From Labrador to a Connemara Bog...

Alcock01.jpg


By Lorna Siggins and Jem Casey

SOME NINE decades after the British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown flew across the Atlantic and landed in a Connemara bog, their historic non-stop flight was celebrated with an air show in Clifden, Co Galway, at the weekend.

In April 1913 (renewed in 1918), the Daily Mail offered a prize of £10,000[4] 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".

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.


The world's only "formation" wing walking team, a jet display and a visit by a replica of the Vimy Vickers model used by Alcock and Brown were among highlights of the event atthe weekend, hosted by Connemara Chamber of Commerce.

"Today we take transatlantic travel for granted, but in 1919, these men undertook a dangerous, life-threatening trip which in time opened the skies for us all," the chamber said in a statement.

"Imagine for a moment the hub of activity that was Connemara 90 years ago when these two men literally dropped from the sky into the bog, and were able to send a message from Marconi's wireless radio station to inform London they had made it across the Atlantic - thus assuring themselves their rightful place in history," said the chamber of commerce statement.

They flew a modified Vickers Vimy IV twin-engined bomber powered by two Rolls-Royce Eagle engines, each of 360hp, taking off from Lester's Field in St. John's, Newfoundland at around 1:45pm, June 14, 1919

The aircraft crashed on landing (53°26′N 10°01′W / 53.433°N 10.017°W / 53.433; -10.017) in a bog near Clifden in Connemara, Ireland [7], at 8:40am on June 15, 1919, crossing the coast at 4.28pm. They flew 1890 miles (3040 km) in 16 hours 27 minutes, at an average speed of 115 mph (185 km/h).[8] The altitude varied between sea level and 12,000 ft (3,700 m) and 865 gallons (3,900 L - assuming imperial gallons) of fuel were on board.

An Alcock and Brown exhibition, by Connemara historian Kathleen Villiers-Tuthill, and a ground display by the Defence Forces was also part of the programme.

The Vimy Vickers replica was flown from the Brooklands Museum in Surrey, England, to Connnemara by John Dodd and Clive Edwards, landing at Galway Airport before flying west to Clifden.

Two memorials commemorating the flight are found 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, June 15, 1959.

Memorial, County Galway

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.

A number of teams were vying to win the Daily Mail prize (one of many aviation prizes awarded by that newspaper). The first attempt was launched from England. The Short Brothers aircraft company had produced the first prototypes of the Short Shirl torpedo-bomber towards the end of World War I.

A Shirl was modified with extended wings and a huge external fuel tank to produce the Short Shamrock, of which only one was built. The underslung fuel tank can be seen in the photograph below.

Short Shamrock.jpg

The Shamrock was powered by a Rolls-Royce Eagle VIII engine, which was one of the most reliable aircraft engines of its day. Carrying a total of 435 gallons of fuel, it had a theoretical range of over 3,000 miles.

On April 18th, 1919, the Shamrock took off from Eastchurch in England to fly across the Irish Sea to The Curragh, Ireland, on the first leg of its trans-Atlantic flight attempt. Unfortunately, the engine failed 12 miles out to sea. The pilot, Major J. C. P. Wood, attempted to glide back to land, but was forced to ditch the aircraft in the sea a mile off Anglesey. The aircraft remained afloat, and was towed to the beach, but could not be repaired quickly. After another team successfully flew the Atlantic, it was dismantled.

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