Aviation History: Alcock and Brown

Aviation history was made in the year 1919 by two brave pilots named John Alcock and Arthur Witten Brown. Their achievement of performing the very first transatlantic flight, non-stop, earned them the recognition of being knighted by King George V at Windsor Castle, and the Daily Mail Prize was awarded to them by Winston Churchill. A challenge had been posted by the Daily Mail in 1913 and renewed again later in the year 1918, offering a massive reward of £10,000 to anyone who flew over the Atlantic from any point in the United States, Newfoundland, Canada, or Ireland and Great Britain. But it had to be done within seventy-two hours, and Alcock and Brown took up the challenge.

Known to friends and family as Jackie Alcock, John Alcock was born in 1892. From a young age Alcock was fascinated with aviation, and in 1912 he qualified and received his pilot license. He participated in aircraft competitions and was a shot down during World War I. Even though he became a prisoner of war, his love for aviation never faded, and after the war he decided to take up the challenge set out by the Daily Mail. He was the pilot for the expedition. While on his way to a Paris air show on 18 December 1919, he was sadly killed flying a Vickers Viking amphibian.

Arthur Whitten Brown was born in 1886 in Glasgow, and known by the nickname of Teddy by his family. He too was shot down during World War I, and was also held as a prisoner of war. He honed his pilot skills on his return home, and was asked to accompany Alcock on his transatlantic expedition by Vickers, while visiting the engineering firm. Brown passed away in 1948.

Flying in a modified Vickers Vimy bomber (from World War I), Alcock and Brown left St. John’s (Newfoundland) in June 1919, and landed in Clifdon (Ireland) within the 72 hour time requirement. The flight was not smooth sailing, as ice, fog and snow did pose some problems, seeing Brown risking his life by climbing onto the wings of the aircraft to remove ice, while Alcock relied on his experience as a pilot and skill to keep them on the correct flight path. By the time they came in to land, the aircraft had suffered massive damage, and the poor visibility led Alcock and Brown to believe that bog was a green field, but fortunately neither one was injured on landing. None-the-less, they returned home as heroes.

There are two memorials that pay tribute to the flight located near their landing area in Ireland (County Galway), a monument marks their take-off location in St John’s and another memorial is at Heathrow Airport in London, which was erected in 1954. Alcock and Brown’s aircraft, which was repaired by the Vickers Company, can be viewed in the London Science Museum.