Something to Think About

Tomorrow, Harls and I are off on our latest adventure…a little trundle around the Pyrenees, the chain of mountains that stretch from the Atlantic Ocean to The Mediterranean Sea and largely form the border between France and Spain.

The first leg of our trip will be by ship from Plymouth to the port of Santander on the North Coast of Spain.

It’s all very routine really.

You turn up at the departure port, complete formalities of tickets and passports, pass through security and then roll onto the ship, secure Harls, find cabin, book table in the restaurant for dinner and relax.

Easy.

It wasn’t always like that and today is a good day to remember just how far we have come and how much we take travel for granted.

Exactly 100 years ago today the very first non-stop transatlantic flight across the Atlantic Ocean took place. British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown flew a modified First World War Vickers Vimy bomber from St John’s, Newfoundland to Ireland. In doing so they won a prize of £10,000 (roughly equivalent to £1million today) that had been offered by the Daily Mail newspaper for the first to achieve the crossing in less than 72hours.

John Alcock (right) and Arthur Brown (Left).


At 13:45hrs on 14 June, the pair took off and headed East. The aircraft was powered two Rolls-Royce Eagle 360 hp engines and carried over 850 gallons of fuel.

It was to prove a difficult flight. The heavily loaded aircraft had difficulty taking off and only missed the tops of nearby trees by a few feet.

They recorded in the log that at 17:20hrs their wind-driven electrical generator had failed, depriving them of radio contact, their intercom and heating, which in an open cockpit must have been difficult to say the least!

An exhaust pipe burst shortly afterwards, causing a deafening noise which made conversation impossible and they had to communicate by writing notes to each other.

They encountered thick cloud and for hours flew on blind and without instruments.

Shortly after midnight Brown got a glimpse of the stars and could use his sextant, to check their position, which proved to be spot on course.

At 03:00hrs they flew into a large snowstorm. Ice formed on the wings and twice they nearly lost control and crashed into the sea. The carburettors also iced up. Some reports say that that Brown climbed out onto the wings to clear the engines, although there is no mention of that in their log.

They made landfall in County Galway on the West coast of Ireland and crash landed at 08:40hrs local time, just less that 16hours after taking off. It was unfortunate that the smooth grassy field that they chose to land in was actually a bog and their aircraft was badly damaged as it’s wheels dug into the soft ground, fortunately neither man was seriously injured.

Alcock and Brown were treated as heroes on the completion of their flight. In addition to the Daily Mail prize of £10,000, they also were awarded £2,100 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 later knighted by King George V.

Sadly, Alcock was killed on 18th December 1919 when he crashed near Rouen whilst flying a new aircraft to the Paris Airshow. Brown died on 4th October 1948.

Eight years after Alcock and Brown’s pioneering flight, American aviator Charles Lindbergh made the first solo transatlantic flight. Upon landing in Paris after his own epic endeavour he told the crowd welcoming him, “Alcock and Brown showed me the way!”

Over the years I have flown many times across the Atlantic and as I cruise in air-conditioned comfort at altitudes around 30,00ft, I have often thought about those who flew before me.

The Vickers Vimy aircraft in the London Science Museum. Photo:Oxyman.


Today Alcock and Brown’s valiant little aircraft takes pride of place in the Aviation Gallery of the London Science Museum and serves as a reminder when travel really was a much more hazardous business than just checking in and off we go!

“This time tomorrow where will we be?
On a spaceship somewhere sailing across an empty sea.”

Catch you soon, on the road in the Pyrenees hopefully!

Dookes