Alcock and Brown: Seven facts about the world’s first transatlantic flight that crash-landed in Galway in 1919
Life & Style

Alcock and Brown: Seven facts about the world’s first transatlantic flight that crash-landed in Galway in 1919

ON the morning of June 15, 1919, the first-ever flight to cross the Atlantic non-stop touched down in Galway after 16 hours in the air.

Irish author Brendan Lynch is now appealing to Irish filmmakers to help support a motion picture based on his account of John Alcock and Arthur Brown’s famous voyage, Yesterday We Were in America.

Here are seven facts about the world’s first transatlantic flight and the pilots who flew it:

1. They were both shot down during World War One

Glasgow born Arthur Brown was shot down over Germany during World War One, surviving only to be captured by the Germans and imprisoned.

Advertisement

Manchester native John Alcock also became a prisoner of war, after his aircraft’s engine failed over Turkey’s Gulf of Xeros.

Undeterred by their experiences in the skies during the war, both men sought to continue their aviation careers regardless.

2. They were paid handsomely

In April 1913 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.”

The outbreak of World War One delayed the competition until 1918, precisely when a newly-released Alcock and Brown found they had a lot more time on their hands.

Unemployed in the wake of the war, Alcock employed Brown as his navigator after being impressed by his know-how.

Advertisement
Alcock and Brown taking off from St John's, Newfoundland [Picture: Wikipedia Commons] Alcock and Brown taking off from St John's, Newfoundland [Picture: Wikipedia Commons]

3. It was a race against time

Alcock and Brown weren’t the only flight team ready to take off from St John’s, Newfoundland on the morning of June 14. Several other teams had also entered the competition.

Fearing they might have lost their chance, the English pair quickly assembled their plane and took off at around 1.45pm, whilst their competitors were busy conducting a test.

Their hasty take off almost resulted in disaster when their Vickers Vimy plane barely cleared the trees at the end of the runway.

4. It was far from an easy flight

Alcock and Brown survived continuous cloud, snow and ice and a near-fatal stall in their open-cockpit Vickers Vimy, as well as a thick fog that meant they had to blind-fly almost the entire way.

Advertisement

The overloaded aircraft’s exhaust pipe burst, creating a noise so loud it made conversation impossible without intercom – which also failed.

If that wasn’t enough, their wind-driven generator also gave up, causing the pair to lose both radio contact and much-needed heating.

After emergency landing in Galway [Picture: Wikipedia Commons] After emergency landing in Galway [Picture: Wikipedia Commons]

5. A Galway peat bog almost killed them

Alcock and Brown made landfall in Co. Galway at 8.40am on 15 June 1919, after just less than 16 hours in the skies.

Their aircraft suffered severe damage because of an attempt to land on what appeared from the air to be a suitable green field, but which turned out to be a bog near the town of Clifden.

Advertisement

Neither of the men were injured, with both being received as heroes by the local population of Galway.

6. It wasn’t all happy endings

After their incredible achievement, Alcock and Brown were received by then-Secretary of State for Air, Winston Churchill, who presented them with the Daily Mail prize for their crossing of the Atlantic in “less than 72 consecutive hours.”

But despite their incredible feat of survival, tragedy was only just around the corner.

John Alcock was killed on December 18, 1919 when he crashed in France on his way to the Paris Airshow.

Arthur Brown did however survive until relative old age despite his daredevil lifestyle, dying on October 4, 1948 at the age of 62.

Advertisement
Memorial to Alcock and Brown near Clifden, Co. Galway [Picture: Wikipedia Commons] Memorial to Alcock and Brown near Clifden, Co. Galway [Picture: Wikipedia Commons]

7. Galway (and the world) never forgot

Today, millions of people cross the Atlantic every year thanks to commercial air travel, but it’s easy to forget that it had never been done less than a century ago.

Monuments around the world remember their success, from three statues in Newfoundland, Canada, to a memorial statue located at London Heathrow Airport erected in 1954.

As for the people of Galway, they never forgot the men who came from the other side of the sea to land on one of their bogs. With Failte Ireland’s assistance, a boardwalk was recently erected on the site of their famous landing.

And for the 100th anniversary of the flight this year, centenary commemorations were held in Clifden, Co. Galway, to mark Alcock and Brown's pioneering journey from Newfoundland to all the way to Connemara.