18 December 1919: Captain Sir John William Alcock, KBE, DSC, a test pilot for Vickers Ltd., was flying the prototype Vickers Viking seaplane, G-EAOV, to the Paris Air Show–1919, at the Grand Palais, Champs Elysees. After crossing the English Channel, he attempted to land north of Rouen, in foggy conditions. A contemporary news article described the event:
THE DEATH OF SIR JOHN ALCOCK
It is with the most profound regret that we have to record the fatal accident of Sir John Alcock, which occurred on the afternoon of December 18, while he was engaged in taking a new Vickers machine to Paris in connection with the Salon. It appears that the machine when nearing Rouen had great difficulty in negotiating a strong wind. A farmer at Côte d’Evrard, about 25 miles north of Rouen, saw the machine come out of the fog, commence to fly unsteadily, and—it was then about 1 o’clock—it suddenly crashed into the ground. Sir John Alcock was taken from the wreck, but unfortunately there was considerable delay in getting medical assistance as the farmhouse near where the crash occurred is out of the way. As soon as the accident was reported, doctors rushed from No. 6 British General Hospital, Rouen, but they were too late. It is probable that an enquiry will be held by French authorities, at which the Air Ministry and Messrs. Vickers will be represented. Arrangements are being made for the conveyance of the body of Sir John Alcock to England for burial in Manchester, his native city.
The death of Sir John Alcock is an irreparable loss to aviation. His great flight across the Atlantic is too fresh in the mind of readers of FLIGHT for further reference here, while his previous work is recorded in the pages of past volumes of this paper.
—FLIGHT, The Aircraft Engineer & Airships, No. 574 (No. 52, Vol. XI.), 25 December 25 1919, at Page 1646.
John William Alcock was born 5 November 1892. He took an early interest in flying. Work as a mechanic led to flight training and he received his pilot’s license in 1912. With the onset of World War I, he enlisted as a warrant officer in the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). He was commissioned a sub-lieutenant in December 1915 and was sent to a squadron in the eastern Mediterranean. Alcock was flying a Sopwith Camel, 17 September 1917, when he shot down an enemy airplane and forced two others into the sea. For this action he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. After he returned to base, he took a Handley Page bomber on a mission to Constantinople. When one engine failed, he turned back, but then the second failed and the airplane went down. He and his two crewmen then swam to the enemy-held shoreline. They were all captured and held as prisoners of war.
After the war, John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown flew a Vickers Vimy from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Clifden, Ireland, becoming the very first aviators to make a non-stop crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.
Forever known as “Alcock and Brown,” the two pilots were invested as Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by King George V.
The airplane which Sir John Alcock was flying was the prototype Vickers Viking, registration G-EAOV. This was an amphibious 5-place single-engine biplane, powered by a 897.1-cubic-inch-displacement (14.2 liter) water-cooled Rolls-Royce Falcon 60° SOHC V-12 engine which produced 288 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m at Sea Level. It was mounted just below the airplane’s upper wing and turned a four-bladed propeller in pusher configuration.
© 2016, Bryan R. Swopesby