A Legendary Navigating Star – Lt. Harry P. McLean Connor

Today’s Instagram wrist shot era may well have been started by a legendary navigating star -Lt. Harry P. McLean Connor.  How so? The master navigator and pilot gave us one of our very first wrist shots and watch reviews 93 plus years ago in the August 1930 edition of Aero Digest. 

Harry P. Connor sporting his Longines Weems Aerochronometer. Perhaps, a visionary and a precursor for today’s Instagram age and our wristshot era. In the 1930 Aero Digest article, he reviews his Weems and three Longines hacking watches. He is pictured in the months following with his Weems both pre and post his Trans-Atlantic crossing at Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, and again in England at Croydon. Image – Aero Digest August 1930

This followed his navigating role during a record-breaking non-stop return New York to Bermuda flight made in the famous “Columbia”, a Wright Aviation, Guiseppe Bellanca designed plane, that was already famous in its own right.

The front cover of the 1930 August Aero Digest review of Harry P. Connor’s navigation aboard the New York to Bermuda flight with Errol Boyd and Roger Q. Williams. An incredible navigational feat that had him singing the praises of his Longines Aerochronometer and three Longines hacking watches in what must be one of our first wristwatch reviews. He wrote a detailed review of the flight in the December 1930 USNA publication. Image – Aero Digest August 1930.

Connor’s navigational role with famed aviators Roger Q Williams and Canadian Errol Boyd in June 1930 was made without radio equipment to prove that navigation by dead reckoning and celestial observations could be successfully applied in a practical way.  They aimed to test instruments and navigational skills for future commercial flight opportunities between the two destinations that would eventually follow some seven years later. 

Harry P. Maclean Connor navigator 1930 USNA publication on navigation
The 1930 USNA publication featuring Harry P. McLean Connor’s navigational role, and his instruments for his 1930 New York to Bermuda nonstop return flight. The time was very different and the able seaman noted that the government should have a role in planning all ocean flights.

Initially, the flight was planned as a one-way trip with them expecting to land in Bermuda and return the following day.  Pundits were giving 5-1 for their early departure. Their plane, Columbia, flew without pontoons, experienced appalling weather conditions, suffered equipment failure, and at one stage the only viable option considered was a crash landing. However, upon sighting the islands, ‘Boyd noted that…Connor had a grin from ear to ear. This slim calculating naval officer had accomplished a navigational feat second to none.’ [1]

Letter Weems, Lindbergh, Heinmuller, Harry Connor
A letter from John Heinmuller to Lindbergh noting the glowing review of the Longines Aerochronemeter and Connor’s brilliant article on air navigation en route.

A detailed account of the flight was published in a December 1930 USNA publication with the article titled, Use of Scientific Navigation to Aircraft for Transoceanic Flying.

The Longines ad noting the successes of Connor, Boyd, and Williams in their New York to Bermuda flight and the value of their Longines timepieces to the flight’s positive outcome.

Lt. Connor noted that for ocean flying a thorough knowledge of meteorology and seamanship was necessary and this could only be obtained from years of experience at sea.

His suggestion was that only navigators who have had a number of years’ service as line officers in the Navy or Merchant Marine be permitted to act in such capacity.

Incredibly, he noted that contemplated ocean flights should have government supervision of some kind to enhance their success and the use of radio for transoceanic flying.

Lt. Connor’s 1930 review in Aero Digest was the very first known to use and sing the praises of the Longines Aerochronometer Weems Second-setting watch. Harry’s watch was part of the first production order #1395 placed by Wittnauer in 1929 before the great depression and delivered over two dates – April 10th and May 2nd, 1930, to the US agent for Longines.  

In the article, Lt. Connor is pictured wearing his oversized Longines Weems wristwatch and notes using it along with three Longines hacking watches on their New York to Bermuda flight. The term ‘Aerochronometer’ had been coined from an instrument that Harold Gatty previously designed and developed.

Seemingly, the wrist shot era started, without so much as a credit going to Lt. Connor.

An early Longines ad by Wittnauer detailing their role as the Aviator’s watch and their incredible flight success noted,

“Navigation an easy task with Longines timepieces”

“Your Longines Aerochronometers and watches rendered us inestimable assistance enabling us to keep the Columbia on direct course throughout (the) trip and to hit Bermuda on the nose.  Where minute precision in celestial navigation is required it is essential that chronometers be accurate to split second.”[2]

Harry Connor, in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland before setting off for his Trans-Atlantic crossing, the very first outside summer months. Another clean wristshot with his distinctive and trusty oversized Longines Weems Aerochronometer second setting watch.

