Kristiansand and Stavanger and one round-trip was made per day, thus flying 1,060 km per day! It turned out that the demand was much higher than the available seats. In total 413 passengers were transport, but even worse was that over 200 passengers had to be rejected. The numbers of mail and newspapers transported reached 14,212 kg a huge success. In Oslo the main base was at Ingerstrand, a bathing place just outside Oslo. Cleverly chosen, as some 6,000 persons take a summer bath in the Oslo Fjord during the weekend. Numerous joy-riding flights were conducted during this summer. The total number of passengers flown in 1934 reached 6,100 and the aircraft flew 255,000 km. At the end of the year the fleet consisted out of two Waco Cabins and three De Havilland D.H.60M Moths.

Near Lake Bogstadvatn (Oslo) Arild Widerøe set up the winter base of Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S. Eventually the place would grow to an aircraft factory, which first Norwegian product was the Hønningstad Norge A, LN-FAM, c/n 1. Unfortunately Aril Widerøe’s knowledge and experience was lost due to his death following a plane crash on August 1, 1937.

The end of regular air services

In the autumn of 1934 the Norwegian Government started the procedure that would have to lead to the formation of only one national airline company. This company would get the full support of the Government and receive the sole landing rights in and out of Norway. Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S also send in an application and formed together with four major local Norwegian shipping companies the new airline company Norske Kystflyveruter (Norwegian Coastal Air Routes) that would fly with Junkers W 34s an air service from Oslo along the coast up to Tromsø. Competition came from another shipping company, Fred. Olsen A/S that had taken over Det Norske Luftfartselskap A/S and found a new partner in the shipping company Bergenske. On November 5, 1934 the three parties formed Det Norske Luftfartselskap A/S, Fred. Olsen & Bergenske A/S  – DNL with a stock capital of 1.25 million Norwegian Kroner. Also Captain Meisterlins airline company Norske Luftruter A/S tried to obtain the concession, but due to lack of capital at least he felt off.

On April 4, 1935 the Government awarded Det Norske Luftfartselskap, Fred.Olsen & Bergenske A/S the sole right to fly in and out of Norway for a period of ten years. Hence this company became the national carrier of Norway.

One of the losers was Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S. After its defeat the company concentrated on the taxi-, joy-riding, aerial photography and advertisement flights. In the year 1935 the fleet was extended with one Waco RNF (LN-BAG) and one De Havilland D.H.60M Moth (LN-BAU).

In 1936 it was clear that Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S could not survive alone in Norway. The company searched for new ways to increase the stock capital thus giving it a better basis for future activities. Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S took up contact with Det Norske Luftfartselskap, Fred. Olsen & Bergenske A/S. This company invested heavily in Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S and when the stock capital was increased to 425,000 Norwegian Kroner DNL had 51% of the stocks. The co-operation lasted for just three years until Fred. Olsen A/S sold its shares for 50,000 Norwegian Kroner and Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S was independent again. During the three years Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S flew several mail service (like Oslo – Göteborg) and routes in the north of Norway (like Trondheim – Tromsø – Kirkenes).

A small single-engined Bellanca 31-42 Senior Pacemaker, LN-ABO, was used to open a tourist air service Oslo – Lillehammer/Tretten – Gålå – Fefor – Tyinholmen/Nystuen (also called the Jotunheimrute (the Jotunheimen route, called after the mountains the aircraft flew to). Between February 15 and April 15 people from Oslo could take the Bellanca to the Mountain Resort Hotel to go skiing. The aircraft landed on the ice- and snow-covered lakes near the hotels. Here they were picked up by hotel cars and transported to the different hotels. A total of 55 flights were made, carrying some 500 persons.

Beside the Bellanca 31-42 Senior Pacemaker, two new Waco RNF’s, one De Havilland D.H.60M Moth and two Stinson SR.8EM Reliants were purchased. One of the Stinson Reliants was used for aerial survey in Finnmark (the most northern province in Norway) and later also for the transport of mail on the Tromsø – Hammerfest – Honningsvåg route. Special flights were made to Frankfurt and Hamburg and together with the air-minded magazine Allers along the coast all the way up to Bodø. On this last flight John Strandrud was the pilot.

Some aircraft were sold. The Waco UIC4 Cabin, LN-ABE and the De Havilland D.H.60M Moth, LN-ABV went to Sweden and two De Havilland D.H.60M Moths were destroyed by crashes (LN-BAE and LN-BAU). Finally one Waco RNF crashed. Despite this awful year with heavy aircraft loses, the company transported 11,680 passengers, flew 425,000 km. On the DNLs north-Norwegian airmail service Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S transported 23,000 kg of airmail while 150,000 km was flown.

In order to replace the loss of aircraft the company chartered two aircraft from private persons. They were the Klemm Kl.25d-VIIR (LN-EAG) and the Taylor J-2 Cub (LN-EAT).

