Long Flight

BEFORE THE FLIGHT 

 

In 1913, a British newspaper called the Daily Mail offered a prize of £10,000 for the first aviator to cross the North Atlantic. The competition stimulated great interest. However before any crew could attempt the crossing, the competition had to be suspended because of the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. 

 

The war ended in 1918 and by 1919 the competition to cross the Atlantic had resumed, several teams taking up the challenge. There were strict rules for this competition. One was that the race was open to any nationality except those of "enemy origin" - any nationality whom the British had fought against in the war. Each team had to fill in an entry form.

The Daily Mail competition rules for the first transatlantic flight, 1919. 
Acknowledgements: Daily Mail Newspaper/Royal Aero Club 

 

One set of contenders was the British crew H.G. Hawker (pilot) and K. Mackenzie Grieve (navigator) in their plane called the Sopwith "Atlantic." They attempted their crossing several weeks before Alcock and Brown, but crashed in the Atlantic Ocean. Both men were rescued. 

 

During the First World War, many improvements in aircraft design were achieved. Faster and more effective flying machines were produced so Britain could win the war against Germany. 

 

One aircraft that began production during the war, was the Vickers Vimy bomber aeroplane. This was never used because the war ended before it was ready.

The Vickers Vimy being constructed at Weybridge, 1919.
Acknowledgements Vickers PLC

The Vimy used by Alcock and Brown was the standard bomber that began its production in the war, but some alterations were made. Extra fuel tanks needed for the long journey were added. All the bombing equipment needed for wartime was removed.

Once alterations had been made Alcock and Brown's Vimy was put in crates and transported to Newfoundland (now part of Canada).

The Vimy plane in crates ready to be transported to Newfoundland. 1919 
Acknowledgement Vickers PLC 

 

The plane was delivered to an airfield in Newfoundland on the 26th May 1919. It was unpacked and construction began. Clear instructions had been set out so that no element was forgotten and all members of the assembly crew knew what they had to do. All went well in the construction and testing of the plane, until bad weather struck. As John Alcock described it, from Friday 30th May to the following Monday: 

 

"…it rained and snowed incessantly - four days of fierce gales."

 

Security for the plane was vital, as its construction had brought many spectators to the camp. Careless or intentional damage had to be prevented. This meant that some of the crew had to stay on site all the time, sheltering in the crates that had brought the plane over. 

Eventually the weather subsided and the airfield was cleared for the flight. Alcock and Brown took off on the afternoon of 14 June 1919. A letter was sent to London describing the take-off.

 

The Vickers Vimy plane taking off in Newfoundland 1919.
Copyright Daily Mail Newspaper/Hulton Getty Picture Collection

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