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Page last updated at 16:49 GMT, Thursday, 5 November 2009
Stretford's pioneering aviator
Sir John Alcock
Sir John Alcock first became interested in flying at the age of 17

Getting across the Atlantic these days is a simple process.

All you have to do is buy a ticket, go down to the airport and jump on a plane.

90 years ago though, things were very different, but that didn't stop Mancunian aviator John Alcock making the trip.

The flight secured a place in history for the young aviator, who became the first man to pilot an aeroplane non-stop across the Atlantic.

Born in Stretford in 1892, John, who was known as Jack, first became interested in flying when he was 17.

Five years later, with the outbreak of the First World War, he flew with the RAF, achieving the rank of captain.

He gained valuable flying experience during the war, though he was shot down in a bombing raid over Turkey and taken prisoner.

After the armistice, Alcock continued flying, finding work as a test pilot for Vickers Aircraft.

It wasn't long before he teamed up with navigator Arthur Whitten Brown, himself a Lieutenant in the RAF, to take up a £10,000 challenge posted in the Daily Mail newspaper in April 1919 to make the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic.

Taking off into history

The pair sailed across to Canada and took charge of a modified Vickers Vimy IV twin-engined bomber for their attempt.

The bomber used by Alcock and Brown
The pair flew for 16 hours and 12 minutes in a modified Vickers Vimy IV

All was set and at 1.45pm local time on 14 June, the pair took off from St. John's, Newfoundland.

16 hours and 12 minutes later, the bomber crash-landed into Derrygimla bog near Clifden, in Ireland, having travelled 1890 miles.

Thankfully, neither of the men were hurt in the crash, though the journey had not been without its fair share of peril.

Several times, the plane had been hit by engine trouble, fog and ice, with one particularly bad incident seeing the open cockpit fill with snow.

Indeed, it was only the combination of Brown climbing out on the wings to make repairs and Alcock's excellent piloting that led to the success.

A hero's welcome

Their achievement saw the pair treated as national heroes.

Not only did they win the Daily Mail prize, but they were granted knighthoods by King George V.

The statue of Alcock and Brown at Heathrow Airport
Alcock and Brown are remembered at both Heathrow and Manchester Airports

Interestingly, it wasn't only Jack and Arthur who were honoured, but also their plane.

On 15 December 1919, Sir Jack Alcock was present at London's Science Museum to see the presentation of the recovered Vimy to the nation.

Tragedy hits

Sadly, it would be the last proud moment of Jack's life.

Three days after the presentation, he was flying to the first post-war aeronautical exhibition in Paris when he crashed his plane in fog near Rouen in Normandy, hitting a tree with one of the wings.

The aviation hero died before medical assistance arrived, aged only 26.

A memorial statue of both men stands at Heathrow Airport to celebrate their flight.

There is also a monument at Manchester Airport, three monuments at their Newfoundland starting point and another at their landing point in Ireland.

The achievements of Alcock and Brown are celebrated in the Museum of Science and Industry during November in the Take Flight! Archive Display, which forms part of the national Archive Awareness Campaign 2009.



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