seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

First Non-Stop Transatlantic Flight

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alcock-and-brownBritish aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown complete the first non-stop transatlantic flight, landing at Clifden, County Galway on June 15, 1919. They fly a modified World War I Vickers Vimy bomber from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Clifden. The Secretary of State for Air, Winston Churchill, presents them with the Daily Mail prize for the first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by aeroplane in “less than 72 consecutive hours.” A small amount of mail is carried on the flight, making it the first transatlantic airmail flight.

Alcock and Brown take off from Lester’s Field at around 1:45 PM on June 14. They fly the modified Vickers Vimy, powered by two Rolls-Royce Eagle 360 hp engines which are supported by an on-site Rolls Royce team led by engineer Eric Platford.

It is not an easy flight. The overloaded aircraft has difficulty taking off from the rough field and only barely misses the tops of the trees. A short time later the wind-driven electrical generator fails, depriving them of radio contact, their intercom and heating. An exhaust pipe bursts shortly afterwards, causing a frightening noise which makes conversation impossible without the failed intercom.

At 5:00 PM they have to fly through thick fog. This is serious because it prevents Brown from being able to navigate using his sextant. Blind flying in fog or cloud should only be undertaken with gyroscopic instruments, which they do not have, and Alcock twice loses control of the aircraft and nearly hits the sea after a spiral dive. Alcock also has to deal with a broken trim control that makes the plane become very nose-heavy as fuel is consumed.

At 12:15 AM on June 15 Brown gets a glimpse of the stars and is able to use his sextant, and finds that they are still on course. By this point, their electric heating suits have failed, making them very cold in the open cockpit.

Then at 3:00 AM they fly into a large snowstorm. They are drenched by rain, their instruments ice up, and the plane is in danger of icing and becoming unflyable. The carburetors also ice up.

Alcock and Brown make landfall in County Galway at 8:40 AM on June 15, not far from their intended landing place, after less than sixteen hours of flying time. The aircraft is damaged upon arrival because of an attempt to land on what appears from the air to be a suitable green field, but which turns out to be a bog, near Clifden, but neither of the airmen is hurt. Brown says that if the weather had been good they could have pressed on to London.

Alcock and Brown are treated as heroes on the completion of their flight. In addition to the Daily Mail award of £10,000, the crew receives 2,000 guineas (£2,100) from the Ardath Tobacco Company and £1,000 from Lawrence R. Phillips for being the first British subjects to fly the Atlantic Ocean. The two aviators are awarded the honour of Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE) a week later by King George V at Windsor Castle.

Alcock and Brown fly to Manchester on July 17, where they are given a civic reception by the Lord Mayor and Corporation of Manchester, and awards to mark their achievement.

John Alcock is killed on December 18, 1919 when he crashes near Rouen while flying the new Vickers Viking amphibian to the Paris Air Show. Arthur Brown dies on October 4, 1948. Two memorials commemorating the flight are sited near the landing spot in County Galway. The first is an isolated cairn four kilometres south of Clifden, around 500 metres from the spot where they land, on the site of Guglielmo Marconi‘s first transatlantic wireless station from which the aviators transmit their success to London. In addition there is a sculpture of an aircraft’s tail-fin on Errislannan Hill two kilometres north of their landing spot, dedicated on June 15, 1959, the fortieth anniversary of their landing.

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