This year marks the centenary of one of the outstanding feats in the history of aviation, when two young airmen undertook the first ever successful attempt to fly non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean, writes Gerry Breen.
On Sunday, 15th June, 1919, two young airmen, John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Browne, landed in their Vickers-Vimy aircraft in a bog at Derrigimlagh, south of Clifden, Co. Galway, fulfilling what many considered would be an impossible dream. They had taken off from Lester’s Field in St. John’s, Newfoundland, the previous day, and had covered a distance of almost 1,900 miles in 16 hours and 28 minutes.
The intrepid young airmen had succeeded in completing the first non-stop transatlantic flight, and their truly remarkable achievement earned them a prize of £10,000 and an honoured place in aviation history. In the course of their flight, they experienced atrocious weather, which included thick fog, snow and icy conditions, and at one point the turbulence was so severe, they almost plunged into the ocean. Their impossible dream had become a nasty nightmare, but they faced many life-threatening situations with remarkable calm and their relief can only be imagined as they arrived safely on Irish soil.
Their average speed during the Atlantic crossing was 120 miles per hour. On take-off, their plane carried 865 gallons of petrol and 40 gallons of oil. When they landed at Derrigimlagh, they still had sufficient fuel to cover a further ten hours’ flying time.
John Alcock and Arthur Brown received a hero’s welcome from admirers around the world. When the great American aviator Charles Lindbergh landed in Paris after his own record- breaking flight in 1927, he acknowledged the feat accomplished by the two airmen. Lindbergh told the crowd that had gathered to welcome him that ‘Alcock and Brown showed me the way!’
Who were these fearless pioneers? John Alcock was born in 1892 in Basford House on Seymour Grove, Firstwood, Manchester. He was known to his family and friends as ‘Jack’, and from a young age, he was interested in flying. He gained his pilot’s licence in 1912 when he was just aged twenty.
He had tons of natural ability as a pilot and shortly after receiving his licence, he entered and won his first race. During the next two years, Alcock spent as much time in the air as he could and he was a regular competitor in aircraft competitions at Hendon.