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"Wrong Way" Corrigan
his claim to fame was an "accidental flight"
Douglas Corrigan was born in Galveston, Texas, on January 22, 1907, the son of a construction engineer and a teacher. His father moved the family often during his childhood, and, after his parents' divorce, he spent several years bouncing back and forth between them before eventually settling in Los Angeles with his mother. When he was 15, his mother died of cancer and his father was killed in a train accident, leaving him to fend for himself.
Corrigan initially went into construction and had little interest in airplanes. That is, until October 1925, when he visited a local airfield and watched a pilot taking passengers for rides in a Curtiss "Jenny" biplane. His interest piqued, he returned the next day with $2.50 and went for a ride himself. Now determined to become a pilot, he began taking flying lessons a week later, and made his first solo flight on March 25, 1926. He also learned how to work on airplanes.
Corrigan eventually got a job as an airplane mechanic in the San Diego factory of B.P. Mahoney and T.C. Ryan. While there, he helped assemble the "Spirit of St. Louis," the plane with which Charles Lindbergh made his historic solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Upon hearing about Lindbergh's feat Corrigan became determined to make his own transatlantic flight, with the destination being Ireland, since he was of Irish descent.
Corrigan earned his tranport pilot's license in October 1929. The following year he moved to the East Coast, where he and a friend started a small passenger-carrying business similar to the one which first piqued his own interest in flight. Although the business proved somewhat profitable, Corrigan still had the desire to fly across the Atlantic. In 1933, he bought a used OX5 Robin monoplane, and then flew it back to California and began modifying it for a transatlantic flight. In 1935, Corrigan applied to the federal government for permission to make a non-stop flight from New York to Ireland. His request was denied, however, because federal officials determined that his plane was unfit to make the flight; those same officials did, however, certify his plane for cross-country flights. He spent the next couple of years making modifications to his plane, but he never received the permission he sought.
On July 8, 1938, Corrigan left California and flew to New York, carrying a flight plan which said he would be returning to California. On July 17, he took off from Brooklyn's Floyd Bennett Airfield, ostensibly to make his return trip. Taking off in a heavy fog, he was told by airport officials to lift in any direction except west, since there were buildings at the western edge of the field. Once Corrigan cleared the field, however, he continued flying east. He landed at Baldonnel Airport in Dublin, Ireland, 28 hours and 13 minutes later. Upon landing, Corrigan told the authorities that upon taking off from New York he had been forced to rely on his compass to tell him which direction he was flying, and that his compass told him he was flying west. He then said that by the time he finally climbed down out of the clouds he was already over the ocean, and that it was only then that he realized he had been flying east. The authorities didn't believe him, but Corrigan would only say "That's my story." He was finally released, with the only punishment being a brief suspension of his pilot's license, which was reinstated August 4th, the same day he returned to New York via steamship. Corrigan was given a hero's welcome upon his return to New York. In fact, the ticker-tape parade given in his honor by New York City was attended by more people than had attended the one given to Charles Lindbergh. For his part, Corrigan never deviated from his story, and later that same year rehashed it in his autobiography, That's My Story. He even played himself in the 1938 movie The Flying Irishman.
Having achieved his goal of flying solo across the Atlantic Ocean, Corrigan virtually dropped out of the public spotlight and lived out the rest of his life as the owner of an orange grove in Santa Ana, California. Despite rumors that he would eventually own up to having made his historic flight on purpose, Corrigan steadfastly insisted that the trip was an accident until the day he died, on December 9, 1995.
This page was last updated on 01/22/2017.