The flight, in the Columbia was made in the famed Wright Aviation Bellanca model which had originally started its life with the name Miss Columbia, acquiring the name from the daughter of the owner, Charles Levine.

The perils of early aviation, no petrol and over sea. They managed to land at Scilly Isles on a narrow strip of beach some 30 miles off the coast and continue on the next day to the land in Croydon.

It had been within a whisker of being bought by Lindbergh for his attempt at an Atlantic crossing in May 1927 and had flown an incredible endurance record of 51 hours 11mins and 9 seconds just weeks before Lindbergh’s record-breaking feat. 

Had it not been embroiled in a legal dispute, it would most likely have claimed the Orteig Prize and crossed first between New York and Paris.    A little over weeks post Lindbergh’s epic crossing, Miss Columbia was flown by British aviator Chamberlain 300 miles further in an Atlantic crossing from New York to Germany.

Whilst landing short of their intended destination, Berlin, Levine, the plane’s owner also made the voyage and claimed to be the very first passenger to cross the Atlantic non-stop. 

It was now Boyd and Connor’s turn. Fresh from their successful Bermuda June 1930 flight, Boyd planned an Atlantic crossing with the Columbia.  The plane, renamed the Maple Leaf, was the chosen workhorse companion for Errol Boyd and Lt Connor’s planned October 1930 Trans-Atlantic crossing – a world first, outside summer months.  

A series of mishaps did not stop the flyer’s success. Vibrations on takeoff rendered the earth-inductor compass dial unserviceable, forcing the pair to rely on two magnetic compasses.

Moreover, an hour after dark, they experienced an electrical failure and had to use the emergency flashlight to energize the phosphoric material on the instrument panel with Boyd later noting, ‘Boy, it was dark! I felt as though I was piloting a car in a coal mine.’ [3] 

A fuel blockage forced them to dump 100 gallons of fuel to avoid a fire on landing and even that event did not end their voyage.  The pair managed to make a miraculous landing on a narrow six-metre-wide beach strip in the Scilly Isles, 30 odd miles south-west of Cornwall. With the help of locals, they flew onto Croydon airport the next day.

Harry P. Maclean Connor navigator Transatlantic flight Errol Boyd Croydon Scilly Isles
Harry P. Maclean Connor navigator for a Transatlantic flight crossing with Errol Boyd. A series of mishaps including a fuel blockage forced them to jettison 100gallons of fuel and land on Scilly Isles, approximately 30 miles southwest of Cornwall. The six metre wide beach landing strip, a testament to Boyd’s piloting skills. There were just 24 successful Trans-Atlantic crossings between 1919 and 1940. Image – Historynet.com

Once again, Lt Connor, would establish his worth as a navigating legend and was a scientific fanatic in all firms of navigation.  Harry’s pre Instagram skills were on display once again with his chosen Longines Weems second-setting wrist companion pictured on his wrist at Harbour Grace, in Newfoundland, and on arrival at England’s Croydon airport. 

The Longines Weems Aerochronometer first production pieces were born in 1930 and Lt. Harry P. Connor was the very first known to receive, use, and sing the praises of his Longines second setting watch. His incredible navigation skills with on display with Errol Boyd and Roger Q Willams on their non-stop New York to Bermuda June 1930 return flight. The Weems model was originally introduced with five different test fonts. Whilst Harry’s watch could have had any of these type faces, only two of them could possibly have been his watch out of this lineup. Why? The very first watches of 1930 were only signed Longines. A new Longines entity, Longines-Wittnauer Company was formed in 1936 after the near bankruptcy of Martha Wittnauer because of the ravages of the Great Depression. It was not until 1935 that we saw the very first use of Wittnauer text on the Weems dials. Secondly the little star, to indicate regulation for sidereal time was first introduced in October, 1932.

In an interview in the company of Moore-Brabazon, the first Englishman to fly a plane, a pragmatic Lt Connor noted to the interviewer that their Atlantic crossing was a test for the instruments and nothing more and that any catastrophe leading to death would imply nothing more than a failure of the equipment.   His Longines Weems was one of his navigational trump cards that delivered success.

Harry P. Maclean Connor navigator Transatlantic flight Errol Boyd Croydon pre instagram
Trans-Atlantic success, once again, a well-dressed Harry can be seen sporting his Longines Weems after landing in Croydon with the Canadian Errol Boyd in October 1930.

Harry’s navigational pursuits continued, and he was later recommended by Harold Gatty, the man Lindbergh described as the Prince of Navigators, to join Howard Hughes as a pilot and navigator aboard his record breaking 1938 Round the world flight in a modified Lockheed Super Electra 14-N2.  The plane was offered free of charge to Hughes because of the publicity it would generate.  The voyage set off from Brooklyn’s Floyd Bennett Field in July 1938, flying some 23800km with a flight time of 71hours at an average speed of 206 miles per hour.  It bettered Wiley Post’s incredible July 1933 solo flight time by an incredible three days and 23 hours 33 minutes.

