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Aviation

New York - the most important destination

For a company founded for transatlantic travel, no destination was more important than New York. The first flight was a major public relations victory.

As soon as the ink had dried on the agreement to form a joint venture for transatlantic air travel, it was time to start spreading the news …

I’m leaving today
I want to be a part of it
New York, New York
These vagabond shoes
Are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it
New York, New York

The first transatlantic flight was set for New York City, and on September 17, 1946, the first SAS-painted plane lifted off from Bromma Airport in Stockholm. On board the Dan Viking, a new DC-4 plane, were 28 VIPs including SAS executives, American diplomats, government officials, and royalty.

The Danish delegation included Prince Axel and the Danish Postmaster General K.J. Jensen, whose Norwegian counterpart Johan Steen-Haug was also onboard. The Swedes had extended an invitation to Gunnar Lager, their postmaster general; Carl Ljungberg, director general and president of the Royal Board of Civil Aviation; and Christian M. Ravndal, the US Embassy’s chargé d’affaires.
Photographer Paul Melander was on board to document it.With the first SAS flight to New York behind them, a satisfied crew poses on the stairway at the Waldorf Astoria. Flight attendant Gun Aleman is fl anked by Captains Byron Cramblet and Niels Steen.

According to the schedule, the Dan Viking was going to take off in the morning of September 17, and after stopovers in Copenhagen, Prestwick in Scotland, and Gander in Canada’s Newfoundland, land at LaGuardia in New York at dinnertime on September 18.

While it was the inaugural SAS flight, it wasn’t the only transatlantic flight between Scandinavia and the United States. Even an SAS-operated flight, with a plane that was still painted in the colors of SILA, Swedish Intercontinental Airlines, had made the journey a month earlier. Also, there was another flight on September 15 with Scandinavian reporters and photographers so they could cover the landing. Sweden’s Marcus Wallenberg, one of the main negotiators of the agreement, had been on that flight so he could join the Swedish Davis Cup team in the United States, and then meet the Dan Viking at LaGuardia.

But the September 17 flight was the first one made in SAS’s colors, with the three Scandinavian countries’ colors flying side by side. And expectations were high. On the same day, Aftonbladet’s reporter, who had been on the press flight two days earlier, raved about his journey.

“Between Iceland and Goose Bay, Passad [the plane] traveled at 4,000 meters in a fabulous weather and we could enjoy the most fantastic landscape below us: dark mountains, glaciers, and icebergs,” wrote editor-in-chief P.G. Peterson. “We got a warm welcome at the famous Rainbow Room on the 65th floor of the [Rockefeller Center]. Afterward, we all retired early to get ready for Tuesday’s big program.” 

Meanwhile, back in Stockholm, everything wasn’t going as planned with the Dan Viking. While the plane did take off in the morning, as planned, the pilots, Norwegian Niels Steen and American Byron Cramblet, had to turn back due to engine problems. The dignitaries were taken back to the town for some “wining and dining,” as Cramblet put it, while the mechanics fixed the plane and gave their OK for a new start eight hours later.

“After a while, we realized that we had forgot to remove the big flags that had been hanging over the cockpit windows. The flags were gone, but the poles were still hanging in there,” Cramblet reminisced 50 years later.

He had got his job at the Swedish airline ABA, which still ran domestic and European flights, just six months earlier. He stayed with SAS until 1948 when he joined the US Air Force again, to be a part of President Harry Truman’s Berlin Airlift, which provided supplies to West Berlin when the Soviet Union cut off road access through East Germany.

After the first delay, and the flagpoles, everything went fine, and 25 hours later the Dan Viking touched down in New York. The day after, a big reception was held at the Waldorf Astoria as former New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia welcomed the first European airline to his city. Even Trygve Lie, the United Nations’ first Secretary-General, gave a speech that was broadcast on NBC radio.

If I can make it there
I’ll make it anywhere
It’s up to you
New York, New York

SAS had two weekly flights between Scandinavia and New York – one from Stockholm, the other a weekly flight alternating between Copenhagen and Oslo – but by 1947 there were already daily flights to the Big Apple. And by the time 1948 came knocking, more than 10,000 true travelers had made the trip over the Atlantic on an SAS plane.

Last edited: February 8, 2016

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