15th June 2019
It’s six hours and three minutes to our destination. We’ve just had an unremarkable lunch that was served while we watched our choice of popcorn movie. We are a touch over 10K above the Atlantic: a more impressive sounding 36,000′ in old money. We’ve covered 2180km/1352miles with 4923/3059 left to run. By the time I finish this sentence we’ve covered another ten miles. (That’s 580mph for you although to be fair I am a slow typist.)
We are en route to a roadtrip: reward for youngest offspring in completing GCSE exams. He put down pen for final time yesterday morning and around 24hours later we thunder into the Sussex sky heading WSW. We booked online, we checked in online, we scanned the boarding passes through the airport using the airline app. Everyone around us is relaxed – headphones on, snoozing, reading, me typing – with the crew quietly going about their business in shirtsleeves.
A shuffle of the Weekend i and on page 12 is a story I’d forgotten about. Growing up in a house shared with Grandparents I guess I have a better working knowledge of 20th century popular culture British characters and heroes. That said, it took me a minute to spot the symmetry and appreciate the moment.
One hundred years ago to this day – 15th June 1919 – Captain John Alcock and RAF Lieutenant Arthur Whitten Brown successfully completed the first non-stop Transatlantic flight (upon landing unceremoniously in a bog in Connemara). Their converted Vickers Vimy bomber – bombs replaced with auxiliary fuel tanks – was open cockpit. The duo flew a mere 1,860 miles(!) from Newfoundland whilst today we are going all the way from London to Miami. No one had flown further than 600 miles before that day less than a year after the Great War finished.
In the century since their uber-brave feat, we’ve come a long way. I mean, M & I have already flown almost as far this morning. I wonder what the post-war heroes would make of this common-or-garden Boeing Triple-Seven. Its tech’, its capacity, scale, range, comfort, speed and sheer ubiquity. They’d be uncomprehending. No one around me would bat an eyelid. Of the hundreds of fellow passengers I’d wager I’m the only one to have noticed the anniversary. And that by happy accident of reading a paper. At 36,000′.
Indeed, what might the pair make of the demonisation of air travel with it’s role in climate change? Less than their disdain for our lack of style in 2019. On emerging from their crash-landed machine Captain Alcock took the opportunity to change into a lounge suit…
Lest we forget the level of risk involved. To whit there are two facts which bring this into focus. Firstly, such was the peril inherent in their journey it was undertaken in the spirit of adventure and reward (not to mention ginormous cojones). The prize for the first aircrew to achieve the journey was a massive ten grand. In today’s money that’s around a million quid. Secondly, Alcock was to perish six months later in – any guesses? – a plane crash. Flying was not a pastime paired with long life-expectancy.
The prize was funded by the owner of the Daily Mail. (Since I make a point to never knowingly read that title, perhaps someone can inform me if they run a story on it today?) Despite it’s momentous, planet changing significance, it was an event from around eight years later that are higher in the public memory: Charles Lindburgh and his solo flight. Better PR optics for some reason I guess?
Another reflection on how times have changed. Few will remark to my son or I about our journey today. Partly because it’s had a century to normalise and because there is an wholesale lack of curiosity it these self-absorbed times. Back then, Alcock & Brown reportedly didn’t say so much because they were modest. (Of course they were feted by society but I have a sense that one simply didn’t make a fuss.)
Pausing for a peek out of the window of seat 28A I can see the cloud-base far below us and although the plastic of the window is warm to the touch I know the outside air temperature is well below zero. Without this pressurised cabin we’d suffocate before we froze. Those boys flew blind in thick fog oft below 300′. We are a multiple 120 times their altitude and infinitely less brave.
The mind boggles.
(Well, it does if you are curious to notice what’s actually going on in modern life).
2,648 miles to go then. This 411 mile blog made possible by two who had, well, balls.
Time for a snooze before we reach Florida. Might I dream of Alcock & Brown?
Further reading: Brendan Lynch: Yesterday we were in America.
BBC Article: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/extra/bM5diyl48K/alcock