seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Fighter Pilot “Paddy” Finucane

brendan-finucaneWing Commander Brendan Eamonn Fergus Finucane, World War II Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter pilot and flying ace known as Paddy Finucane amongst his colleagues, dies on July 15, 1942 when he is forced to ditch his aircraft in the English Channel. He is also noted for being the youngest person to ever become wing leader of a fighter wing.

Finucane, born on October 16, 1920 in Rathmines, Dublin, is credited with 28 aerial victories, five probably destroyed, six shared destroyed, one shared probable victory, and eight damaged. Included in his total are twenty-three Messerschmitt Bf 109s, four Focke-Wulf Fw 190s and one Messerschmitt Bf 110. Official records differ over the exact total. After the war, two of Finucane’s victories that had been credited as probables had, in fact, been destroyed, but are not officially included. His total victory count could be as high as 32.

On July 15, Finucane is killed at the age of 21 while leading the Hornchurch Wing in a fighter “Ramrod” operation targeting a German Army camp at Étaples, France. He takes off with his wing at 11:50 AM. The attack is timed to hit the Germans at lunchtime. Crossing the beach at Le Touquet, they target machine gun positions. His plane is hit in the radiator at 12:22 PM. His wingman, Alan Aikman, notifies him of the white plume of smoke and Finucane acknowledges it with a thumbs up. Standard regulations insist the wing carry on the mission even if the leader is in trouble. Radio silence is maintained so the enemy radio-interception services do not become aware that a person of importance has been hit.

Finucane flies slowly out to sea, talking calmly to Aikman as he glides along in his stricken fighter. Finally, some 8 miles off Le Touquet on the French coast, he breaks radio silence and sends his last message. Aikman, flying alongside Finucane, sees him pull back the canopy, and before taking off his helmet, say “This is it Butch.” It is a well–executed landing, but the waves are difficult to predict and the Spitfire‘s nose strikes the water and disappears in a wall of spray. Before he hits the water, witnesses Aikman and Keith Chisholm of 452 Squadron see him release, or perhaps tighten, his parachute release harness and straps. If Finucane did release them, it is possible he could have been thrown forward onto the gun-sight and killed, or knocked unconscious and drowned. The exact circumstances remain unknown.

Over 2,500 people attend his memorial at Westminster Cathedral. A rose is planted in the memorial garden in Baldonnel Aerodrome in Dublin, home of the Irish Air Corps. Finucane’s name is also inscribed on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede. The memorial commemorates airmen who were lost in World War II and who have no known grave. The Battle of Britain Monument on London‘s Victoria Embankment also includes his name as one of The Few. His flying logbook can be viewed in the Soldiers and Chief’s exhibition in the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks. The Finucane family donated Brendan Finucane’s uniform to the Royal Air Force Museum London.

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First Non-Stop Transatlantic Flight

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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Official Opening of Ireland West Airport

ireland-west-airportIreland West Airport, officially known as Ireland West Airport Knock, at Knock, County Mayo, and now named Horan International Airport, is officially opened by Taoiseach Charles Haughey on May 30, 1986. The airport is located 5.6 km (3.5 miles) southwest of Charlestown, County Mayo. The village of Knock is 20 km (12.5 miles) away.

The airport opens on October 25, 1985 with three Aer Lingus charter flights to Rome however the official opening is on May 30, 1986. The site, on a hill in boggy terrain, is thought by many to be unrealistic but the airport is built following a long and controversial campaign by Monsignor James Horan, the story of which has even spawned a musical.

At the time of construction, the primary motivation is for pilgrims to Knock Shrine. Despite criticisms that the site is too boggy and too foggy, Monsignor Horan delivers an airport within five years, primarily financed by a Government grant of £9.8 million. Monsignor Horan dies shortly after the opening of the airport, and his funeral is held at the then named Horan International Airport. In recent times, Monsignor Horan has been celebrated with a bronze statue erected at the airport.

By 1988, over 100,000 passengers have passed through the airport. In 1995 Aer Lingus commences flights to Birmingham Airport. On June 1, 2003, hundreds of people gather to view an Air Atlanta Icelandic Boeing 747 land with 500 returning pilgrims from Lourdes.

In 2016, 735,869 passengers use the airport, making it the fourth busiest in the Republic of Ireland after Dublin Airport, Cork Airport and Shannon Airport. It is announced in November 2017 that €15 million will be invested in improving and upgrading the airport in 2018 and 2019, to coincide with strong passenger growth. These plans include upgrading of car parks, passenger facilities, the terminal and resurfacing of the runway.


