Bertrand Blanchard Acosta (1895-1854)

Bertrand Blanchard Acosta (January 1, 1895 – September 1, 1954) was an aviator who flew in the Spanish Civil War and was known as the Bad Boy of the Air. He was a heavy drinker, was divorced twice and received numerous fines and suspensions for flying stunts such as flying under bridges or flying too close to buildings.


  • Miguel Acosta
  • Martha Blanche Reilly


Acosta was born on January 1, 1895 in San Diego, California.


Fernando Acosta


He attended the Throop Polytechnic Institute in Pasadena, California from 1912 to 1914.

He taught himself to fly in August of 1910 and built experimental airplanes up until 1912 when he began work for Glenn Curtiss as an apprentice on a hydroplane project. In 1915 he worked as a flying instructor. He went to Canada and worked as an instructor for the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service in Toronto. In 1917 he was appointed chief instructor, Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps at Hazelhurst Field, Long Island.

Acosta was married in 1918 but he divorced his first wife in 1920. He won the The Pulitzer Trophy Race in 1921, then married Helen Belmont Pearsoll, on August 3, 1921. In 1925 he was a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy and was living at 1 Winslow Court in Naugatuck, Connecticut. He and Helen separated but they never divorced.

Endurance record

In April of 1927, he and Clarence D. Chamberlin set an endurance record of 51 hours, 11 minutes, and 25 seconds in the air. Time magazine reported on April 25, 1927:

Engineer Giuseppe M. Bellanca of the Columbia Aircraft Corporation had conditioned an elderly yellow-winged monoplane with one Wright motor, and scouted around for pilots. Lieut. Leigh Wade, round-the-world flyer, declined the invitation, saying Mr. Bellanca's plans were too stunt-like, not scientific. Shrugging, Mr. Bellanca engaged Pilots Clarence Duncan Chamberlin and burly Bert Acosta, onetime auto speedster, to test his ship's endurance. Up they put from Mitchel Field, Long Island, with 385 gallons of ethylated (high power) gasoline. All day they droned back and forth over suburbia, circled the Woolworth Building, hovered over Hadley Field, New Jersey, swung back to drop notes on Mitchell Field. All that starry night they wandered slowly around the sky, and all the next day, and through the next night, a muggy, cloudy one. Newsgatherers flew up alongside to shout unintelligible things through megaphones. Messrs. Acosta and Chamberlain were looking tired and oil-blobbed. They swallowed soup and sandwiches, caught catnaps on the mattressed fuel tank, while on and on they droned, almost lazily (about 80 m.p.h.) for they were cruising against time. Not for 51 hours, 11 minutes, 25 seconds, did they coast to earth, having broken the U.S. and world's records for protracted flight. In the same time, conditions favoring, they could have flown from Manhattan to Vienna. They had covered 4,100 miles. To Paris it is 3,600 miles from Manhattan. Jubilant, Engineer Bellanca's employers offered competitors a three-hour head start in the race to Paris. The Bellanca monoplane's normal cruising speed is 110 m.p.h. She would require only some 35 hours to reach Paris—if she could stay up that long again.

Transatlantic flight

On May 13, 1927, fourteen days after Charles Lindbergh's record setting transatlantic flight, Acosta flew from Long Island to France with Commander Admiral Richard Byrd aboard the America. The perhaps apocryphal story was that Byrd had to hit Acosta over the head with a fire extinguisher or a flashlight when he got out of control from drinking during their flight.

Time wrote on August 17, 1931:

Captain Lisandro Garay of the Honduran Air Force last week at Floyd Bennett Field loaded a Bellanca monoplane with 360 gallons [of] gasoline and Bert Acosta "to make a test flight" from New York to Honduras. Unseen Supercargo Acosta sneaked away; Captain Garay took off, headed for Tegucigalpa, reprimand, glory, or death.

Spanish Civil War

In 1936 Acosta was head of the Yankee Squadron in the Spanish Civil War with Eddie August Schneider (1911-1940) and Frederic Ives Lord.

Time magazine wrote on December 21, 1936:

Hilariously celebrating in the ship's bar of the Normandie with their first advance pay checks from Spain's Radical Government, six able U.S. aviators were en route last week for Madrid to join Bert Acosta, pilot of Admiral Byrd's transatlantic flight, in doing battle against Generalissimo Francisco Franco's White planes. Payment for their services: $1,500 a month plus $1,000 for each White plane brought down.

Time magazine wrote on January 04, 1937, although the attack was later determined to be propaganda:

On Christmas Eve the "Yankee Squadron" of famed U.S. aviators headed by Bert Acosta, pilot of Admiral Byrd's transatlantic flight, at the last minute abandoned plans for a whoopee party with their wives at Biarritz, swank French resort across the Spanish frontier. They decided that they would rather raid Burgos, Generalissimo Franco's headquarters. The hundreds of incendiary bombs that they dropped on White hangars and munition dumps they jokingly described as "Messages of Christmas Cheer for the boys in Burgos."

