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Adventurers to Recreate Historic 1919 Transatlantic Flight

  • Derek Dombrowski
  • Adam Hepburn

Charles Lindbergh is often thought of as the first man to fly nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean. But in fact, he was only the first man to fly the route alone. Two pilots, John Alcock and Sir Arthur Whitten Brown, hold the record for the first nonstop transatlantic flight back in 1919, eight years before Lindbergh. Now, two Americans are planning to recreate Alcock and Brown's dangerous journey.

In 1919, John Alcock and Sir Arthur Whitten Brown made the first nonstop transatlantic flight when they flew from Newfoundland, Canada to County Galway, Ireland. The more than 3,000 kilometer trip lasted just over 16 hours.

Over the course of their flight the pair got lost in sleet and darkness, Sir Arthur Whitten Brown was forced to climb out of the cockpit to clear ice from the plane, they went into uncontrolled spins, at times were forced to fly upside down, and finished the flight with a crash landing.

Robert van der Linden of the National Air and Space Museum says, given their equipment and circumstances, it was an extremely dangerous undertaking. "The aircraft wasn't all that reliable. All sorts of things could happen; they were very lucky that both engines worked the whole way across."

Sir Arthur Whitten Brown recalls the journey in this recording in his own voice from the 1940s: "We had fog nearly all the way across. I saw the sky once, for long enough to fix our position by the stars."

Now, 86 years later, millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett and California businessman Peter McMillian are set to recreate the historic flight. As soon as weather allows the partners plan to fly their World War One Biplane replica from the easternmost point of Canada to western Ireland, following the path of the original flight.

Peter McMillian explains his interest in recreating the journey. "It really sent a signal to the world that ultimately airplanes would make it a smaller place."

With today's technology it would be easy to cross the ocean with the aid of an autopilot system and a satellite beacon, but like Alcock and Brown, Mr. Fossett and Mr. McMillian will only use a compass and sextant. Mr. Fossett explains. "It's a pilot's challenge. This is flying airplanes the way they used to be flown".

"A little bit of risk-taking is the lifeblood of human achievement," adds Mr. McMillian.