Across the Atlantic by Vimy

This happened a week ago, but it's rather cool - a re-enactment of the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic by the British airmen Alcock and Brown in June 1919. They used a modified Vickers Vimy, a two-engined aircraft designed for bombing German cities. The Vimy was never used in this role, but a flight of just over 3000 km surely proved its potential - even if Brown had to keep climbing out onto the wings to remove ice from the engines! Also of note is that in completing the flight, they won the last of the Daily Mail's aviation prizes designed to promote innovation and airmindedness, a handsome £10000 - Lord Northcliffe's final legacy to aviation. (Earlier prizes included £1000 for the first aerial crossing of the English Channel, which was won by Louis Bleriot in 1909; the modern Ansari X-Prize is an astronautical version of the same idea.) The re-enactment used a beautiful replica Vimy.

1919 was a busy year for trans-Atlantic flights (compared to all the previous years, anyway). Alcock and Brown's flight overshadows the crossing made by the US Navy's NX-4 flying boat the previous month (which wasn't non-stop, and took 19 days), as well as the Royal Navy airship R34's double crossing the following month (ie there and back again). But then Alcock and Brown are themselves overshadowed by Lindbergh's non-stop flight from New York to Paris in 1927, admittedly a much longer distance of 5800 km.

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9 thoughts on “Across the Atlantic by Vimy

  1. Good spot, Brett. I was privileged to see the same Vimy leave Farnborough on its recreation of the flight to Australia in 1994, and this aircraft also undertook the Vimy types third record to South Africa - the three pioneering efforts requiring at least five original Vimys! So the replica certainly achieved a lot and has just entered worthy retirement at Brooklands late this year.

    I'm afraid that the story of Brown climbing onto the wings is almost certainly a myth, due to a misunderstanding in reports over the instruments' position that Brown was clearing. We covered that recently in the Aircrew feature I write on for Aeroplane magazine, in the June 2009 issue and Ian Bott, the illustrator showed Brown climbing onto the fuselage decking aft of the cockpit.

    As author Brendan Lynch, acknowledging the research help of an un-named curator at the Science Museum, said of Brown:
    "He stood up in cockpit and swivelled around in confined space - painful for a man with his wartime leg injuries - and cleared (several times) snow from fuel-overflow gauge on a strut a metre above his head."

    The flight was a a great achievement, as was Lindbergh's and the 91 people before him and Amelia Earhart afterwards. The solo flights I'd suggest were personal achievements of limited route-finding use, while Alcock's "Yesterday I was in America - and I'm the first man in history to say that!" summarised how much they had broken ground for intercontinental flight. The men of the USN in the Nancy Boats shouldn't be overlooked, though, and the Smithsonian has loaned the imposing NC-4 to the National Museum of US Naval Aviation, where it is an impressive exhibit.

    A mean game to play with people who think they know their aviation history is to get the achievements correct: The credits read: first across the Atlantic by Air - US Navy NC-4; First non-stop across the Atlantic - Alcock & Brown; first solo non stop - Lindbergh.


  2. I've never added up 'The 91 Before Lindbergh'*, but it would be an interesting exercise, perhaps?

    Most stylish crossing - Balbo & Co.

    Maybe this could be Mornington Crescent for Aviation buffs? I'll claim the Azores diversion rule, with the Newfoundland Start variation. :-D


    *The 91 Before Lindbergh by Peter Allen, Airlife, 1984.

  3. Chris Williams

    Coolest arrival - Major Pritchard, who travelled east-west a couple of hours before everyone else, and did so by airship and parachute. He was only the third man to make a non-stop crossing by air in either direction.

    About a third of the 91 are the crew of R34, including the First Stowaway (airman Ballantyre - washed dishes and pumped ballast after discovering, then was returned by ship) and the First Kitten (stowed away with First Stowaway - allowed to return by air, IIRC)

    I'd like to add that the R34 crew also had time to wash and shave before arrival (whilst Pritchard was doing his thing briefing the ground crew) and thus ought to be nominated for some sort of special personal hygene award.

    You can see where I'm coming from here, can't you? In 1919 LTA allowed you to arrive in style, had enough lift to spare to allow a stowaway (try that in an NC4), and could do the return journey in the time it took to lift A&B's Vimy from its bog. _That's_ the hi-tech of 1919.

  4. Chris Williams

    PS Ballantyne's Diversion rules do _not_ apply over the Christmas period in 'First 91 Mornington Crescent'

  5. Post author

    The thing about Lindbergh, though, was that he took off from an airfield and landed at an airfield (as opposed to a bog), and it was the one he was planning to land at. It was the transatlantic equivalent of calling your shots in pool.

  6. Fair comment. However he got famous for being solo and well, cute.

    Another aviation trivia item is what do the Wright Bros, Bleriot and Alcock & Brown have in common with their records?

    A: They all crash-landed on arrival.

  7. Chris Williams

    When did the international association set the rule that if you crashed it didn't count? It must have still been in force in 1961, because that was apparently why the USSR lied about Yuri Gagarin riding his capsule all the way down, rather than ejecting like the other Vostok cosmonauts.

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