Wrong Way Corrigan’s Transatlantic Flight


Have you ever made a wrong turn down a one-way street going the wrong way? I won’t ask for a show of hands or a nod of your head, but if you’ve had that experience, you know it can be an awkward moment. Last June when the General and I were in Washington, D.C., I found the front of our rental car facing the wrong direction as I turned down a one-way street going the wrong way. Just for the record, I discovered if you are bold enough to turn the wrong direction on a one-way street, you intuitively don’t give a second thought to making an illegal U-turn to right the wrong (pardon the pun).

To the General’s credit, she was completely calm within four and a half blocks. In addition, she refrained from saying more than needed to provide redirection. You probably caught the fact that I left the word “gentle” out as a modifier for “redirection”. Sometimes the General can be a little over the top. I’m not saying she’s a drama queen, but she has the ability to ensure she has a voice. Trust me, driving in the direction of on-coming traffic exceeded her comfort level. She is a very smart lady.

If I’m not mistaken, the General had “making the sign of the cross” on autopilot that entire trip. Wait!   That may have been me. I don’t know whether it’s a “good thing” or a “not so good thing” since we’re not Catholic, but what can it hurt? I’ve developed the habit (oops) of making the sign of the cross with my right hand whenever I’ve had a close call. Trust me, there are days when that is the only form of exercise I get.

Recently, I tripped going into a restaurant in Dripping Springs. The experience added a whole new dimension to the concept of free-fall. Fortunately, I fell in the direction of the door just as a patron on the inside wanting to get out opened the door. At least my arms engaged in unison to catch the edges of the door frame to stop my fall. As I righted myself, my right hand automatically made the sign of the cross. The startled restaurant patron smiled and said, “That was a close one.”

Fortunately, I’ve never gotten into a real bind going the wrong way. Probably everyone has heard of “Roy, ‘wrong way’ Reigels”, haven’t they? He played for the University of California – Berkeley football team from 1927 to 1929. His wrong-way run in the 1929 Rose Bowl is often cited as the worst blunder in the history of college football. Can you imagine how awkward and embarrassing that must have been?

According to the story line, on January 1, 1929, the Golden Bears faced the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Halfway through the second quarter, Riegels, who played center picked up a fumble just 30 yards away from the end zone. Riegels somehow became confused and ran 69 yards in the wrong direction. Better yet, listen to his side of the story: “I started to turn to my left toward Tech’s goal. Somebody shoved me and I bounded right off into a tackler. In pivoting to get away from him, I completely lost my bearings.— Roy Riegels

Forgivable? – You bet! It could happen to anyone. What about Douglas Corrigan? He was known as “Wrong Way Corrigan”, but somehow his story seems a little scratchier with an overlay of purposeful intent. His was a remarkable accomplishment and he proved to the world that airplanes don’t have to be expensive to be record setting.

Born in Galveston, Texas, the son of a construction engineer and teacher, the family moved often. When the parents divorced they shared custody until Corrigan, his mother, brother and sister, all moved to Los Angeles. Corrigan dropped out of high school and went to work in construction.

Reportedly, in October 1925, Corrigan observed people paying to be taken for short rides in a biplane near his home. The charge for flying was $2.50. He took his turn and the next week started taking flying lessons. After 20 lessons, he made his first solo flight.

In many respects, he was a wild man. There was nothing he liked better than performing aerobatic stunts. By then he was working as an aircraft mechanic. The company frowned on his activities and prohibited him from performing stunts. Under the auspices of “what you don’t know can’t hurt you”, he carefully ensured he always flew beyond the range of their observation in the future.

Fast forward to 1933. It was that year Corrigan spent $310 on a used 1929 Curtiss Robin OX-5 monoplane. He began immediately working to modify the plane to equip it for a transatlantic flight. I think he replaced the engine and added a couple of fuel tanks. Someone described it as a “flying bucket of bolts”.

In 1935, Corrigan applied to the Bureau of Air Commerce, seeking permission to make a nonstop flight from New York to Ireland. His application was denied. The plane was not seen as worthy of a transatlantic flight, although it was certified to the lower standard of cross-country journeys.

For the next two years, Corrigan continued to modify the plane, make repeated applications for the New York-to-Ireland flight only to have them denied. Did I mention that he was Irish? Obviously he had some sense of calling to go to the “mother land”. Corrigan’s applications for the transatlantic flight were denied because no one thought the flying bucket of bolts could make the trip. It would be suicidal to try.

Obviously, Corrigan was a man ahead of his time. He moved to the approach that forgiveness was easier to come by than permission. His thinking was almost sound and for all practical purposes worked out that way.

In July 1938, after flying from California to New York, he reportedly flew out of New York to return to California. According to Corrigan’s story, it took him about 26 hours to determine he had gone the wrong way. When he landed in Ireland, he could out of the plane asking, “Where am I?” And of course, as you might suspect, he was in Ireland. Perhaps that’s where the expression, “the luck of the Irish” originated.

Because of the cost of sending a telegram, aviation officials limited their text to 600 words. They were not happy with Corrigan. However, his pilot’s license was only suspended for 14 days. He and his plane returned to New York on a steamship. Talk about the luck of the Irish, Corrigan arrived back in New York on August 4, the last day of his suspension.

I need to close for now and head to work. It is an important meeting. To arrive late would be worse than going the wrong way.

All My Best!





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