Great Moments in Aviation History
Douglas ‘Wrong Way’ Corrigan (January 22, 1907 – December 9, 1995) was an American aviator born in Galveston, Texas. He was nicknamed “Wrong Way” in 1938. After a transcontinental flight from Long Beach, California, to New York City, he flew from Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York, to Ireland, though his flight plan was filed to return to Long Beach. He claimed his unauthorized flight was due to a navigational error, caused by heavy cloud cover that obscured landmarks and low-light conditions, causing him to misread his compass. However, he was a skilled aircraft mechanic (he was one of the builders of Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis ) and had made several modifications to his own plane, preparing it for his transatlantic flight. He had been denied permission to make a nonstop flight from New York to Ireland, and his “navigational error” was seen as deliberate. Nevertheless, he never publicly admitted to having flown to Ireland intentionally.
Corrigan claimed to have noticed his “error” after flying for about 26 hours. This is not entirely consistent with his claim that after 10 hours, he felt his feet go cold; the cockpit floor was awash with gasoline leaking from the unrepaired tank. He used a screwdriver to punch a hole through the cockpit floor so that the fuel would drain away on the side opposite the hot exhaust pipe, reducing the risk of a midair explosion. Had he been truly unaware he was over ocean, it seems likely he would have descended at this point; instead, he claimed to have increased the engine speed by almost 20% in the hope of decreasing his flight time.