British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown made the first non-stop transatlantic flight in June 1919.[1] They flew a modified First World War Vickers Vimy[2] bomber from St. John's, Newfoundland, to Clifden, Connemara, County Galway, Ireland.[3] The Secretary of State for Air, Winston Churchill, presented them with the Daily Mail prize for the first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by aeroplane in "less than 72 consecutive hours".[4] A small amount of mail was carried on the flight, making it the first transatlantic airmail flight. The two aviators were awarded the honour of Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE) a week later by King George V at Windsor Castle.


John Alcock was born in 1892 in Basford House on Seymour Grove, Firswood, Manchester, England. Known to his family and friends as "Jack", he first became interested in flying at the age of seventeen and gained his pilot's licence in November 1912. Alcock was a regular competitor in aircraft competitions at Hendon in 1913–14. He became a military pilot during the First World War and was taken prisoner in Turkey after the engines on his Handley Page bomber failed over the Gulf of Xeros.[5] After the war, Alcock wanted to continue his flying career and took up the challenge of attempting to be the first to fly directly across the Atlantic.

Arthur Whitten Brown was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1886 to American parents, and shortly afterwards the family moved to Manchester. Known to his family and friends as "Teddie", he began his career in engineering before the outbreak of the First World War. Brown also became a prisoner of war, after being shot down over Germany. Once released and back in Britain, Brown continued to develop his aerial navigation skills.

In April 1913 the London newspaper the Daily Mail offered a prize of £10,000[6] to

The competition was suspended with the outbreak of war in 1914 but reopened after Armistice was declared in 1918.[7]

During his imprisonment Alcock had resolved to fly the Atlantic one day, and after the war he approached the Vickers engineering and aviation firm at Weybridge, who had considered entering their Vickers Vimy IV twin-engined bomber in the competition but had not yet found a pilot. Alcock's enthusiasm impressed the Vickers' team and he was appointed as their pilot. Work began on converting the Vimy for the long flight, replacing the bomb racks with extra petrol tanks.[8] Shortly afterwards Brown, who was unemployed, approached Vickers seeking a post and his knowledge of long distance navigation convinced them to take him on as Alcock's navigator.[9]


A map of the North Atlantic
St. John's
St. John's
Location map
Alcock and Brown takeoff from St. John's, Newfoundland in 1919
Alcock and Brown landing in Ireland 1919

Several teams had entered the competition and when Alcock and Brown arrived in St. John's, Newfoundland, the Handley Page team were in the final stages of testing their aircraft for the flight, but their leader, Admiral Mark Kerr, was determined not to take off until the plane was in perfect condition. The Vickers team quickly assembled their plane and at around 1:45 p.m. on 14 June, whilst the Handley Page team were conducting yet another test, the Vickers plane took off from Lester's Field.[10] Alcock and Brown flew the modified Vickers Vimy, powered by two Rolls-Royce Eagle 360 hp engines which were supported by an on-site Rolls Royce team lead by engineer Eric Platford.[11]

It was not an easy flight. The overloaded aircraft had difficulty taking off the rough field and only barely missed the tops of the trees.[12][13] At 17:20 the wind-driven electrical generator failed, depriving them of radio contact, their intercom and heating.[13] An exhaust pipe burst shortly afterwards, causing a frightening noise which made conversation impossible without the failed intercom.[12][13]

At 5.00pm they had to fly through thick fog.[12] This was serious because it prevented Brown from being able to navigate using his sextant.[12][13] Blind flying in fog or cloud should only be undertaken with gyroscopic instruments, which they did not have, and Alcock twice lost control of the aircraft and nearly hit the sea after a spiral dive.[12][13] Alcock also had to deal with a broken trim control that made the plane become very nose-heavy as fuel was consumed.[13]

At 12:15am Brown got a glimpse of the stars and could use his sextant, and found that they were on course.[12][13] Their electric heating suits had failed, making them very cold in the open cockpit, but their coffee was laced with whiskey.[12]

