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Saturday, February 9, 2013


Douglas Corrigan was born in Galveston, Texas, in 1907. His family moved around often. After his parents divorced, Douglas settled in Los Angeles with his mother. At eighteen, he decided to visit a local airfield. He watched excitedly as a pilot took passengers for a ride in an old bi-plane for $2.50 a trip. Not having the fare at the time, Douglas returned the next week with the money and in anticipation of his first flight. He was hooked. He started flying lessons. Five months later Douglas Corrigan made his first solo flight.

While at the airfield one day, he was offered a job by the Mahoney and Ryan Aircraft Company as a mechanic in their San Diego plant. While working there, a new customer arrived to see if the company would design and build a special aircraft for him. It was Charles Lindbergh. Douglas was assigned to assemble the wings, install the gas tanks, and mount the instrument panel on the Spirit of St. Louis. When “Lindy” made his famous transatlantic flight in May of 1927, the mechanics were thrilled and proud. Douglas’ excitement turned to inspiration by the flight, and he decided right then that he would make his own transatlantic flight. In 1929, Douglas Corrigan became a full-fledged pilot.

After working on the east coast for a small passenger air service, he decided to return to California. For the trip, Douglas bought a used Curtiss-Robin monoplane for $310. Back at home, he restored and improved his aircraft, and as a mechanic he began to modify it for a transatlantic journey.

In 1935, Corrigan applied for permission to make a non-stop flight from New York to Ireland. Permission was flatly denied. They said that the piece of junk he was flying was not sound enough for that kind of trip. For the next two years he continued to modify the plane in order to be granted a certification for the Atlantic crossing. He was repeatedly turned down. He was granted permission to fly non-stop from the west coast to New York however.

Douglas Corrigan had a plan up his sleeve. He would land in New York at night after officials went home, fill his gas tanks, and leave for Ireland. But mechanical problems delayed his departure and bad weather made the trip impossible. Maybe next year - and he returned to California.

In early July of 1938, Corrigan again arrived in New York. After a short stay he was given permission to fly back home. But by July 17th, it was his time to act. He took off from a field in Brooklyn at dawn in a thick fog. A few onlookers watched him climb into the clouds. Well, Douglas Corrigan flew eastward, not westward. He had no radio and his compass was outdated.

Twenty eight hours later, Corrigan landed in Dublin, Ireland, and was reported as saying, “Just got in from New York. Where am I?” Unhappy aviation officials took him in for questioning. Corrigan said that he had flown through clouds for about 26 hours before finding clear skies, and when he emerged he was over a large body of water. He claimed that when he looked at his compass in the light, he realized that he had been reading it upside down (wink, wink). They did not believe him. “That’s my story,” he said. They suspended his pilot’s license immediately.

Douglas “Wrong Way” Corrigan returned to New York by ship with his airplane crated in the ship’s hold. As the ship passed by the Statue of Liberty, whistles started to blow and fireboats shot water upwards. The next day, “Wrong Way” was given a ticker tape parade down Broadway which drew one million people (more than the parade for Charles Lindbergh). This simple man with a largely home-built old airplane, no radio, and a faulty compass was easy to identify with by the public.

He said later that the high point of his life was not the journey but that President Franklin Roosevelt assured him that he didn’t doubt Corrigan’s story for a minute.

When Corrigan was 81 years old in 1988, his original Curtiss-Robin plane went on display at an air show. It had to be put under guard . . . so that “Wrong Way” wouldn’t be able to take off one last time.

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