17 July 1938

Douglas Corrigan with his modified Curtiss Model 50 Robin B, NX9243, at Floyd Bennett Field, July 1938.

17 July 1938: For more than ten years it had been Clyde Groce Corrigan’s ambition to emulate his hero, Charles A. Lindbergh, and to fly solo, non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean. An aircraft mechanic, he had worked on the construction of the Spirit of St. Louis as an employee of Ryan Aircraft Co. in San Diego, California.

Corrigan had assumed the first name “Douglas,” possibly out of admiration for “The King of Hollywood,” actor Douglas Fairbanks.

In 1933, Corrigan and his younger brother Harry Groce Corrigan, an aeronautical engineer, bought a 1929 Curtiss Model 50 Robin B, a single-engine, high-wing monoplane. The Robin was 25 feet, 8½ inches (7.836 meters) long with a wingspan of 41 feet (12.497 meters) and height of 7 feet, 9½ inches (2.375 meters). In standard configuration, the Robin weighed 1,472 pounds (667.7 kilograms) empty, and 2,440 pounds (1,106.8 kilograms) loaded. Its cruise speed was 84 miles per hour (135 kilometers per hour) and the maximum speed was 100 miles per hour (161 kilometers per hour). The range was 480 miles (773 kilometers).

Corrigan continuously worked on the airplane, repairing, overhauling, re-skinning, modifying. He replaced the Robin’s original water-cooled 502.65-cubic-inch-displacement (8.237 liter) Curtiss OX-5 V-8 engine (rated at 90 horsepower at 1,400 r.p.m.) with a more modern, more powerful, Wright “J-6-5.” This engine was an air-cooled, supercharged, 539.96-cubic-inch-displacement (8.848 liter) Wright R-540 Whirlwind 150 single-row 5-cylinder radial which produced 150 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The direct-drive engine turned a two-bladed propeller. In this configuration, the airplane was a Robin J-1 (Curtiss Model 50H)He also installed extra fuel tanks. The Whirlwind 150 was 3 feet, 51.1 inches (1.044 meters) long, 3 feet, 9.0 inches (1.143 meters) in diameter, and weighed 370 pounds (168 kilograms).

The Bureau of Commerce had repeatedly refused to authorize Corrigan’s requests to make a trans-Atlantic flight as his airplane was considered unsuitable for such a flight. He decided to go anyway.

Clyde Groce (“Douglas”) Corrigan with a Stinson Junior SM-2AA, NC8431. (Dublin Journal)

In early July 1938, Douglas Corrigan made a non-stop flight from Long Beach, California to Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York. He announced that he would make the return flight and had his Robin fueled with a total of 320 gallons (1,211.3 liters) of gasoline.

At 5:15 a.m., 17 July 1938, Corrigan and his Robin took off from Floyd Bennett Field and disappeared into a cloudy sky. 28 hours, 13 minutes later, he landed at Baldonnell Aerodrome (now known as Casement Aerodrome), County Dublin, Ireland.

He said that he had become disoriented in the clouds, misread his compass and flew East rather than West. He was forever after known as “Wrong Way” Corrigan.

Douglas Corrigan's modified Curtiss Robin at Baldonnell, Ireland, 18 July 1938. (Independent Newspapers/National Library of Ireland, call number IND H 3242)
Douglas Corrigan’s modified Curtiss Robin at Baldonnell, Ireland, 18 July 1938. (Independent Newspapers/National Library of Ireland, call number IND H 3242)

Corrigan’s Curtiss Robin was disassembled and returned to the United States aboard ship. The airplane as placed in storage at his home in southern California. In 1988, the airframe and components were transported to Hawthorne Airport (HHR), at Hawthorne, California, where the airplane was reassembled and placed on display. The current status of NX9243 is not known. Original records of NX9243 from the Aeronautics Branch, Department of Commerce, are in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

Clyde Groce Corrigan¹ was born 22 January 1907 at Galveston, Texas. He was the first of three children of Clyde Sinclair Corrigan, a civil engineer, and Evelyn Groce Nelson Corrigan, a school teacher.

Corrigan began flight instruction in 1924, flying a Curtiss “Jenny” at Grand Central Air Terminal in Glendale, California. Lessons were expensive and his training took time. He first soloed 25 March 1926.

In 1927, Corrigan was employed by B.F. Mahoney Aircraft at San Diego, California. This soon became the Ryan Airlines Company. Corrigan is reported to have worked on the construction of Charles A. Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis.

Douglas Corrigan wrote his autobiography, That’s My Story, which was published 1 January 1938 by E.P. Dutton & Co.

Corrigan starred as himself in the 1939 RKO Radio Pictures movie, “The Flying Irishman,” produced by Pandro S. Berman, directed by Leigh Jason, and written by Ernest Pagano and Dalton Trumbo. The movie was released in the United States on 7 April 1939.

Douglas Corrigan portrayed himself in the 1939 movie, “The Flying Irishman.” (RKO Radio Pictures)

On 17 July 1939, Corrigan married Miss Sarah Elizabeth Marvin at San Antonio, Texas. They would have three sons, Douglas, Harry and Roy.

During World War II, Corrigan flew as a test pilot for Douglas Aircraft Company and for the U.S. Army Air Corps Ferrying Command. Later, he became an orange grower. He and his wife lived at a home in the orchards near Santa Ana, California. Mrs. Corrigan died in 1966, and their youngest son, Roy William Corrigan, was killed in an airplane crash on Santa Catalina Island, off the coast of southern California, in 1972.

Clyde Groce (“Douglas”) Corrigan died at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Orange, California, 9 December 1995. He was 88 years old. He was buried at Fairhaven Memorial Park, Santa Ana, California, alongside his wife and son.

“Wrong Way” Corrigan with his Curtiss Robin at Hawthorne Airport (HHR), California, 1988. (Collector’s Weekly)

¹ On 12 February 1942, The State of Texas Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, issued a corrected birth certificate, showing Corrigan’s name as “Douglas Corrigan.” The affidavit was sworn to by W.M. Marvin, father of Corrigan’s wife.  (NOTE: The original, hand-written certificate of birth gives his name as “Clyde Groce Corrigan.”) His father’s first (given) name was Clyde, and his mother’s middle name was Groce. Corrigan’s younger brother, born the following year, was Harry Groce Corrigan. It seems unlikely that the officially recorded name was in error, as sworn to by Mr. Marvin.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 July 1983

British Airways’ Sikorsky S-61N Mark II, G-BEON, at Newquay Cornwall Airport, 21 July 1982. (Carl Ford)

16 July 1983: At 11:10 a.m., a British Airways Sikorsky S-61N-69 Sea King helicopter, c/n 61-770, registration G-BEON, departed Penzance Heliport (PZE) enroute across the Celtic Sea to St. Mary’s Airport, Isles of Scilly. On board were a crew of 3 and 23 passengers. Visibility was poor due to fog. Flying under visual flight rules, the helicopter was at 250 feet (76 meters) while the pilots tried to maintain visual contact with the surface of the calm sea.

Great Circle route from Penzance Heliport, Cornwall, to St. Mary’s Airport, Iles of Scilly, 33 nautical miles (37 statute miles/60 kilometers) away. (Great Circle Mapper)

Because of the limited visual cues, the crew did not recognize that they were in a slight descent. At approximately 11:35 a.m., the Sikorsky slammed into the ocean at cruise speed. It sank almost immediately. Only six persons survived, including the pilots, Dominic Lawlor and Neil Charleton. The helicopter sank to the sea bed 200 feet (61 meters) below. It was later recovered by the salvage vessel RMAS Seaforth Clansman, along with the bodies of 17 victims.

The wreck of British Airways S-61N Sea King G-BEON on board RMAS Seaforth Clansman. Isles of Scilly, 1983. (Andrew Besley/cornishmemory.com)

The official investigation determined that the cause of the accident was pilot error by their failure to recognize and correct the unintentional descent while attempting to fly in conditions not suitable for visual flight. This was the worst helicopter accident in terms of fatalities up to that time.

The Sikorsky S-61N is a civil variant of the United States Navy HSS-2 Sea King. The first S-61N, s/n 61143, first flew 7 August 1962. It is a large twin-engine helicopter with a single main rotor/tail rotor configuration. The S-61N fuselage is 4 feet, 2 inches (1.270 meters) longer than that of the HSS-2. The S-61N is 72 feet, 7 inches (22.123 meters) long and 16 feet, 10 inches (5.131 meters) high, with rotors turning.

The main rotor has five blades and a diameter of 62 feet (18.898 meters). Each blade has a chord of 1 foot, 6.25 inches (0.464 meters). The tail rotor also has five blades and a diameter of 10 feet, 4 inches (3.149 meters). They each have a chord of 7–11/32 inches (0.187 meters). At 100% r.p.m., the main rotor turns 203 r.p.m. and the tail rotor, 1,244 r.p.m. The main rotor turns counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right side.) The tail rotor turns clockwise, as seen from the left side. (The advancing blade is below.)

