seamus dubhghaill

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


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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.


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Birth of Fighter Pilot George Edward Henry McElroy

Captain George Edward Henry McElroy, a leading Irish-born fighter pilot of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force during World War I, is born at Donnybrook, County Dublin, on May 14, 1893. He is credited with 47 aerial victories.

McElroy enlists promptly at the start of World War I in August 1914, and is shipped out to France two months later. He is serving as a corporal in the Motor Cyclist Section of the Royal Engineers when he is first commissioned as a second lieutenant on May 9, 1915. While serving in the Royal Irish Regiment he is severely affected by mustard gas and is sent home to recuperate. He is in Dublin in April 1916, during the Easter Rising, and is ordered to help quell the insurrection. McElroy refuses to fire upon his fellow Irishmen, and is transferred to a southerly garrison away from home.

On June 1, 1916 McElroy relinquishes his commission in the Royal Irish Regiment when awarded a cadetship at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, from which he graduates on February 28, 1917, and is commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Garrison Artillery.

McElroy is promptly seconded to the Royal Flying Corps, being trained as a pilot at the Central Flying School at Upavon, and is appointed a flying officer on June 28. On July 27 his commission is backdated to February 9, 1916, and he is promoted to lieutenant on August 9. On August 15 he joins No. 40 Squadron RFC, where he benefits from mentoring by Edward “Mick” Mannock. He originally flies a Nieuport 17, but with no success in battle. By the year’s end McElroy is flying Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5s and claims his first victory on December 28.

An extremely aggressive dog-fighter who ignores often overwhelming odds, McElroy’s score soon grows rapidly. He shoots down two German aircraft in January 1918, and by February 18 has run his string up to eleven. At that point, he is appointed a flight commander with the temporary rank of captain and transferred to No. 24 Squadron RFC. He continues to steadily accrue victories by ones and twos. By March 26, when he is awarded the Military Cross, he is up to 18 “kills.” On April 1, the Army’s Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) are merged to form the Royal Air Force, and his squadron becomes No. 24 Squadron RAF. McElroy is injured in a landing accident on April 7 when he brushes a treetop while landing. By then he has run his score to 27. While he is sidelined with his injury, on April 22, he is awarded a bar to his Military Cross. Following his convalescence, McElroy returns to No. 40 Squadron in June, scoring three times, on the 26th, 28th, and 30th. The latter two triumphs are observation balloons. That runs his tally to thirty.

In July, he adds to his score almost daily, a third balloon busting on the 1st, followed by one of the most triumphant months in the history of fighter aviation, adding 17 victims during the month. His run of success is threatened on the 20th by a vibrating engine that entails breaking off an attack on a German two seater and a rough emergency landing that leaves him with scratches and bruises. There is a farewell luncheon that day for his friend Gwilym Hugh “Noisy” Lewis. Their mutual friend Edward “Mick” Mannock pulls McElroy aside to warn him about the hazards of following a German victim down within range of ground fire.

On July 26, Mannock is killed by ground fire. Ironically, on that same day, “McIrish” McElroy receives the second Bar to his Military Cross. He is one of only ten airmen to receive the second Bar.

McElroy’s continues apparent disregard for his own safety when flying and fighting can have only one end. On July 31, 1918, he reports destroying a Hannoversche Waggonfabrik C for his 47th victory. He then sets out again. He fails to return from this flight and is posted missing. Later it is learned that McElroy has been killed by ground fire. He is 25 years old. McElroy is interred in Plot I.C.1 at the Laventie Military Cemetery in La Gorgue, northern France.

McElroy receives the Distinguished Flying Cross posthumously on August 3, citing his shooting down 35 aeroplanes and three observation balloons. The Bar arrives still later, on September 21, and lauds his low-level attacks. In summary, he shoots down four enemy aircraft in flames and destroys 23 others, one of which he shares with other pilots. He drives down 16 enemy aircraft “out of control” and out of the fight. He also destroys three balloons.


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The Crash of Aer Lingus Flight 712

Aer Lingus Flight 712 crashes enroute from Cork to London on March 24, 1968 killing all 61 passengers and crew. The aircraft, a Vickers Viscount 803 named “St. Phelim,” crashes into the sea off Tuskar Rock, County Wexford. Although the investigation into the crash lasts two years, a cause is never determined. There has long been popular speculation that the aircraft was shot down by a British experimental missile. Aberporth in west Wales is at the time the most advanced British missile testing station.

The flight leaves Cork Airport at 10:32 AM for London. The flight proceeds normally until a call is heard with the probable contents “twelve thousand feet descending spinning rapidly.” There is no further communications with the aircraft and London ATC informs Shannon ATC that they have no radio contact with EI-AOM. London ATC requests Aer Lingus Flight EI 362, flying a Dublin to Bristol route, to search west of Strumble. This search at 500 feet in good visibility turns up nothing. At 11:25 AM a full alert is declared. By 12:36 PM there is a report of wreckage sighted at position 51°57′N, 06°10′W. Searching aircraft, however, find nothing and the report is cancelled. Aircraft and ships from the UK resume the search the following day and wreckage is sighted and bodies are recovered 6 nautical miles northeast of Tuskar Rock with more wreckage scattered an additional 6 nautical miles to the northwest.

Thirteen bodies are recovered over the next few days. Another body is recovered later. The main wreckage is located on the sea bed by trawling 1.72 nautical miles from Tuskar Rock at 39 fathoms.

In the years since the crash several witnesses have come forward with evidence to support the missile theory, including a crew member of the British ship HMS Penelope. He alleges that part of the wreckage was recovered by Penelope and removed to the UK.

An investigation report is produced in 1970, a review is undertaken between 1998 and 2000, and an independent study is commissioned in 2000.

