British aviators Alcock and Brown made the first non-stop transatlantic flight in June 1919. They flew a modified World War I Vickers Vimy bomber from St. John's, Newfoundland to Clifden, County Galway. Winston Churchill presented them with the Daily Mail prize for the first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in "less than 72 consecutive hours" and they were knighted by King George V.
John Alcock was born in 1892 in Seymour Grove, Old Trafford, England. He first became interested in flying at the age of seventeen and gained his pilot's licence in November 1912. Alcock was a regular competitor in aircraft competitions at Hendon in 1913/14. He became a military pilot during World War I, though he was shot down during a bombing raid, and taken prisoner in Turkey. After the war, Alcock wanted to continue his flying career and took up the challenge of attempting to be the first to fly directly across the Atlantic. Alcock was the pilot for the Atlantic flight. Alcock was killed on December 18, 1919 whilst flying the new Vickers Viking amphibian to the Paris airshow.
Arthur Whitten Brown:
Arthur Whitten Brown was born in Glasgow in 1886. He began his career in engineering before the outbreak of the First World War. Brown also became a prisoner of war, after being shot down over Germany. Once released and back in Britain, Brown continued to develop his aerial navigation skills. While visiting the engineering firm of Vickers he was asked to serve as navigator for the proposed transatlantic flight with John Alcock, who had already been chosen as pilot. Brown lived until October 4, 1948.
In April 1913 (renewed in 1918), the London newspaper The Daily Mail offered a prize of £10,000 to"the aviator who shall first cross the Atlantic in an aeroplane in flight from any point in the United States of America, Canada or Newfoundland and any point in Great Britain or Ireland" in 72 continuous hours"."
During their ordeal, Alcock and Brown flew a modified Vickers Vimy IV twin-engined bomber powered by two Rolls-Royce Eagle engines, each of 360 hp, taking off from Lester's Field in St. John's, Newfoundland at around 1:45pm, June 14, 1919. When in poor visibility they misidentified a bog as a suitable grass field to land on, their aircraft technically crashed on landing (53°26?N 10°01?W) in said bog near Clifden in Connemara at 8:40am on June 15, 1919. They had spent around fourteen-and-a-half hours over the dangerous chilly waters of the North Atlantic crossing the coast at 4.28pm, despite the fogs, icing problems and engines which nearly quit. Soon to be knighted for this first non-stop trans-Atlantic flight, Alcock and Brown had flown 1890 miles (3040 km) in 15 hours 57 minutes, at an average speed of 115 mph (185 km/h). Their altitude varied between sea level and 12,000 ft (3,700 m) and upon take-off they carried 865 imperial gallons (3,900 L) of fuel were on board.
The flight nearly ended in disaster several times owing to engine trouble, fog, snow and ice. It was only saved by Brown's continual climbing out on the wings to remove ice from the engine air intakes and by Alcock's excellent piloting despite extremely poor visibility at times and even snow filling the open cockpit. The aircraft was badly damaged upon arrival due to the attempt to land in what appeared from the air to be a suitable green field but which turned out to be the bog on Derrygimlagh Moor, but neither of the airmen was hurt. Their first interview was given to Tom 'Cork' Kenny of the Connacht Tribune.
Alcock and Brown were treated as heroes on the completion of their flight. In addition to the Daily Mail award of £10,000, the crew received 2,000 guineas from the Ardath Tobacco Company and £1,000 from Lawrence R. Phillips for being the first British subjects to fly the Atlantic Ocean. Both men were knighted a few days later by King George V.
Alcock and Brown flew to Manchester on 17 July 1919, where they were given a civic reception by the Lord Mayor and Corporation and awards to mark their achievement.
Two memorials commemorating the flight are found near the landing spot in County Galway. The first is an isolated cairn four kilometres south of Clifden on the site of Marconi's first transatlantic wireless station from which the aviators transmitted their success to London, and around 500 metres from the spot where they landed. In addition there is a sculpture of an aircraft's tail-fin on Errislannan Hill two kilometres north of their landing spot, dedicated on the fortieth anniversary of their landing, June 15, 1959.
A third monument marks the flight's starting point in Newfoundland.
A memorial statue was erected at London Heathrow Airport in 1954 to celebrate their flight. There is also a monument at Manchester Airport, less than 8 miles from John Alcock's birthplace. Their aircraft (rebuilt by the Vickers Company) can be seen in the London Science Museum in South Kensington.
Two weeks before Alcock and Brown's flight, the first trans-Atlantic flight had been made by the NC-4, a United States Navy flying boat, commanded by Lt. Commander Albert Cushing Read, who flew from Naval Air Station Rockaway, New York to Plymouth with a crew of five, over 23 days, with six stops along the way. This flight was not eligible for the Daily Mail prize since it took more than 72 consecutive hours and also because more than one aircraft was used in the attempt.
A month after Alcock and Brown's achievement, British airship R34 made the first double-crossing of the Atlantic, carrying 31 people (including a stowaway); twenty-nine of this crew, plus two flight engineers and a different American observer, then flew back to Europe.
On July 2-3, 2005, American adventurer Steve Fossett and co-pilot Mark Rebholz recreated the flight in a replica of the Vickers Vimy aeroplane. This time, they landed a few miles away on the Connemara golf course rather than in the bog near Clifden. However, true to tradition, they had to call on the services of a local motor mechanic to fabricate a replacement part from materials at hand.
This replica Vimy, NX71MY, was built in Australia and the USA in 1994 for an American, Peter McMillan, who flew it from England to Australia with Australian Lang Kidby in 1994 to re-enact the first England-Australia flight by Ross & Keith Smith with Vimy G-EAOU in 1919. In 1999, Mark Rebholz and John LaNoue re-enacted the first flight from London to Cape Town with this same replica and in late 2006, the aeroplane was donated to Brooklands Museum at Weybridge, Surrey, UK (www.brooklandsmuseum.com). After making a special Alcock & Brown 90th anniversary return visit to Clifden in June 2009 (flown by John Dodd and Clive Edwards), and some final public flying displays at the Goodwood Revival that September, the Vimy made its final flight on 15 November 2009 from Dunsfold Park to Brooklands crewed by John Dodd (pilot), Clive Edwards and Peter McMillan. Now retired from flying for the foreseeable future, it is now on public display in the Museum's Bellman hangar but will be maintained to full airworthy standards.
One of the propellers from the Vickers Vimy was given to Arthur Whitten Brown and hung for many years on the wall of his office in Swansea before he presented it to the RAF College Cranwell. It is believed to have been displayed in the RAF Careers Office in Holborn until 1990 and to be in use today as a ceiling fan in Luigi Malone's Restaurant in Cork.
The other propeller, serial number G1184.N6, was originally given to the Vickers Works Manager at Brooklands, Percy Maxwell Muller, and displayed for many years suspended inside the transatlantic terminal (Terminal 3) at London's Heathrow Airport. In October 1990 it was donated by the BAA (via its former Chairman, Sir Peter Masefield) to Brooklands Museum at Weybridge where it is now motorised and displayed as part of a full-size Vimy wall mural.
A small amount of airmail was carried on this flight. The government of the Dominion of Newfoundland overprinted stamps for this carriage. They are valuable, while the covers (envelopes) used on the flight are particularly rare. Numerous forgeries exist.
Upon landing in Paris after his own record breaking flight in 1927, Charles Lindbergh told the crowd welcoming him that "Alcock and Brown showed me the way!"