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The Munich Air Disaster

munich-air-disasterThe Munich air disaster occurs on February 6, 1958 when British European Airways Flight 609 crashes on its third attempt to take off from a slush-covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport, West Germany. On the plane is the Manchester United football team, nicknamed the “Busby Babes“, along with supporters and journalists. Twenty of the 44 on the aircraft die at the scene. The injured, some unconscious, are taken to the Rechts der Isar Hospital in Munich where three more die, resulting in 23 fatalities with 21 survivors. Among the Manchester United fatalities is inside forward Liam “Billy” Whelan who was born in Cabra on the northside of Dublin in 1935.

The team is returning from a European Cup match in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, having eliminated Red Star Belgrade to advance to the semi-finals of the competition. The flight stops to refuel in Munich because a non-stop flight from Belgrade to Manchester is beyond the Airspeed Ambassador‘s range. After refuelling, pilots James Thain and Kenneth Rayment twice abandon take-off because of boost surging in the left engine. Fearing they will get too far behind schedule, Captain Thain rejects an overnight stay in Munich in favour of a third take-off attempt. By then snow is falling, causing a layer of slush to form at the end of the runway. After the aircraft hits the slush, it ploughs through a fence beyond the end of the runway and the left wing is torn off after hitting a house. Fearing the aircraft might explode, Thain begins evacuating passengers while Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg helps pull survivors from the wreckage.

An investigation by West German airport authorities originally blames Thain, saying he did not de-ice the aircraft’s wings, despite eyewitness statements to the contrary. It is later established that the crash is caused by the slush on the runway, which slows the plane too much to take off. Thain is cleared in 1968, ten years after the incident.

At the time of the disaster, Manchester United is trying to become the third club to win three successive English Football League titles. They are six points behind League leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers with 14 games to go. They also hold the Charity Shield and have just advanced into their second successive European Cup semi-final. The team has not been beaten in eleven consecutive matches. The crash not only derails their title ambitions that year but also virtually destroys the nucleus of what promised to be one of the greatest generations of players in English football history. It takes ten years for the club to recover, with Busby rebuilding the team and winning the European Cup in 1968 with a new generation of “Babes.”


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Birth of Astronaut & Test Pilot Michael Collins

Michael Collins, Irish American former astronaut and test pilot who is part of the Gemini 10 and Apollo 11 missions, is born in Rome, Italy, on October 31, 1930. The Apollo 11 mission includes the first lunar landing in history. His Irish roots can be traced to the town of Dunmanway in County Cork, from which his grandfather, Jeremiah Collins, emigrates in the 1860s.

Collins is born in Rome where his father, United States Army Major General James Lawton Collins, is stationed at the time. After the United States enters World War II, the family moves to Washington, D.C., where Collins attends St. Albans School. During this time, he applies and is accepted to the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, and decides to follow his father, two uncles, brother and cousin into the armed services.

In 1952, Collins graduates from West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree. He joins the United States Air Force that same year, and completes flight training at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi. His performance earns him a position on the advanced day fighter training team at Nellis Air Force Base, flying the F-86 Sabres. This is followed by an assignment to the 21st Fighter-Bomber Wing at the George Air Force Base, where he learns how to deliver nuclear weapons. He also serves as an experimental flight test officer at Edwards Air Force Base in California, testing jet fighters.

Collins makes the decision to become an astronaut after watching John Glenn‘s Mercury-Atlas 6 flight. He applies for the second group of astronauts that same year, but is not accepted. Disappointed, but undaunted, Collins enters the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School as the Air Force begins to research space. That year, NASA once again calls for astronaut applications, and Collins is more prepared than ever. In 1963 he is chosen by NASA to be part of the third group of astronauts.

Collins makes two spaceflights. The first, on July 18, 1966, is the Gemini 10 mission, where Collins performs a spacewalk. The second is the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969, the first lunar landing in history. Collins, accompanied by Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, remains in the Command Module while his partners walk on the moon’s surface. Collins continues circling the moon until July 21, when Armstrong and Aldrin rejoin him. The next day, he and his fellow astronauts leave lunar orbit. They land in the Pacific Ocean on July 24. Collins, Armstrong and Aldrin are all awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Richard Nixon. However, Aldrin and Armstrong end up receiving a majority of the public credit for the historic event, although Collins is also on the flight.

Collins leaves NASA in January 1970, and one year later, he joins the administrative staff of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In 1980, he enters the private sector, working as an aerospace consultant. In his spare time, Collins says he stays active, and spends his days “worrying about the stock market” and “searching for a really good bottle of cabernet under ten dollars.”

Collins and his wife, Patricia Finnegan, have three children. The couple lived in both Marco Island, Florida, and Avon, North Carolina until her death in April 2014.


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Final Arrival of the Concorde in Ireland

The supersonic aircraft Concorde arrives at Belfast International Airport, Aldergrove on October 21, 2003, on a farewell tour during its final week before being taken out of service.

In a final week of farewell flights around the United Kingdom, a British Airways Concorde visits Birmingham on October 20, Belfast on October 21, Manchester on October 22, Cardiff on October 23, and Edinburgh on October 24. Each day the aircraft makes a return flight out and back into Heathrow Airport to the cities concerned, often overflying those cities at low altitude. Over 650 competition winners and 350 special guests are carried.

