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Charles Lindbergh gets plenty of acclaim for being the first pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in his single-engine Spirit of St. Louis. But although his 1927 feat was undeniably impressive, it was not the first non-stop transatlantic flight.
That honor goes to British pilots John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown, who crossed the Atlantic eight years before, in an eventful, often harrowing flight that started in Newfoundland and ended in an Irish bog. For 16 hours in June 1919, Alcock and Brown flew a modified WWI Vickers Vimy bomber in difficult weather, using only a sextant for navigation. The sextant, however, was useless during a flight marked by unrelenting fog and cloudy conditions that prevented them from knowing where they were.
Alcock and Brown were ultimately knighted for their achievement, which was also the first transatlantic airmail flight.
Alcock and Brown's transatlantic success:
- The sextant is an instrument that measures celestial objects in relation to the horizon, but if you can’t see the stars, it won't work. During Alcock and Brown's flight, the plane’s radio went out, and at one point the plane was covered in ice and the engine stopped.
- Alcock and Brown were competing for prize money offered by Alfred Harmsworth, Lord Northcliffe, a British tycoon who owned The Daily Mail, one of England’s most influential newspapers. Many pilots tried and failed before Alcock and Brown succeeded.
- Lord Northcliffe offered £10,000 to any pilot who crossed the Atlantic from somewhere in North America to Great Britain or Ireland. The journey had to be completed within 72 hours.