Then at 3:00am they flew into a large snowstorm.[12] They were drenched by rain, their instruments iced up, and the plane was in danger of icing and becoming unflyable.[12] The carburettors also iced up; it has been said that Brown had to climb out onto the wings to clear the engines, although he made no mention of that.[12][13]

They made landfall in County Galway at 8:40 a.m. on 15 June 1919, not far from their intended landing place, after less than sixteen hours' flying time. The aircraft was damaged upon arrival because of an attempt to land on what appeared from the air to be a suitable green field, but which turned out to be a bog, near Clifden in County Galway in Ireland, but neither of the airmen was hurt.[10][14] Brown said that if the weather had been good they could have pressed on to London.[13]

Their altitude varied between sea level and 12,000 ft (3,700 m). They took off with 865 imperial gallons (3,900 L) of fuel. They had spent around fourteen-and-a-half hours[citation needed] over the North Atlantic crossing the coast at 4:28 p.m.,[15] having flown 1,890 miles (3,040 km) in 15 hours 57 minutes at an average speed of 115 mph (185 km/h).[16] Their first interview was given to Tom 'Cork' Kenny of The Connacht Tribune.

Cover of civic reception programme for Alcock and Brown, given by the Corporation of Manchester on 17 July 1919

Alcock and Brown were treated as heroes on the completion of their flight.[17] In addition to the Daily Mail award of £10,000, the crew received 2,000 guineas (£2,100) from the Ardath Tobacco Company and £1,000 from Lawrence R. Phillips for being the first British subjects to fly the Atlantic Ocean. Both men were knighted a few days later by King George V.[18]

Alcock and Brown flew to Manchester on 17 July 1919, where they were given a civic reception by the Lord Mayor and Corporation, and awards to mark their achievement.


Alcock was killed on 18 December 1919 when he crashed near Rouen whilst flying the new Vickers Viking amphibian to the Paris Airshow. Brown died on 4 October 1948.

Landing site, County Galway

Two memorials commemorating the flight are sited near the landing spot in County Galway, Ireland. The first is an isolated cairn four kilometres south of Clifden on the site of Marconi's first transatlantic wireless station from which the aviators transmitted their success to London, and around 500 metres from the spot where they landed. In addition there is a sculpture of an aircraft's tail-fin on Errislannan Hill two kilometres north of their landing spot, dedicated on the fortieth anniversary of their landing, 15 June 1959.

Memorial, County Galway

Three monuments mark the flight's starting point in Newfoundland. One was erected by the government of Canada in 1954 at the junction of Lemarchant Road and Patrick Street in St. John's,[19] a second monument is located on Lemarchant Road,[20] while the third was unveiled by then Premier of Newfoundland Joey Smallwood on Blackmarsh Road.[21]

Alcock and Brown's Vickers Vimy in the Science Museum

A memorial statue was erected at London Heathrow Airport in 1954 to celebrate their flight. There is also a monument at Manchester Airport, less than 8 miles from John Alcock's birthplace. Their aircraft (rebuilt by the Vickers Company) is located in the Science Museum in South Kensington, London.

The Royal Mail issued a 5d (approximately 2.1p in modern UK currency) stamp commemorating the 50th anniversary of the flight on 2 April 1969.


On 19 March 2017 an edition of the Antiques Roadshow was broadcast in the UK in which the granddaughter of Alcock's cousin presented a handwritten note which was carried by Alcock on the flight. The note, which was valued at £1000 - £1200 read as follows:

The Cochrane
St John's June 12th 1919

My dear Elsie
Just a hurried line before
I start. This letter will
travel with me in the
official mail bag, the
first mail to be carried
over the Atlantic.