On the evening of October 23, 2003, Queen Elizabeth II consents to the illumination of Windsor Castle as Concorde’s final west-bound commercial flight departs London and flies overhead. This is an honour normally reserved for major state events and visiting dignitaries.

British Airways retires its aircraft the next day, October 24. G-BOAG leaves New York City to a fanfare similar to her Air France predecessor’s, while two more made round-trips, G-BOAF over the Bay of Biscay, carrying VIP guests including many former Concorde pilots, and G-BOAE to Edinburgh. The three aircraft then circle over London, having received special permission to fly at low altitude, before landing in sequence at Heathrow.

The two round-trip Concordes land at 4:01 and 4:03 PM BST, followed at 4:05 by the one from New York. All three aircraft then spend 45 minutes taxiing around the airport before finally disembarking the last supersonic fare-paying passengers. The pilot of the New York to London flight is Mike Bannister.

All of British Airway’s Concordes have been grounded, have lost their airworthiness certificates and have been drained of hydraulic fluid. Ex-chief Concorde pilot and manager of the fleet, Jock Lowe, estimates it would cost £10-15 million to make G-BOAF airworthy again. British Airways maintains ownership of the Concordes, and has stated that their Concordes will not be flown again.


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Transatlantic Flight of “Wrong Way” Corrigan

Douglas Corrigan, an American aviator born in Galveston, Texas, earns the nickname “Wrong Way” Corrigan on July 17, 1938. After a transcontinental flight from Long Beach, California, to New York City, he flies from Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York, to Ireland, though his flight plan is filed to return to Long Beach. He claims his unauthorized flight is due to a navigational error, caused by heavy cloud cover that obscures landmarks and low-light conditions, causing him to misread his compass. However, he is a skilled aircraft mechanic and has made several modifications to his own plane, preparing it for his transatlantic flight. He had been denied permission to make a nonstop flight from New York to Ireland, and his “navigational error” is seen as deliberate. Nevertheless, he never publicly admits to having flown to Ireland intentionally.

On July 9, 1938, Corrigan departs California in his 1929 Curtiss Robin OX-5 monoplane bound for Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York. With the Robin cruising at 85 miles per hour (137 km/h) for maximum fuel efficiency, the outward journey takes him 27 hours. Fuel efficiency becomes critical towards the end of the flight as a gasoline leak develops, filling the cockpit with fumes.

Upon his unannounced arrival at Floyd Bennett Field, in the midst of Howard Hughes‘s preparations for takeoff on a world tour, Corrigan decides repairing the leak will take too long if he is to meet his schedule. His logged flight plan has him returning to California on July 17. Before take off, Corrigan asks the manager of Floyd Bennett Field, Kenneth P. Behr, which runway to use, and Behr tells him to use any runway as long as he does not take off to the west, in the direction of the administration building where Behr has his office. As recorded in Corrigan’s autobiography, Behr wishes him “Bon Voyage” prior to take-off, perhaps in a nod to Corrigan’s intentions to fly the Atlantic. Upon take off at 5:15 on the morning of July 17 with 320 US gallons of gasoline and 16 US gallons of oil, Corrigan heads east from the 4,200-foot runway of Floyd Bennett Field and keeps going. Behr later swears publicly that he has no foreknowledge of Corrigan’s intentions.

Corrigan claims to have noticed his “error” after flying for about 26 hours. This is not entirely consistent with his claim that after 10 hours, he feels his feet go cold. The cockpit floor is awash with gasoline leaking from the unrepaired tank. He uses a screwdriver to punch a hole through the cockpit floor so that the fuel will drain away on the side opposite the hot exhaust pipe, reducing the risk of a midair explosion. Had he been truly unaware he was over ocean, it seems likely he would descend at this point. Instead, he claims to increase the engine speed by almost 20% in the hope of decreasing his flight time.

Corrigan lands at Baldonnel Aerodrome, County Dublin, on July 18, after a 28-hour, 13-minute flight. His provisions for the flight consisted of just two chocolate bars, two boxes of fig bars, and 25 US gallons of water. Corrigan’s plane has fuel tanks mounted on the front, allowing him to see only out of the sides. He has no radio and his compass is 20 years old.

Aviation officials require 600 words to list the regulations broken by his flight in a telegram, a medium that encourages brevity by charging at a rate per word. Despite the extent of Corrigan’s illegality, he receives only a mild punishment a his pilot’s certificate is suspended for 14 days. He and his plane return to New York on the steamship Manhattan and arrive on August 4, the last day of his suspension. His return is marked with great celebration. More people attend his Broadway ticker tape parade than had honored Charles Lindbergh after his triumph. He is also given a ticker tape parade in Chicago.