G-BEON was powered by two General Electric CT58-140-1 turboshaft engines, each of which had maximum power rating of 1,400 shaft horsepower for takeoff and 1,500 SHP for 2½ minutes. The main transmission was rated for 2,300 horsepower, maximum.

The S-61 has a cruise speed of  166 miles per hour (267 kilometers per hour).  The service ceiling is 12,500 feet (3,810 meters). The maximum takeoff weight is 20,500 pounds (9,298.6 kilograms).

Between 1958 and 1980, Sikorsky built 794 S-61 series helicopters. 123 were S-61Ns.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 July 1969, 16:16:16 UTC, T + 02:44:16.2

This 1966 illustration depicts the J-2 engine of the S-IVB third stage firing to send the Apollo spacecraft to the Moon. (NASA)
This 1966 illustration depicts the J-2 engine of the S-IVB third stage firing to send the Apollo spacecraft to the Moon. (NASA)

16 July 1969: At 16:16:16 UTC, T+02:44:16.2, the Apollo 11 S-IVB third stage engine reignited for the Trans Lunar Injection maneuver.

One of the necessary features of the Rocketdyne J-2 engine was its ability to restart a second time. The third stage was first used to place the Apollo 11 spacecraft into Earth orbit and was then shutdown. When the mission was ready to proceed toward the Moon, the J-2 was re-started. Using liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for propellant, Apollo 11′s S-IVB burned for 5 minutes, 41.01 seconds, with the spacecraft reaching a maximum 1.45 Gs just before engine cut off. The engine was shut down at T+02:50:03.03. Trans Lunar Injection was at 16:22:13 UTC.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 July 1969, 13:34:42.30 UTC, T + 2:42.30

Apollo 11 S-1C first stage separation at 2 minutes, 41 seconds, altitude 42 miles, speed 6,164 mph, has burned 4,700,000 pounds of propellant. (NASA)
Apollo 11 S-1C first stage separation at 2 minutes, 41 seconds, altitude 42 miles (67.6 kilometers), speed 6,164 mph (9,920 kph), has burned 4,700,000 pounds (2,131,884 kilograms) of propellant. (NASA)

16 July 1969: At 13:34:42.30 UTC, 2 minutes, 42.30 seconds after launch, the S-IC first stage of the Apollo 11/Saturn V has burned out and is jettisoned. Apollo 11 has reached an altitude of 42 miles (68 kilometers) and a speed of 6,164 miles per hour (9,920 kilometers per hour). The five Rocketdyne F-1 engines have burned 4,700,000 pounds (2,132,000 kilograms) of liquid oxygen and RP-1 propellant.

After separation, the S-IC first stage continued upward on a ballistic trajectory to approximately 68 miles (109.4 kilometers) altitude, reaching its apex at T+4:29.1, then fell back to Earth. It landed in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 350 miles (563.3 kilometers) downrange.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 July 1969, 13:34:30 UTC, T + 2:30

Apollo 11 gains altitude while the first stage Rocketdyne F-1 engines increase thrust. (NASA)
Apollo 11 gains altitude while the first stage Rocketdyne F-1 engines increase thrust. (NASA)

16 July 1969: Apollo 11/Saturn V AS-506 accelerates with all five Rocketdyne F-1 engines burning. As the rocket climbs through thinner atmosphere, the engines become more efficient and the total thrust for the S-IC first stage increases from 7,648,000 pounds of thrust to 9,180,000 pounds of thrust at about T+1:23.0.

In order to limit acceleration, a pre-planned signal to cut off the center engine is sent at T+2:15.2 (Center Engine Cut-Off, “CECO”). As the first stage burns fuel at a rate of 13 tons per second, the rapidly deceasing weight of the Saturn V and the increasing efficiency of the F-1 engines could cause the limits of vehicle acceleration to be exceeded.

LV acceleration vs. time

By T+2:30, the Saturn V has reached an altitude of 39 miles (62.8 kilometers) and is 55 miles (88.5 kilometers) downrange.

This photograph was taken by a 70mm telescopic camera aboard a USAF/Boeing EC-135N A/RIA (Apollo Range Instrumentation Aircraft) serial number 60-374. The airplane is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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