Aviation worldwide was forever changed a century ago when British pilots Capt. John Alcock and Lt. Arthur Whitten Brown boarded their modified First World War Vickers Vimy bomber in Newfoundland and crossed the Atlantic Ocean to Ireland, making the first-ever successful non-stop transatlantic flight.
The historic journey is being celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic on June 14, exactly 100 years after that record-setting trip.
Alcock and Brown took off from Lester's Field in St. John's — a plot of land that had to be cleared of trees and rocks to serve as a runway — and 16 hours, 12 minutes later, they crash landed in Clifden, Ireland.
"They became the first two people on the planet to be ever able to say, 'Yesterday I was in North America,'" says Jim Burton, a pilot and co-chair of Aviation History of Newfoundland and Labrador.
"It's very cool."
– Vincent Killowry
These guys literally risked their lives — they risked everything.
Burton is one of the organizers of celebrations Friday in St. John's, including a commemorative flight at 1 p.m. NT with Provincial Airlines to mark the centennial. The flight will be followed by a week of events, including an aviators ball at St. John's City Hall.
For Burton and his fellow aviation enthusiasts, understanding the amount of work that Alcock and Brown put into their flight is essential to appreciating the aviation industry in its present form.
"This aircraft was made of wood, fabric. Two Rolls-Royce engines, 360 horse power engines, and it was overloaded with fuel — they needed a lot of fuel because it was a 16-hour flight," he said.
"It was something accomplished that other pilots only ever dreamed about. It was an incredible feat."
Flying across the Atlantic in 1919 was nothing like a modern journey in an pressurized cabin with WiFi and movies at your seat, Burton said.
"They flew at night, they were in an open cockpit with goggles, scarves.
"It was an example of courage, and preparation, discovery, being curious and being passionate. I look back at all that as a pilot today, I look at it and I think, it's so inspiring."
Burton said the Alcock and Brown flight, which was only about 16 years after the Wright brothers' first-ever successful flight, was just another monumental step in modern technology.
"When you think of mankind, where it's come in a hundred years — it was 50 years after they made that crossing that we put the first man on the moon," Burton said.
"They were explorers. Pioneers."
'We take it for granted'
Alcock and Brown are heroes across the ocean, as well.
In Ireland, AN Post — the Irish equivalent to Canada Post — commissioned a commemorative stamp featuring a painting of the Vickers Vimy aircraft Alcock and Brown would have piloted.
That stamp was designed by Vincent Killowry and Oonagh Young, and was launched in Clifden, where Alcock and Brown landed, on Thursday, with Tony Alcock, Alcock's nephew, attending.
A painter with a private pilots licence, Killowry said he was always interested in aviation history, and was honoured to be asked to mark Alcock and Brown's crossing.
"Since my childhood, I've been a huge fan of the aviation pioneers," he told CBC's On The Go.
"I think it's because of the people, it's the people who made these remarkable journeys, they were literally taking their lives in their own hands.
"We take it for granted now. We jump on a plane and we're in New York in five hours. These guys literally risked their lives — they risked everything."
With files from Jacob Barker and CBC's On The Go
Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca