The wonder is that we are here at all
An historic first that most people have long since forgotten. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
During World War I, two British pilots who had been shot down and captured by the Germans both endured their imprisonment while dreaming of the same postwar goal.
A few months after Armistice Day, they met in England, and they teamed up to tackle one of the greatest aviation adventures humankind had known until that point.
It was on June 14, 1919 (so 103 years ago today), that Capt. John Alcock and Lt. Arthur “Ted” Brown took off from St. John's, Newfoundland in a wood-and-canvas Vickers Vimy biplane, and achieved an historic milestone: the first nonstop transatlantic flight.
Wait, some readers might think, as I first thought when I stumbled upon this story. Didn't Charles Lindbergh set this milestone in 1927, flying from New York to France?
Not quite; Lindberg made the first transatlantic nonstop solo flight, but Alcock and Brown had already flown across the Atlantic Ocean eight years before. Honestly, they’re arguably a bigger deal, as Robert O. Harder, who wrote a book about it, pointed out:
“The difference in technology, engines, instrumentation and navigation capability between 1919 and 1927 is like night and day. [T]hose airplanes were still really, really rickety ... They were the point of the spear in advancing aviation technology.”
Now, Alcock and Brown were not the only ones attempting the flight. Britain's Daily Mail had offered a £10,000 prize (maybe $600,000 today) to whomever pulled it off, and there were four other teams making the attempt.
One team crashed not long after takeoff. Another team might have won, but they delayed their takeoff to test some safety and mechanical issues.
As for Alcock and Brown, pretty much everything that could go wrong did go wrong:
Right at the outset, 1:45 p.m., their overloaded, open-cockpit aircraft nearly crashed.
The entire trip was miserable: rain, turbulence and fog, which made navigation difficult.
Their wind-driven electrical generator failed, which meant that their heating suits, radio, and intercom didn't work. They also spent much of the journey wet and shivering.
Their original plan had been to fly to London, but any European destination counted for the prize money. So, having endured a rough journey and with no idea whether another competing team might have taken off successfully after them, they decided to land as soon as they saw Ireland.
Alcock put the plane down in what looked like a field, but turned out to be a bog. The aircraft flipped over and was ruined (although later restored). Both men escaped unscathed.
They were heroes. They met Winston Churchill (Britain's secretary of state for war and air at the time), were knighted by King George V, and of course got their cash prize. Alcock's first-person account ran on the front page of the New York Times (courtesy of the Daily Mail):
"We have had a terrible journey. The wonder is that we are here at all. … The flight has shown that the Atlantic flight is practicable. It should be done not with an aeroplane or a seaplane but with a flying boat."
Come to think of it, Alcock was prescient on that count. The first regularly scheduled commercial transatlantic passenger flights weren't for another two decades, but sure enough they were on Pan Am’s Boeing 314 "Clipper" flying boats.
Sadly, Alcock died in another airplane crash only six months after he and Brown set this record and milestone. Brown survived another 29 years—long enough to see Lindbergh become a heck of a lot more famous.
Behind the scenes postscript ... I found this story last week, as I was looking for details to include in a coda to what I wrote about Theodore Roosevelt Jr.'s exploits on D-Day.
So, here's the coda: It's worth nothing that Teddy Jr. was actually the second of the first President Roosevelt's sons to die during war in France—albeit not the same war.
Quentin Roosevelt, the youngest son, served as a U.S. fighter pilot and died at age 20 in July 1918, after being shot down by a German World War I. (Former President Theodore Roosevelt was said never to have gotten over Quentin’s death, and died himself the next year at age 60.)
After Quentin's older brother, Theodore Jr., died of a heart attack the month after the invasion of Normandy in World War II, Quentin Roosevelt's grave was moved. Both brothers are now buried next to each other at the Normandy American Cemetery.
7 other things worth knowing today
I’m told that the “disappearing 7 other things” problem has been fixed. Please let me know if it’s still not showing up for you!
Cryptocurrency companies on Monday blocked users from withdrawing funds as the value of bitcoin and other prominent digital assets plunged. Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange by trading volume, said Monday morning that it was freezing some bitcoin withdrawals “due to a stuck transaction causing a backlog.” (The Hill)
Texas officials are refusing to turn over the body cameras of Uvalde police who "responded" to the school shooting and murders last month, despite a FOIA request. Their argument is that future school shooters might learn from the police response. (Vice)
Those ‘free’ COVID tests you take? Labs are raking in millions in tax dollars, study says. (USA Today)
Recruiting and training GenZ post-COVID: "Across the military, basic training is changing with a focus on mentorship, not yelling." (The Virginian-Pilot)
Visitors in the northern part of Yellowstone National Park are being evacuated and all entrances into the park are closed due to substantial flooding, rockslides and extremely hazardous conditions. The power is out throughout the park following “unprecedented” amounts of rainfall and flooding, according to a news release. (East Idaho News)
This will mean a lot to a small number of readers: A professional Dutch soccer league has been given the go-ahead to try changing two parts of the game. "Kick-ins" instead of "throw-ins" when the ball goes out of bounds, and a U.S.-style "stop clock" that pauses the timer whenever the ball is not in play. Kind of a big deal for purists. (The Guardian)
Woman who once wrote an online essay entitled 'How to Murder Your Husband' has been sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after her conviction for murdering her husband. (AP)
Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Public domain contemporary work. Want to see all my mistakes … well many of them, as I need to update this section? Well, most of them; I admit I need to update this page: Click here.
This means so much to me. I’m a member of the American Airmail Society: AAMS. I study the history of flights and airmail cachet’s. I must purchase the book ‘Crossed Over’ that was referenced.
So interesting!! I always learn so much from your newsletters. I love all the historical information you add - because I am so behind in my knowledge of historical facts (in so many areas) But once I read something in your newsletter (and elsewhere) I am that much more informed. The more I read, the more I realize I don't know - but I remain steadfast to read something new (or a few things depending on the time I have) everyday.