Crash-Landing of Alcock & Brown

Updated: Jul 23

"Who shall first cross the Atlantic in an aeroplane in flight from any point in the United States of America, Canada or Newfoundland to any point in Great Britain or Ireland in 72 continuous hours"

In June 1919 the rural town of Clifden made international headlines when the first non-stop transatlantic flight, crash-landed in a local bog. After a challenging 16 hour flight, aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown achieved the remarkable journey excelling them to aviation legends.


Alcock & Brown departed St. Johns in Newfoundland at 13:40 on June 14th intending to be the first aviators to successfully fly across the Atlantic nonstop in less than 72 hours. They smashed that record winning them not only a prize of £10,000 but knighthood.


Landing site outside Clifden

Background

The Daily Mail newspaper offered a variety of prize of prizes for innovations in aviation between 1906 and 1930. It is most famous of course was its 1913 competition of £10,000 to the aviator who could cross the Atlantic. Their criteria; "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 to any point in Great Britain or Ireland in 72 continuous hours". Due to world war 1, the completion was suspended but there was a resurgence of interest in 1918 after the Armistice. 



The original Plane Crash-landing (Archive Photo)

The Plane

The plane was a Vickers Vimy IV twin-engine bomber, powered by two Rolls Royce eagle 360 Hp. The aircraft was developed by British manufacturer Vickers Aircraft as a heavy bomber aircraft in the latter part of world war 1. Vickers was considering entering it into the Daily mail competition and when Alcock expressed eagerness, to fly the same route, they hired him as their pilot. The aircraft was modified, removing the bomb racks allowed for extra fuel tanks.



What remains of the Wireless Radio Station

The Flight

The flight departed from St Johns at 13:45 on June 14, slightly unexpected during a test just missing the tops of the trees. Although it was a relatively trouble-free take-off, the challenge soon started. By 17:20 a failed electrical generated resulted in a loss of radio contact. They also lost their intercoms making conversation incredibly difficult even before the exhaust burst making for a very loud noise. Their heating system also was down due to the generator failure and as a result, they were explored to very cold conditions.


Monument dedicated tot their memory near Clifden

Battling the elements of Fog, rain, and snow they fought on. Alcock almost lost control twice with a nose dive, which probably wasn’t helped by the broken trim control. By 8:40 the next morning land was in sight. Although they desired to continue flying to London, the weather meant that a landing in Clifton was probably a safer choice. They descended towards Marconi Wireless station in an attempt to attract attention. Mistaking a bog for a green landing strip, they crash-landed as the wheels sunk into the marshy earth. Uninjured, they departed Clifden for London, ready to receive their prize.

They flew at various altitudes 0 and 3,700 meters above sea level at a speed of around 185 Km/h. Their journey was 3040 Km.


William (John) Alcock

Born; Manchester, 1892, Alcock's interest in flying developed at age 17 and by 20 had gained a flying licence.

He became a military pilot during WWI but was captured in Turkey after his engine failed over the Gulf of Xeros. He remained a prisoner of war until the Armistice. (November 1918) He retired from the military a couple of months later. While imprisoned he became enthusiastic about crossing the Atlantic and soon after his release, he approached Vickers engineering about his ambitions. He achieved his goal in June 1919 crash-landing in Ireland after a challenging 16-hour flight. Tragically Alcock was killed six months later when his plane crashed near Normandy while en-route to Paris.  


Arthur Brown

Born in Glasgow 1886 Brown worked in engineering. He became a prisoner of war during WWI when his plane was shot down over Germany. He was very skilled in Navigation and on his release from prison he approached Vickers seeking work. It was here he and Alcock teamed up to attempt the famous Atlantic crossing. After his success in June 1919 he began working with MetroVick and in 1923 was appointed chief representative in Swansea. He served in world war 2 as a lieutenant-colonel until 1941. He returned to navigation when he re-joined the RAF, but due to medical issues, he had to retire in 1943. He continued certain duties as a general manager in MetroVick. Brown's health declined sharply, after the tragic death of his son Buster in 1944 (When his aircraft crashed in the Netherlands). Brown passed away in 1948 from accidental overdoes from Veronal.




© 2020 by Lance Kerrigan.