Harry P. Maclean Connor navigator and pilot Howard Hughes Round the world record 1938
Harry P. McLean Connor navigator and pilot aboard Howard Hughes Round the world record breaking 1938 flight in a Lockheed Electra. The plane was supplied to Hughes free of charge because of the publicity the flight would generate. Tragically, it crashed just two years later on takeoff on a flight from South Africa to Egypt killing all on board. Image – Historynet.com

It is important to note that whilst Howard Hughes and Wiley Post’s flights were marketed as round the world that both circled the northern hemisphere, they were 12,968 kilometres short of a true RTW as recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.  To qualify with the FAI, there is a requirement of the circumnavigation crossing all meridians in one direction and be at least the length of the Tropic of Cancer, some 36,788km.

Howard Hughes siderograph aviation instrument
“The record breaker’s choice is always Longines” says it all in the Longines ad for the UK agent Baume. Harry P. Connor had been recommended by Harold Gatty, the Prince of Navigators, a title bestowed on him by Lindbergh to serve as navigator and one of the pilots aboard the Lockheed Super Electra. Howard Hughes record breaking round the world flight was the world’s first test and use of the incredible Longines Siderograph aviation instrument.

Such were the dangers of early aviation pursuits, that the Hughes’s Super Electra plane used on the successful flight was sold onto the Royal Canadian Air Force. Less than two years later in November 1940, the plane on a fight from South Africa to Egypt banked to the left, stalled on takeoff and entered a spin before crashing and killing all.

The Honor Roll - 1930's display board Longines Weems, Lindbergh, Pilot watch
The Longines-Wittnauer Honor Roll – a unique and incredible reminder of Longines dominance in supplying 1930’s specialist aviation timepieces to aviation’s who’s who. Whilst Errol Boyd and Roger Q Williams names grace the board for flights made with Connor, sadly Harry’s name is absent. This despite being navigator on at least three remarkable record-breaking flights. One third of those featured on the board paid with their lives, the ultimate price for their sacrifice during aviation’s so called golden years.

Whilst aviation’s interwar golden years have a romantic attachment to this incredible transformational chapter, they were extremely dangerous and many a pilot paid the ultimate price. One incredible reminder of these Golden years of aviation is a Longines salesman’s display board that serves as an incredible reminder of just how much the St Imier maker ruled the skies and the land below.

Connor and Boyd should also be noted for their record-breaking non-stop New York to Bermuda flight albeit they did not land because of the appalling weather. In September 1930, Yancey landed with a Stinson plane fitted with pontoons and managed to take off again. He also used Longines aviation instruments.

One third of the names on the salesman’s display board tragically lost their lives pursuing records and advancing aviation. Longines enjoyed a remarkable multi-decade zenith at the forefront of precision timing. Their technical department were the world leader in precision timing with technological advancements that enabled delivery of the most famous and important chronographs, and specialist instruments for those who wrote and broke aviation’s record books.

The household names of the display board graced the covers of newspapers, magazines and occupy a special place in history. They helped shape the world we know today.

They were the who’s who of aviation and featured prominently whilst writing the record books. Whilst Harry Connor’s name is not featured on the incredible and priceless 1930’s Longines display board from this era, Lt Connor’s feats and talents are on another level starting some 93 years ago.

Lt. Connor chose the Longines Weems ref 2106 with the famous 18.69N caliber to use as his trusted navigation timepiece instrument on at least three remarkable record breaking flights – New York to Bermuda, a Trans-Atlantic crossing and a record breaking Round the world flight with Howard Hughes.

Longines Weems second setting watch Bureau of Aeronautics cal 18.69N ref 2106
A Longines Weems second setting watch ref 2106 using the caliber 18.69N. This example supplied to the Bureau of Aeronautics was also part of the first production order of pieces delivered in 1930.

Lt Connor, a forgotten aviation hero and master navigator possibly gave us the wrist shot and watch writeup long before today’s Instagram age. His remarkable Longines second-setting watch may be sitting in a collection with the owner unaware of just how special a watch and Flightbird it really is, or it may still be out there awaiting discovery.


[1] 1930 August Aero Digest Lt Connor Navigation on the non-stop flight from New York to Bermuda and return.

[2] Longines / Wittnauer ad from 1930.

[3] Erroll Boyd: World War I Combat Pilot and Aviation Daredevil (historynet.com)

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