Who Made the First Non-stop Transatlantic Flight? (It's not Charles Lindbergh)

By | April 2, 2019

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The Vickers Vimy biplane that made the first transatlantic crossing in 1919. Source: (gettyimages.com)

Most people associate the first non-stop transatlantic flight with Charles Lindbergh’s epic journey in the “Spirit of St. Louis” in 1927. However, his flight was the first solo trip. The first transatlantic flight was really achieved eight years prior by British aviators Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur W. Brown.

Both men were motivated by a £10,000 prize offered by the Daily Mail to the aviator who could first make the crossing. Alcock, a 27-year old veteran of World War I, had amassed over 4,500 hours flying for the Royal Air Force. The 33-year old Brown, also a veteran pilot, was to be his navigator. Both were eager to give it a go.

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Lieutenant Colonel Sir Arthur Whitten Brown, 1886– 1948, left, and Captain Sir John William Alcock, 1892 – 1919, right. Source: (gettyimages.com)

Lost Contact

The duo took off on June 14, 1919, at 4:28 p.m., from St. John’s Newfoundland. Their craft was a 42-foot twin-engine Vickers-Vimy plane, a bomber that was used toward the end of World War I. The plane’s war-making capabilities were modified so that instead of carrying bombs, Alcock and Brown’s plane could haul extra gasoline, a total of 870 gallons.

Almost immediately after takeoff, Alcock and Brown encountered terrifying difficulties. First, their radio broke shortly after takeoff. Once they flew out of sight and over the Atlantic, they were completely lost to contact. Second, fog and mist plagued the trip. As they flew east into the night, they could not get their bearings despite there being a full moon. But perhaps the worst obstacle was the biting cold.