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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, Connemara, County Galway, Ireland. The Secretary of State for Air, Winston Churchill, presented them with the Daily Mail prize for the first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in 'less than 72 consecutive hours'. There was also a small amount of mail carried on the flight making it the first transatlantic airmail flight. The two aviators were 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.
John Alcock was born in 1892 in Seymour Grove, Old Trafford, Manchester, England. Known to his family and friends as "Jack", 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, and was taken prisoner in Turkey after the engines on his Handley Page bomber failed over the Gulf of Xeros. 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.
Arthur Whitten Brown was born in Glasgow in 1886 to American parents, and shortly afterwards the family moved to Manchester. Known to his family and friends as "Teddie", he began his career in engineering before the outbreak of World War I. 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.
|“||"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 his imprisonment Alcock had resolved to one day fly the Atlantic, and after the war he approached the Vickers engineering and aviation firm at Weybridge, who had considered entering their Vickers Vimy IV twin-engined bomber in the competition but had not yet found a pilot. Alcock's enthusiasm impressed the Vickers' team and he was appointed as their pilot. Work began on converting the Vimy for the long flight, replacing the bomb carriers with extra petrol tanks. Shortly afterwards Brown, who was unemployed, approached Vickers seeking a post and his knowledge of long distance navigation convinced them to take him on as Alcock's navigator.
Several teams had entered the competition and when Alcock and Brown arrived in St. John's, Newfoundland, the Handley Page team were in the final stages of testing their aircraft for the flight but their leader, Admiral Mark Kerr, was determined not to take off until the plane was in perfect condition. The Vickers team quickly assembled their plane and at around 1:45 p.m. on 14 June, whilst the Handley Page team were conducting yet another test, the Vickers plane took off from Lester's Field. Alcock and Brown flew the modified Vickers Vimy, powered by two Rolls-Royce Eagle 360 hp engines. 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. For part of the journey the airspeed indicator was out of action, probably due to being iced-up, and Whitten Brown had to make his own estimate of the speed for the purposes of dead reckoning. They made landfall in Galway at 8:40 a.m. on 15 June 1919, not far from their intended landing place, after less than sixteen hours' flying time. The aircraft was damaged upon arrival due to an attempt to land in what appeared from the air to be a suitable green field but which turned out to be a bog, near Clifden in County Galway, Ireland, but neither of the airmen was hurt. They had spent around fourteen-and-a-half hours over the North Atlantic crossing the coast at 4:28 p.m., having flown 1890 miles (3040 km) in 15 hours 57 minutes at an average speed of 115 mph (185 km/h). 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.
Two memorials commemorating the flight are sited near the landing spot in County Galway, Ireland. 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, 15 June 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 Science Museum in South Kensington, London.
Two weeks before Alcock and Brown's flight, the first transatlantic 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 (one a stowaway) and a cat; 29 of this crew, plus two flight engineers and a different American observer, then flew back to Europe.
On 2–3 July 2005, American adventurer Steve Fossett and co-pilot Mark Rebholz recreated the flight in a replica of the Vickers Vimy aeroplane. They did not land in the bog near Clifden, but a few miles away on the Connemara golf course. 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. 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. 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. It is believed to be in use today as a ceiling fan in Luigi Malone's Restaurant in Cork, Ireland.
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, where it is now motorised and displayed as part of a full-size Vimy wall mural.
A small amount of mail was carried on Alcock & Brown's flight, making it the first transatlantic airmail flight to the UK. The government of the Dominion of Newfoundland overprinted stamps for this carriage with the inscription "Transatlantic air post 1919".
Lynch, Brendan (2009) 'Yesterday We Were in America — Alcock and Brown — First to fly the Atlantic non-stop' (Haynes, ISBN 978-1-84425-681-5)