However, in 2002 a review process conducted by the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) discloses that Aer Lingus paperwork relating to a routine maintenance inspection carried out on the aircraft in December 1967 is found to be missing in 1968. Moreover, a large body of research is done by the investigators after the accident, regarding the maintenance operating plan used for EI-AOM and defects on the aircraft found during analysis of the maintenance records. This research is not referred to in the 1970 report. A new board of investigation is set up by the Irish Government and finds that the crash is the consequence of a chain of events starting with a failure to the left tail-plane caused by metal fatigue, corrosion, flutter, or a bird strike, with the most likely cause being a flutter-induced fatigue failure of the elevator trim tab operating mechanism.

In March 2007 retired RAF Squadron Leader Eric Evers, who is previously chief flying instructor with the British military in RAF Little Rissington, makes a claim that the accident is in fact caused by a mid-air collision between the Aer Lingus Vickers Viscount and a French-built  Fouga Magister military aircraft which is training with the Irish Air Corps. Evers maintains that both the French and Irish authorities colluded in a subsequent cover-up, and the Magister wreckage may still be on the seabed. Evers claims have been largely disputed.

Aer Lingus still uses this flight number for a daily flight from Cork to London’s Heathrow Airport, contrary to airline convention of discontinuing a flight number following a crash. The route is operated with an aircraft from the Airbus A320 family.


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The Crash of KLM Flight 633

klm-flight-633KLM Flight 633, a Lockheed Constellation Triton passenger flight from Amsterdam to New York City, ditches on a mudbank in the River Shannon immediately after takeoff from Shannon Airport on September 5, 1954. Twenty-eight people are killed in the accident which is caused by an unexpected re-extension of the landing gear, possibly compounded by pilot error.

The Lockheed Super Constellation Triton is piloted by Adriaan Viruly, one of the airline’s most senior pilots. After a refueling stop at Shannon, the plane takes off for the transatlantic leg of the flight at 2:40 AM. There are 46 passengers and ten crew on board. Shortly after takeoff the pilot reduces power from maximum to METO (Maximum Except Take Off). The pilot is unaware that the landing gear is not retracted, and as result the aircraft descends to land in the Shannon. It turns around on impact and breaks into two sections.

The aircraft is partially submerged and at least one of the fuel tanks ruptures during the crash. The fuel fumes render many passengers and crew unconscious, who then drown in the rising tide. In the end, three members of the cabin crew and 25 passengers perish.

Even though the crash occurs less than one minute after the plane takes off from Shannon Airport, airport authorities remain unaware of the disaster until the mud-caked navigator of the craft, Johan Tieman, stumbles into the airport two and a half hours after the crash and reports, “We’ve crashed!” Tieman had swum ashore and floundered painfully across the marshes to the airport, whose lights are clearly visible from the scene of the crash. It is not until 7:00 in the morning that the first launch reaches the survivors, who are huddled on a muddy flat in the river.

The official investigation concludes that the accident is caused by an unexpected re-extension of the landing gear and the captain’s incorrect behaviour in this situation. Viruly, who is only one year from retirement, rejects the responsibility for the crash and is bitter about his subsequent treatment by KLM. In an interview he later states that there simply had not been enough time to react.


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Birth of Flying Ace Thomas Falcon Hazell

thomas-falcon-hazellThomas Falcon Hazell, fighter pilot with the Royal Flying Corps and later the Royal Air Force during World War I, is born in Roundstone, County Galway, on August 7, 1892. Hazell scores 43 victories in 1917–1918 making him the fifth most successful British “flying ace” of the war, the third most successful Irish-born pilot behind Edward Mannock and George McElroy, and the only pilot to survive the war from both groups.

Upon the outbreak of the war in August 1914, Hazell volunteers for service as a private with the South Irish Horse. On October 10 he is commissioned as second lieutenant in the 7th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. As part of the 49th Brigade in the 16th (Irish) Division, the 7th Inniskillings are initially based at Tipperary, where Hazell is promoted to lieutenant on June 4, 1915. The regiment lands in France in February 1916.

Soon afterwards Hazell transfers to the Royal Flying Corps. In April and May he is assigned to No. 5 Reserve Squadron, based at Castle Bromwich. He is appointed a flying officer on June 5, and survives a severe crash before completing his training. He eventually joins No. 1 Squadron on the Western Front. Flying Nieuport 17 Scouts, he shoots down 20 enemy aircraft between March and August 1917, being appointed a flight commander with the acting rank of captain on May 25, and is awarded the Military Cross on July 26.

After serving as an instructor at the Central Flying School in 1918, he takes command of “A” Flight, No. 24 Squadron, flying the S.E.5a. On August 22, 1918, Hazell shoots down an observation balloon despite its escort of seven Fokker D.VIIs. The escort is led by German ace Ernst Udet, who attacks and riddles Hazell’s petrol tank, propeller, and two longerons with bullets. In spite of this Hazell fights his way back, eyes full of petrol, and lands safely. Udet thinks he has forced the British pilot to crash and actually claims him as his 60th victory. Hazell finishes the war with 43 confirmed kills, the top British surviving ace of the war (excluding Dominion airmen). Hazell is twice awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. On June 11, 1927, he returns to the RAF Depot at Uxbridge and is placed on the retired list on July 20, 1927 at his own request.

In 1944, at the age of 52, Hazell becomes the commander of “D” Company, 24th (Tettenhall) Battalion, South Staffordshire Home Guard during the later part of World War II.

Hazell dies in Newport, County Mayo, on September 4, 1946, and is buried at the Burrishoole Church of Ireland Cemetery there. In 2014 his grave, which had been largely forgotten and neglected, is restored, repaired, and re-dedicated in a ceremony on August 4, 2014, the 100th anniversary of the declaration of World War I.