Let’s travel back to June 24th, 1931 – a local German photographer and his Danish pilot flew 32 hours across the Atlantic in their Bellanca. The photographer originally from Steinbrucken, Germany wanted to return home in a blaze of glory. This is the story of Liberty’s Otto Hillig, his pilot Holger Hoiriis, and their plane: The Spirit of Liberty.
In 1929 Mr Hillig bought passage on the Graf Zepplin but at the last minute found himself left off the flight. Furious, He sued for $100,000. The case was eventually settled out of court for what was thought to be around $25,000. According to some, this money was used to build the Bellanca airplane that would eventually become the Spirit of Liberty.
Otto Hillig left, Holger Hoiriis right.
Later Pilot Hoiriis insisted that funds were raised for the aircraft after he and Hillig spoke about the flight. He said the only purpose of the flight was to simply return to their homelands and indulge in "some pigs knuckles, sauerkraut and beer.".
The Spirit of Liberty (NR797W) was a Bellanca J-300 monoplane, powered by a 300hp Wright engine. It had bright red wings and had Liberty in bold black letters written across the white fusalage. The plane also featured Danish and American flags on the fusalage, at one point it did have a German flag painted in-between them. The Liberty would be the fourth Bellanca to cross the Atlantic.
The two left Newfoundland in the Liberty on June 24th 1931. They planned to fly directly to Copenhagen then Hillig’s Steinbrucken. The weather over the Atlantic was generally unfavorable with huge expanses of fog, cloud banks, and rain.
For 17 hours the two had not seen any water. Finally in the morning a strong gale cleared the clouds enough so Mr Hoiriis could spiral the plane down beneath the clouds. And there it was – land, but not England which they hoped to see – instead it was huge expanse of land – the main continent of Europe. They were over Spain.
Fighting off drowsiness, Hoiriis landed the plane after 32 hours in Krefeld, Germany. There Hillig called Copenhagen and learned that huge crowds ammased to welcome them, but they would have to wait as they would only make it as far as Bremen. In Bremen Hoiriis fell asleep as soon as they landed, he had to be carried into a hanger where he slept.
After Bremen the two finally made it to Copenhagen. There over 50,000 people greeted them including Hoiriis’s Mother and two of Hillig’s friends from Liberty. Parades were held, the two received medals, and Hoiriis was even Knighted by Denmark’s King Christian X (Christian Carl Frederik Albert Alexander Vilhelm).
This wasn’t the end of Atlantic crossings for the Spirit of Liberty. The plane made another trans-Atlantic crossing in 1931 from New York to Cardigan, Wales. Piloted by Clyde Pangborn and Hugh Herndo.
After that the plane was renamed the "City of Warsaw" and on June 29th 1934 it set off on another trans-atlantic flight from Newfoundland. This time it was piloted by Joseph Adamowicz and Benjamin Adamowicz the "flying brother act". They bought the plane for $22,000. The two almost wrecked the former "Spirit of Liberty" on take off. Halfway down the runway the plane lifted slightly, then settled back and plunged forward again. Then at the very end of the runway with rough ground, boulders and trees directly ahead, the plane took to the air, gradually glided upward and cleared the treetops. The two finished their flight in 23 1/2 hours.
After their flight and celebration, it was the end for the Spirit of Liberty. The plane was sold to a Polish govermental organization and thats the last we can find any record of it.
Contributed by Nicholas Piatek of Liberty, NY (avid aviation buff and Liberty resident). Information from multiple sources, photos used under public liscense from the German and Polish governments.