British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown take off from Newfoundland on June 14, 1919 on the first ever non-stop transatlantic flight. They fly a modified World War I Vickers Vimy bomber from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Clifden, Connemara, County Galway. A small amount of mail is carried on the flight, also making it the first transatlantic airmail flight.
In April 1913 London‘s Daily Mail offers a prize of £10,000 to the aviator who first crosses the Atlantic Ocean in an airplane from any point in the United States, Canada or Newfoundland to any point in Great Britain or Ireland in 72 continuous hours. The competition is suspended with the outbreak of war in 1914 but reopens after Armistice is declared in 1918.
Several teams enter the competition and, when Alcock and Brown arrive in St. John’s, the Handley Page team are in the final stages of testing their aircraft for the flight, but their leader, Admiral Mark Kerr, is determined not to take off until the plane is in perfect condition. The Vickers team quickly assembles their plane and while the Handley Page team are conducting yet another test, the Vickers plane takes off from Lester’s Field.
It is not an easy flight. The overloaded aircraft has difficulty taking off the rough field and barely misses the tops of the trees. At 5:20 PM 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.
Alcock and Brown also have to contend with thick fog, which prevents Brown from being able to navigate using his sextant. Alcock twice loses control of the aircraft in the fog and nearly crashes into the sea. He also has to deal with a broken trim control that makes the plane become very nose-heavy as fuel is consumed. Their electric heating suits fail, making them very cold in the open cockpit.
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.
They make landfall in County Galway at 8:40 AM on June 15, 1919, not far from their intended landing place, after less than sixteen hours of flying time. The aircraft is damaged upon arrival because they land on what appears from the air to be a suitable green field, but which turns out to be Derrygilmlagh Bog, near Clifden. This causes the aircraft to nose-over, although neither of the airmen is hurt. Brown says that had the weather been favorable they could have pressed on to London. Their first interview is given to Tom ‘Cork’ Kenny of the Connacht Tribune.
Alcock and Brown are treated as heroes on the completion of their flight. The Secretary of State for Air, Winston Churchill, presents them with the Daily Mail prize. In addition to a share of the Daily Mail award, Alcock receives 2,000 guineas (£2,100) from the State Express Cigarette Company and £1,000 from Laurence R. Philipps for being the first Briton to fly the Atlantic Ocean. Both men are knighted a week later by King George V at Windsor Castle.
(Pictured: Statue of Alcock and Brown formerly located at London Heathrow Airport. Relocated to Clifden, Connemara, County Galway, Ireland to celebrate centenary in 2019.)