Monday, January 22, 2007

Wrong Way Corrigan


In 1938, Douglas Corrigan was an obscure 31-year old pilot/mechanic -- a grease monkey at Ryan Aeronautical when the company built Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis -- who spent most of his free time nursing an ancient, radio-less Curtiss Robin J-6 monoplane he had picked up in an auction for $325 through failed inspections and bumpy, tentative flights around southern California.

After a lot of pleading, he finally received clearance from the department of commerce to fly from Long Beach, California to New York, which he did in June 1938 in less than 28 hours. Held back from returning to California right away due to bad weather, on July 17 he told officials at Floyd Bennett Airfield that he was leaving that morning to fly back to California; but when he took off, ground crewmen dropped everything as they watched Corrigan fly off over the Atlantic in his junk of a plane.

Flying through thick fog for 24 hours, Corrigan landed at Baldonnel Airport in Dublin, Ireland and, with a wink and a grin, he explained that he had thought he was flying to California and had only "accidentally" flown the wrong way across the Atlantic. Although no one took him for a fool and knew that he was an ambitious if somewhat reckless character, he stuck to his story, blaming the fog, a faulty compass and his lack of radio communication for his mistake. When he returned to the U.S. he was welcomed as an unlikely hero -- given public congratulations by U.S. ambassador to Great Britain Joseph Kennedy, a ticker-tape parade in New York City, and several ad endorsement contracts.

He subsequently portrayed himself (somewhat stiffly) in a film version of his misadventure (The Flying Irishman, 1939, written by Dalton Trumbo) and during World War II tested bombers for the U.S. government. In 1946, he ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate from California on the Prohibition Party ticket, and finally retired to a 20-acre orange grove in Santa Ana, California, all the while still claiming, at least officially, that his precarious transatlantic crossing was inadvertent -- although privately he admitted that he had been telling that story for so long that he was beginning to believe it.

Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan was born on this day in 1907 in Galveston, Texas. He died on December 9, 1995 in Orange, California.

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