Arthur Whitten Brown and the First Transatlantic Flight

Arthur Whitten Brown (left) and John Alcock

Arthur Whitten Brown (left) and John Alcock

On July 23, 1886, Scottish aviator  Sir Arthur Whitten Brown was born. Whitten Brown was the navigator of the first successful non-stop transatlantic flight in in June 1919 together with Sir John Alcock, who piloted the modified First World War Vickers Vimy bomber from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Clifden, Connemara, County Galway, Ireland.

Arthur Whitten Brown was apprenticed with British Westinghouse in Manchester. He enlisted in the ranks of the University and Public Schools Brigade in 1914. He sought a commission to become a Second Lieutenant in the third Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. Arthur Brown served in France and became second to 2 Squadron Royal Flying Corps as an observer.

In France, Arthur Whitten Brown’s aircraft was shot down by an anti-aircraft fire over Vendin-le-Vieil while he was on artillery observation duties. After being sent back to England, Brown returned to France only to be shot down again. This time he was on an reconnaissance flight. Brown and his pilot were captured by the Germans and intered in Switzerland. He was repatriated in September 1917.

Brown continued to work with Major Kennedy RAF in the Ministry of Munitions. After the war he sought various appointments that would give him the security to allow him to marry. One of the firms he approached was Vickers, a consequence of which was that he was asked if he would be the navigator for the proposed transatlantic flight, partnering John Alcock, who had already been chosen as pilot.

The first successful non-stop transatlantic flight took place on June 14, 1919. John Alcock and Arthur Brown departed from St. John’s, Newfoundland at 1:45 pm and landed at Clifden, Connemara after around 16 hours of flight. The total distance was more than 3000 km. For their historical flight, they used a Vickers Vimy bomber. Afterwards, they received a £10,000 prize offered by London’s Daily Mail newspaper for the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic. Further, Brown and Alcock were honoured with a reception at Windsor Castle during which King George V knighted them and invested them with their insignia as Knight Commanders of the Order of the British Empire.

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