In December of 1951 Acosta collapsed in a New York City bar and was hospitalized with tuberculosis. He died at the Jewish Consumptive's Relief Society sanatorium in Colorado in 1954. He was buried in the Portal of Folded Wings Shrine to Aviation.


  • 1895 Birth
  • 1910 Builds experimental airplane
  • 1912 Starts at Throop Polytechnic Institute
  • 1914 Finishes at Throop Polytechnic Institute
  • 1921 Marriage to Helen Belmont Pearsoll
  • 1921 Sets airspeed record of 176.9 miles an hour
  • 1927 Endurance record
  • 1927 Crosses Atlantic with Admiral Byrd
  • 1936 Spanish Civil War
  • 1951 Collapse from tuberculosis in New York City
  • 1954 Death

Selected coverage in Time magazine

  • Time, April 25, 1927, "Paris Preliminaries"
  • Time, July 11, 1927, "Four men in a fog"
  • Time, February 06, 1928, "Gaol"
  • Time, August 17, 1931, "Biggests", Hondouras flight
  • Time, June 10, 1935, "Pilot's Pilot", Biography
  • Time, September 28, 1936, "Transatlantic Tradition", Pilot crews that hate each other
  • Time, December 21, 1936, "Pilots, Death, Plebiscite", Spanish Civil War
  • Time, March 25, 1957, "End of the Adventure", Byrd Obituary


Bertrand Blanchard Acosta's mother had a half-brother with the surname of Snook. Bertrand Blanchard Acosta had been living at 46 West 17th Street in New York City before leaving for Spain.


  • New York Times, New York City, November 4, 1921; "Bert Acosta Wins Air Race Trophy; New York Aviator Defeats Five Contestants For The Pulitzer Silver Prize. H.E. Hartney Badly Hurt Parachute Jumper Drowned By Falling Into River After A 1,000 foot Leap At Omaha. Omaha, Nebraska, November 3, 1921. Bert Acosta of New York won the annual Pulitzer silver trophy race for heavier-than-air craft here today, defeating a field of five other contestants one of whom, H. E. Hartney of New York, was injured when his plane crashed near Loveland, Iowa."
  • New York Times, New York City, October 2, 1922; "Brings Plane To Earth Without Landing Gear. Bert Acosta Comes Down Safely at Selfridge Field. Astonishes the Onlookers. Mount Clemens, Michigan, October 1, 1922. Landing the Navy Bee Line racer, which he was testing preparatory to its entry in the airplane races at Selfridge Field, Oct. 12, 13 and 14, Bert Acosta brought the plane to Earth this afternoon without the use of its landing gear."
  • New York Times, New York City, October 7, 1923; "Aviator Sent to Jail; Judge Gives Bert Acosta Five Days for Driving Auto While Drunk."
  • New York Times, New York City, January 25, 1928; "Jersey Sheriff Wants Bert Acosta's Plane, Which Flew Away After His Attachment. Bert Acosta's Fokker monoplane The Splitdorf is wanted in Bergen County, New Jersey. Under Sheriff Jack Donaldson wants it. For a little while on Monday afternoon through his deputy, Louis Turro, the ..."
  • New York Times, New York City, September 19, 1930; "Bert Acosta Freed In Connecticut Case; Two-Year-Old Charge For Stunt Flying At Naugatuck Dropped By Waterbury Prosecutor. Pilot Promises To Behave His Air Record Wins Leniency, But He Faces Federal Inquiry On Flight Without License. Waterbury, Connecticut, September 18, 1930 (Associated Press) Bert Acosta, transatlantic flier, who was arrested in Wilton last night after he had landed his plane in a meadow, received a nolle today in ..."
  • Daily News, Frederick, Maryland, December 3, 1936; "Acosta faces rebels"
  • New York Times, New York City, February 20, 1937; "Aviator Held in Nassau in Failure to Post Bail on Wife's Charge. Bert Acosta, who recently faced a Federal inquiry for enlisting in the Spanish Loyalist air force, was rehanded to the Nassau County jail here this afternoon pending the posting of a $500 bond to insure his appearance in Children's Court next Friday morning."
  • New York Times, New York City, December 17, 1945; "Bert Acosta in Hospital"
  • New York Times, New York City, August 12, 1952; "Bert Acosta in Hospital"
  • New York Times, New York City, September 2, 1954; page 21, "Bert Acosta 59, A Veteran Flier; Piloted Plane With Byrd and Balchen Across Atlantic in 1927, Dead in Denver"
  • Washington Post, Washington, DC, September 2, 1954; "Bert Acosta, Atlantic Flier, Dies. Bert B. Acosta, spectacular barnstorming pilot who, with Admiral Richard E. Byrd, made the first trans-Atlantic flight in a multi-engined plane, died yesterday from advanced tuberculosis in a Denver sanatorium, the Associated Press reported."
  • New Bridgeport Telegram, Bridgeport, Connecticut, September 2, 1954, Obituary

External links

Footnotes (including sources)