Love to all,

Your loving Brother

Jack [22]

Other crossings

Two weeks before Alcock and Brown's flight, the first transatlantic flight had been made by the NC-4, a United States Navy flying boat, commanded by Lt. Commander Albert Cushing Read, who flew from Naval Air Station Rockaway, New York to Plymouth with a crew of five, over 23 days, with six stops along the way. This flight was not eligible for the Daily Mail prize since it took more than 72 consecutive hours and also because more than one aircraft was used in the attempt.[23]

A month after Alcock and Brown's achievement, British airship R34 made the first double crossing of the Atlantic, carrying 31 people (one a stowaway) and a cat;[24] 29 of this crew, plus two flight engineers and a different American observer, then flew back to Europe.[25]

On 2–3 July 2005, American adventurer Steve Fossett and co-pilot Mark Rebholz recreated the flight in a replica of the Vickers Vimy aeroplane. They did not land in the bog near Clifden, but a few miles away on the Connemara golf course. They had to call on the services of a local motor mechanic to fabricate a replacement part from materials at hand.[26]

A replica Vimy, NX71MY, was built in Australia and the USA in 1994 for an American, Peter McMillan, who flew it from England to Australia with Australian Lang Kidby in 1994 to re-enact the first England-Australia flight by Ross & Keith Smith with Vimy G-EAOU in 1919. In 1999, Mark Rebholz and John LaNoue re-enacted the first flight from London to Cape Town with this same replica, and in late 2006 the aeroplane was donated to Brooklands Museum at Weybridge, Surrey. After making a special Alcock and Brown 90th anniversary return visit to Clifden in June 2009 (flown by John Dodd and Clive Edwards), and some final public flying displays at the Goodwood Revival that September, the Vimy made its final flight on 15 November 2009 from Dunsfold Park to Brooklands crewed by John Dodd (pilot), Clive Edwards and Peter McMillan. Retired from flying for the foreseeable future, it is now on public display in the Museum's Bellman hangar but will be maintained to full airworthy standards.

One of the propellers from the Vickers Vimy was given to Arthur Whitten Brown and hung for many years on the wall of his office in Swansea before he presented it to the RAF College Cranwell. It is believed to have been displayed in the RAF Careers Office in Holborn until 1990.[27] It is believed to be in use today as a ceiling fan in Luigi Malone's Restaurant in Cork, Ireland.[28]

The other propeller, serial number G1184.N6, was originally given to the Vickers Works Manager at Brooklands, Percy Maxwell Muller and displayed for many years suspended inside the transatlantic terminal (Terminal 3) at London's Heathrow Airport. In October 1990 it was donated by the BAA (via its former Chairman, Sir Peter Masefield) to Brooklands Museum, where it is now motorised and displayed as part of a full-size Vimy wall mural.

A small amount of mail, 196 letters and a parcel, was carried on Alcock and Brown's flight, the first time mail was carried by air across the ocean. The government of the Dominion of Newfoundland overprinted stamps for this carriage with the inscription "Transatlantic air post 1919".[29][30]

Upon landing in Paris after his own record breaking flight in 1927, Charles Lindbergh told the crowd welcoming him that "Alcock and Brown showed me the way!"[31]

