I was only 6 years old in July 1938 when a piece of aviation history filled the front pages of newspapers day after day, catching the attention of the entire nation. However, even today I can remember the smiles on the faces in my neighborhood as people from coast to coast laughed their heads off and cheered a short slender young Irishman.
Why? Because his actions quietly told a pack of stuffy federal officials to stick it.
Douglas Corrigan was born in 1907. Always active, he quit high school before graduating because he wanted to “actually do something.” In October 1925, at age 18, intrigued by a ride in a Curtiss Jenny biplane, he began taking flying lessons and made his first solo flight in just five months.
A year later Corrigan was hired by Ryan Aeronautical to help build Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis. Always creative, he and a friend named Dan Burnett convinced Ryan Aeronautical to make a modification of the wing on Lindbergh’s aircraft which gave it greater lift than any other aircraft Ryan had ever before built. They thereby won the honor of pulling the chocks on May 10, 1927 when Lindbergh took off for New York.
Eleven days later, Lindbergh landed in Paris.
Corrigan was inspired by Lindbergh’s historic feat, and wanted to do something of his own to extend the era of flight, but Lindbergh had $15,000 in financial backing to build his aircraft, the equivalent today of $225,000, and Corrigan had nothing but the money he could earn with his own two hands. Nevertheless, he went to work as a mechanic for a flying school, put every minute he could afford into honing his flying skills, and saved as much as he could, hoping to buy an aircraft of his own.
Two years later in October 1929, Corrigan had earned a transport pilot’s certificate. A year after that he and a friend started a passenger service, but it took him until 1933 to scratch together the $310 he used to purchase an old Curtiss monoplane that he began modifying for a transatlantic flight to Dublin, Ireland, the home of his Irish ancestors.
The original Curtiss engine could only produce 90 horsepower, but Corrigan creating a special engine from two Wright Whirlwind engines; it developed 165 horsepower. Then, in 1935, having added extra fuel tanks to his aircraft, he confidently applied for permission from the Bureau of Air Commerce to make a nonstop flight from New York to Ireland.
However, because of nitpicking regulations, he was turned down, even though his aircraft was certified for cross-country flights.
Then came three frustrating years of a seemingly endless race between multiplying regulations and Corrigan’s struggle to modify his aircraft fast enough to meet them.
But then ...
Having worked for 11 years spending every minute and every penny he could scrape up on his dream, a determined Corrigan landed in New York on July 17, 1938 with a flight plan for California. After that he simply took off, landed in Dublin 28 hours later, and smilingly explained that he had “misread” his compass.
Back in New York, and now dubbed Wrong Way Corrigan by news services across the nation, Doug Corrigan found he had landed in the hearts of his fellow Americans. He actually received an even greater ticker tape parade than Lindbergh’s.
You suppose that cascading ticker tape included a shredded 600-word long telegram? The one the aviation officials sent him listing the regulations he had violated?
I hope so! Don’t you?