I am writing this as I fly from Innsbruck to Gatwick returning from skiing. I enjoyed reading the British Airways inflight magazine ‘High Life’. As usual, I began my reading at the rear end of the magazine as it is where the “View from the Cockpit” column is located. The March column is written by Captain Marc Shavemaker’ who is a senior BA pilot manager at Gatwick and I was enjoying reading his article about the retirement of the old 737 fleet and its replacement by Airbus A319s and A320s. However, I stopped enjoying it when I read the final sentence!
Captain Shavemaker’s stated that much of his career has been spent crossing the Atlantic as a First Officer on the 747-400, thus he felt an “affinity” with Charles Lindbergh. Unfortunately, his affinity is based on a falsehood because he believed that Charles Lindbergh had been ‘the first pilot to cross the Atlantic’. Lindbergh was not the first man to fly across the Atlantic. The first non-stop trans Atlantic flight was achieved eight years earlier by Captain John Alcock.
Sir John Alcock flew from St John’s, Newfoundland to Clifden in County Galway, Ireland. The aircraft departed on Saturday 14th June 1919, and landed at 08.40 (local time) on 15th. He had been in the air for 16 hours and 28 minutes. He was accompanied by his navigator Arthur Whittten Brown, and they flew a specially converted Vicker’s Vimy powered by 2 Rolls Royce engines.
Captain Shavemaker’s error is a very common misconception. I am doing my best to correct it by lecturing on the Alcock and Brown flight to international audiences on cruise ships and to audiences residing in the south of England.
Sadly, Sir John Alcock was killed in an aircraft crash just north of Paris 3 days after he presented his Vimy to the Science Museum in Kensington London in December 1919. It is still on display there. Had he lived, it is likely the British people would be more fully and correctly informed of their aviation heritage, …a heritage of which they ought to be feeling very proud. In 4 years time, I hope we will all be celebrating the centenary of Alcock and Brown’s crossing and that we do not have to wait that long for the current generations of the public to be aware of their achievement.
Lindbergh flew solo from New York to Paris in 1927 in a single engine aircraft which was specially designed for his flight. Lindbergh was a U.S. citizen and his flight was the subject of a Hollywood movie which ensured his fame would eclipse that of Alcock and Brown. The movie was made in 1957 and titled “Spirit of St Louis” and was very successful.