On the 17th of July 1938, Douglas Corrigan earned the nickname “Wrong Way” Corrigan when he left New York for a flight to California and landed in Ireland.
Corrigan was a pilot and aircraft mechanic from Texas who, inspired by Charles Lindbergh’s trans-atlantic flight, wanted to fly from New York to Ireland. He bought a small monoplane which he personally modified for the trip but the plane was only certified for short journeys and not the the journey across the ocean. He spent three years modifying the plane and applying for full certification to no avail. He spoke out vehemently against the red tape and bureaucracy stopping him from making his dream flight.
On the 17th of July, he was at the Floyd Bennett Field in New York, booked to fly his plane back to California. He took off into the morning fog, flew a long banking turn towards the east and disappeared into the clouds … heading the wrong way. Twenty-eight hours later, he landed in Dublin.
The first person Corrigan met was an army officer. Corrigan introduced himself saying, ‘I left New York yesterday morning headed for California.’ He added, ‘I got mixed up in the clouds, and I must have flown the wrong way.’ The officer responded, ‘Yes, we know.’ Corrigan was surprised, ‘Really?’ he said. ‘How did you find out?’ The officer replied: ‘Oh, there was a small piece in the paper saying someone might be flying over this way. Then we got a phone call from Belfast saying a plane with American markings had passed over, headed down the coast.’ A customs official in a blue uniform came up and asked Corrigan if he had landed anywhere else. ‘I did pass over a city–I guess it must have been Belfast,’ explained Corrigan. ‘But I didn’t see an airport there. This is the first place I’ve landed since leaving New York.’
Corrigan said that it was a mistake, that his compass had failed and due to the cloud cover, he couldn’t see the ground. As a result, he navigated using only a back-up compass which must have had problems, he said, as he was supposedly aiming for California. He never changed that story – claiming only to be ashamed of his poor navigation. In an interview in the 1980’s he was asked again if he really meant to fly to California. “Sure,” he said. “Well, at least I’ve told that story so many times that I believe it myself now.”
His pilot’s certificate was suspended but only for fourteen days and when he arrived back in New York (via steamship) he was given a hero’s welcome.
On the 17th of July 2010, these heroes submitted photographs to Saturday Scenes from both sides of the Atlantic:
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