Photo above: A workman on the construction crew of the Empire State Building. Courtesy Federal Works Agency, WPA/National Archives. Right: Unemployed workers in Chicago in line at food kitchen run by Al Capone. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons via National Archives, U.S. Information Agency.
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1938 - Detail
July 18, 1938 - Wrong Way Douglas Corrigan, with his faulty compass, lands his plane in Dublin, Ireland after departing from Brooklyn, New York on a trip to the west coast of the United States.
Well, this is a story of an aviator, an experienced aviator, who made a mistake. Or is it? Although history now records Douglas Corrigan as a pilot who headed back to the west coast on a cross country flight, but ended up in Ireland, that's not the whole story. Yes, it is the story he stuck to. But, it may or may not be true.
Douglas Corrigan was a skilled airplane mechanic and pilot, thirty-one years old in 1938, having flown for twelve years. He had helped Charles Lindbergh build his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, assembling the wings, fuel tanks, and instrument panel for that flight. After Lindbergh's success on his nonstop flight from New York to Paris in 1927, and the subsequent fame, Corrigan began thinking about making a second flight across the Atlantic himself, setting his sights on Ireland, his ancestral home. He bought a used plane in 1933, the Curtis-Robin monoplane, and began to outfit it for a transatlantic flight.
But there was a problem. When he applied for the right to fly transatlantic to the Air Board of Commerce in 1935, he was turned down. They said the plane wouldn't make it across an ocean, but was okay for cross continent travel. Corrigan made modifications, but was repeatedly turned down, even losing the right for cross country travel. By 1938, he had had enough of the bureaucratic delays.
Corrigan Takes to the Air
On July 28, 1938, Corrigan in the Robin had received permission for a cross country flight from California to Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, now part of the history of Gateway National Recreation Area. He had conditional approval to return to California, but no approval for a Trans-Atlantic flight. The flight east took twenty-seven hours. A fuel leak developed. Intent on his return trip, or an unannounced trip to Ireland, Corrigan did not attempt a repair. He took off again with no radio and a twenty year old compass.
Twenty-eight hours later on July 18, Corrigan landed at Baldonnel Aerodrome in Dublin. Journalists marveled at his audacity and thought it even more spectacular than the achievement of Lindbergh, considering Lindbergh's backing and well apportioned plane. Corrigan's plane was compared to a soap box derby car. Air officials did not think it nearly that romantic. The Bureau of Air Commerce head Dennis Mulligan reprimanded him, a six hundred word missive, although the suspension of his license was short. Some reports say five days, others fourteen.
Corrigan returned to New York on August 4 on the steamship Manhatta with his plane on another, receiving two ticket tape parades, one in New York and one in Chicago. His New York parade was larger than Lindbergh's. One year after his flight, Corrigan starred as himself in the movie, "The Flying Irishman" by RKO Pictures, for which he was paid $75,000, equal to thirty years of work in the aircraft industry. Corrigan never admitted that he flew to Ireland on purpose, maintaining his explanation of a faulty compass. To this date, wrong airport landings continue to occur. Despite the advance in technology, each decade a dozen or so mistaken landings occur for a variety of reasons.
The Guardian, July 19, 1938 - Quotes from Douglas Corrigan about his flight. "Is this Los Angeles?' he asked, and when told where he was he declared: "I never intended to fly across the Atlantic. When I left Floyd Bennett Airfield yesterday I was going to fly to Los Angeles, but when I got above something went wrong with my compass. I thought I was heading west in the right direction. I flew on above the clouds all the time, and never even saw water. The first thing I sighted was Ireland. I am pretty tired. I set off with 320 gallons of petrol in the tank and there are only forty left. My little plane does not cruise at more than 80 to 90 miles an hour."
San Bernadino Sun, July 31, 1938 - "Wrong-Way" Flier Wears Sara Baggy Flannels and Stained Jacket He Wore on Hop (By Associated Press) COBH, Ireland, July 30. Douglas G, Corrigan, unknown and broke 13 days ago when he lifted his $900 monoplane from Floyd Bennett Field, New York, and "by mistake" crossed the Atlantic to Dublin sailed today for America, a hero welcome and a possible fortune. Wearing the baggy flannel panti and stained leather jacket he had worn on the way over, the 31-year-old Californian boarded the United States liner Manhattan to the cheers of passengers crowding the rails. GIVEN SILVER CUP In a cardboard box under his arm, Corrigan carried a silver clip testimony of the affection avid admiration of the people of Dublin for him. Autograph-seeking passengers crowded around him. Leslie R, Wood, American consul at Cork, escorted the flier aboard. It was Corrigan's first ocean voyage.
GENTLE REPRIMAND (By United Press) WASHINGTON, July 30. The bureau of air commerce today imposed a nominal penalty on Douglas G. Corrigan, the flying Irishman who headed for California but landed in Dublin. Imposing as gentle a reprimand as possible, Acting Secretary of Commerce J. Monroe Johnson ordered Corrigan's pilot certificate suspended for five days. Under the order, the suspension will be lifted by Aug. 4. permitting the California pilot to carry out his plans to visit cities in a cross country junket when he returns to this country next week. age by boat. He wondered whether he would get seasick. In farewell, Corrigan said, "I've had a good time here and I'm saying goodbye. Someday I guess I'll be coming back" but he would not say whether it would be by air. The Manhattan is scheduled to dock at New York Thursday afternoon. PLENTY OF OFFERS "The first thing I do when I get home is to accept invitations from the mayors of cities all over the United States. After that I havs had many offers, including appearance with my plane in a circus." (The plane was shipped July 21 on the United States maritime commission ship Lehigh.) "But the offer which appeals most to me is one from a Midwest Airplane concern the name of which I cannot give. I guess I'll have plenty of time to think it over anyway."
Photo above: Corrigan's plane, the Robin, transported back to the United States, August 8, 1938, Acme News Photos, Eugene Guard. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Photo Below: Douglas Corrigan holding a map, 1942, Office of War Information. Courtesy Library of Congress. Info Source: Wikipedia Commons; San Bernadino Sun; "The Legacy of Douglas Corrigan: "Wrong Way" Landings by Commercial Airliners: by Jol A. Silversmith; "Do You Remember Wrong Way Corrigan", Bill Bennett, Flying Magazine, January 1952; The Guardian Newspaper, July 19, 1938 "The Strangest Atlantic Flight on Record."