See also


  1. ^ http://www.aviation-history.com/airmen/alcock.htm
  2. ^ "Alcock and Brown's Vickers Vimy biplane, 1919". Science Museum. Retrieved 4 February 2017. 
  3. ^ "What are the wild waves saying". The Economist. 28 October 2010. Retrieved 3 November 2010. Jack Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown became the first men to cross the Atlantic by air in June 1919, flying in a Vickers Vimy biplane, its bomb bays filled with extra fuel. The dashing aviators, who took their pet kittens, Twinkletoes and Lucky Jim, with them, made the crossing from Newfoundland to County Galway in 16 hours and 27 minutes. 
  4. ^ "₤10,000 for first transatlantic flight (in 72 continuous hours)". Flight magazine. 5 April 1913. p. 393. Retrieved 5 January 2009. 
  5. ^ "Captain Jack Alcock (1892–1919)" (PDF). Museum of Science & Industry. 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 31 March 2014. Retrieved 13 September 2013. 
  6. ^ Nevin, David. "Two Daring Flyers Beat the Atlantic before Lindbergh." Journal of Contemporary History 28: (1) 1993, 105.
  7. ^ a b "₤10,000 for first transatlantic flight (in 72 consecutive hours)". Flight magazine. 21 November 1918. p. 1316. Retrieved 5 January 2009. 
  8. ^ Cooksley, Peter G. ‘Alcock, Sir John William (1892–1919)’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004), online ed., Jan 2011; accessed 16 June 2012.
  9. ^ Shepherd, E. C. ‘Brown, Sir Arthur Whitten (1886–1948)’, rev. Peter G. Cooksley, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004), online ed., Jan 2011; accessed 16 June 2012.
  10. ^ a b Anon. "The Atlantic Challenge:Alcock and Brown Take the Atlantic". Century of Flight. Centuryofflight.net. Retrieved 16 June 2012. 
  11. ^ "Alcock and Brown". Aviation History Online Museum. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Capt. John Alcock and Lt. Arthur Whitten Brown". 
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Flight Global article". 
  14. ^ Listen to interviews with people that met the plane on Bowman Sunday Morning, RTÉ radio archives, http://www.rte.ie/radio1/bowmansundaymorning/1249939.html
  15. ^ Straightforward calculation: ['Arrived' (locally)- 'Departed' + Tzones Compensation ] = [16:28 hrs – 13:50 hrs (est fm 1:45pm takeoff) + 12 (comp for day changed+Tzones factor)] = apx (2.5 + 12) hrs = 14.5 hrs (approximate minimum time) over the water
  16. ^ Inscription, Alcock and Brown memorial, near Clifden, Ireland
  17. ^ "Alcock And Brown Get London Ovation. Carried to Automobiles on Shoulders of Soldiers on Arrival from Dublin. Aerial Escort For Train. First Nonstop Transatlantic Fliers Parade and Are Entertained by Aero Club". New York Times. 18 July 1919. Retrieved 3 November 2010. London gave Captain Alcock and Lieutenant Brown a wonderful welcome tonight. ... 
  18. ^ "Alcock and Brown Knighted by King George V". Flight magazine. 26 June 1919. p. 830. Retrieved 9 January 2009. 
  19. ^ Alcock – Brown Transatlantic Flight National Historic Event Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine., Parks Canada
  20. ^ http://www.stjohns.ca/sites/default/files/files/publication/Streets,%20Areas,%20Monuments,%20Plaques.pdf
  21. ^ MacEachern, Daniel (18 October 2014). "St. John's finance committee rejects request for funding to repair vandalized monument". The Telegrah. Retrieved 21 October 2015. 
  22. ^ "Burton Constable 2". The Antiques Roadshow. Series 39. 19 March 2017. BBC. BBC 1. 
  23. ^ "Daily Mail £10,000 prize conditions 1918". 
  24. ^ Abbott, Patrick (1994). Airship: The Story of R34. Studley, Warwickshire: Brewin Books. pp. 13–14. ISBN 1-85858-020-X. 
  25. ^ Abbott. Airship. p. 64. 
  26. ^ http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20050601/fossett_biplane_20050601?s_name=Autos&no_ads=
  27. ^ Turner, Robin (1 December 2009). "Writer seeks propeller from plane that first crossed Atlantic". walesonline. Media Wales Ltd. Retrieved 15 June 2012. 
  28. ^ Fallon, Linda (2007). Cork, 2nd: The Bradt City Guide (Bradt Mini Guide). Bradt Travel Guides. p. 105. ISBN 1-84162-196-X. 
  29. ^ "The Postal History of ICAO - International Exhibition of Air Mail Postage". International Civil Aviation Organization. 1969. Retrieved 16 June 2016. 
  30. ^ Anon (19 June 1919). "Deliver Atlantic Air Mail: Alcock and Bown leave letters they carried in London". The New York Times. The New York Times. p. 8. Retrieved 15 June 2012. 
  31. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 12 May 2012. Retrieved 9 May 2009. 

Further reading

  • Lynch, Brendan (2009). Yesterday We Were in America — Alcock and Brown — First to fly the Atlantic non-stop (Haynes, ISBN 978-1-84425-681-5)

External links