The Stinson SR.8EM Reliant, LN-BAR was used for the South Pole Expedition in the autumn of 1936. Viggo Widerøe joined the party as pilot and the group also included also people like Nils Romnæs, Erik Simensen, Tom Fidjeland and Hans Strandrud. Some 44 flights were made to photograph 4,000 km of coastline.

1937 saw the arrival of a new Stinson Reliant, of the type SR.9E, and this aircraft was registered LN-EAI. Unfortunately the aircraft crashed on August 1, 1937 with on board was one of the founders of the company, Arild Widerøe. Beside Arild Widerøe, four other passengers were killed.

One of the last pre-war routes flown by Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S was from Trondheim to Brønnøysund, Sandnessjøen and Bodø. It was opened on the July 3 and the last flight was made on September 30. During this period the Bodø Fair was held and passengers were transported to the fair by Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S: 242 passengers and 19,096 kg of mail and goods was transported with 100% regularity.

Due to the starting of smaller taxi- and aerial survey companies the business for Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S reduced considerably. The Stinson Reliant was leased out to Norsk Luftfoto A/S for work in the Spitzbergen-area. As Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S needed an aircraft for the aerial survey work in Norway, the company leased in Sweden a Junkers W 33 (SE-ABZ) from AB Aerotransport.

The company’s Bellanca and the Stinson Reliant were used for the regular services flown for Det Norske Luftfartselskap, Fred. Olsen & Bergenske A/S and used on the Trondheim – Brønnøysund – Sandnessjøen – Bodø – Narvik – Harstad – Tromsø service together with a Junkers Ju-52/3m of DNL. Also Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S flew for DNL the airmail service Tromsø -Hammerfest – Vardø – Kirkenes. For the Flying School a Klemm Kl.35A was leased. Furthermore, Norway’s first leisure aircraft was built in the workshops at Lake Bogstadvann. It was designated Hønningstad Norge A and was a high-winged single-engine aircraft with a 125 hp Warner Scarab 40 engine. It could carry one pilot and passenger. The aircraft was chartered by Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S from 1938 to 1940 and registered LN-FAM (c/n 1). No new aircraft were ordered or delivered. Results for 1938 were worse than other years. Only 2,119 passengers were transported and 425,000 km flown.

As in 1936 Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S joined an expedition to the cold areas of the world. The Stinson Reliant LN-BAV was used to rescue the French Count Micard, who had fallen ill during a Greenland Expedition. Together with the Norwegian vessel Veslekari, the Count was transported to Rørvik in Norway and flown by the Stinson Reliant to Lake Bogstadvatn near Oslo, where he was hospitalised.

Beside the regular services flown for DNL the company used the Junkers W 34hi, LN-DAB Ternen of DNL together with its own Stinson Reliant, LN-BAR for aerial survey in Sweden. On August 9 the Stinson Reliant with Anders Jacobsen was forced down at Lake Siljan and tipped over. Even worse was the end of the company’s other Stinson Reliant (LN-BAV) that at the Ingerstrand base near Oslo took fire and was destroyed beyond repair. Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S’s fleet consisted at the outbreak of the Second World War out of two aircraft: the Bellanca 31-42 Senior Pacemaker and the Waco RNF. In addition it had leased one Klemm Kl.25d-VIIR, one Klemm Kl.35A, two Taylor J-2 Cubs, one Stinson SR.8DM Reliant and finally one Hønningstad Norge A.

The end of the year nearly meant the end of the existence of Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S as Det Norske Luftfartselskap, Fred. Olsen & Bergenske A/S wanted to liquidate the small money losing company. But on the December 5, 1939 some small investors took over the DNL-shares for 50,000 Norwegian Kroner, thus making it possible to keep Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S alive. Due to the start of the Second World War the company was not allowed to fly anymore.

In the autumn of 1939 the Finnish Delegation asked Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S to train Finnish pupils at its Flying School and six aircraft were ordered for this purpose: two Piper J.4A Cubs and four Klemm Kl.35s. The two Piper Cubs could be delivered, but the four Klemm Kl.35s were, although ready for transport, due to the start of the war in Norway (April 9, 1940) not delivered anymore. The Finnish Delegation owned the aircraft, but in 1941 the two Piper Cubs were sold to Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S. A third Piper J.4A Cub Coupé was purchased by the company in January 1940 and stored after the German invasion of Norway.

In January 1940 compensation was given to the Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S’s Flying School at Lake Bogstadvatn. In April, just before the German invasion of Norway, Widerøe’s Flyveselskap A/S had come to an agreement with the Norwegian Air Force to train pupils.

But at the start of the war activities in Norway the company’s aircraft were impressed or stored until after the war. Many pilots managed to escape abroad and flew in the Norwegian Air Force. Viggo Widerøe and Helge Skappel were impounded in 1941 and sent to a house of correction. Here they wrote their memories, which were published in Oslo in 1945. After the War the company started flying again and nowadays the company’s De Havilland Canada Dash-aircraft connect many small cities and villages all over Norway.