Happy Anniversary: First Nonstop Transatlantic Flight Took Place 100 Years Ago Today

Jun 15, 2019

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On a wind-swept field in Galway, Ireland, an unusual monument marks the spot where aviation history was made a century ago when aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown completed the first nonstop transatlantic flight.

This achievement is marked on June 15, 2019, the 100-year anniversary of their flight. Only 19 years after brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright completed the world’s first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, Alcock and Brown made the next leap in aviation by completing the first nonstop flight across the Pond from St. John’s, Canada, to Clifden, Ireland.

The monument that marks the spot of such an achievement in aviation history might not be what you are expecting. It is an odd egg-shaped structure standing where the pair touched down after their historic journey. Looking more like a missile arising from an underground bunker than a monument to such an outstanding achievement in aviation, it somehow fits well with the rolling hills that surround the area.

The Alcock and Brown landing site after the first non-stop trans-atlantic flight from St John's, Canada to Clifden, Ireland.
The Alcock and Brown landing site after the first nonstop transatlantic flight from St John’s, Canada, to Clifden, Ireland.

Today, transatlantic flight is a part of everyday modern life. Around 2,500 flights complete the crossing each day, carrying passengers quickly and in relative comfort.

Alcock and Brown’s journey, by comparison, was less than enjoyable. The pair didn’t have the help of modern air traffic control — not that there was any other traffic to worry about. They only had simple navigational instruments, the airframe and two Rolls-Royce Eagle engines to make the journey onboard the Vickers Vimy biplane. (The engines were built in the same factory in Derby, England, where Rolls-Royce is still making parts for the aerospace industry 100 years later.) In the open cockpit, traveling at around 110 mph, the aviators’ one comfort was their custom-made, heated Burberry suits.

The pair completed the crossing in just over 16 hours (talk about long-haul flight). The landing was more of a controlled crash: turns out bogs don’t make great landing strips for aircraft. But no matter, the pair had completed their journey. These days, modern aircraft make the journey in only six to seven hours, and Concorde could do it in only three and a half hours between New York-JFK and London’s Heathrow (LHR).

UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 15: Alcock and Brown's Vickers Vimy, 1919. John Alcock and Brown's Vickers Vimy, 1919. John Alcock (1892-1919) and Arthur Whitten Brown (1886-1948) made the first non-stop crossing of the Atlantic Ocean on 14 June 1919, flying between St John's, Newfoundland, and Clifden, Ireland. The flight took 16 hours and 27 minutes. The picture shows the aircraft after it had crash-landed on Derrygimla bog at Clifden, Co Galway. (Photo by Science & Society Picture Library/SSPL/Getty Images)
The picture shows the aircraft after it crash-landed on Derrygimla bog at Clifden, Co Galway. (Photo by Science & Society Picture Library/SSPL/Getty Images)

The journey earned the two aviators the £10,000 prize offered by the British Daily Mail newspaper, almost $650,000 in today’s money. The pair showed their appreciation for all those involved with the aircraft and its engines by sharing their prize with the engineers and workers who constructed the plane and built the engines.

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Featured Photo by Getty Images

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