Today in 1938, a pilot named Douglas Corrigan told authorities in Dublin, Ireland: “I left New York yesterday morning headed for California, but I got mixed up in the clouds and must have flown the wrong way.”
And with that, “Wrong Way” Corrigan became an international celebrity, even if the story he told was not necessarily what actually happened.
Corrigan was born in Galveston, and spent much of his childhood in California.
As a teenager, he came across a pilot offering short plane rides for $2.50.
From there, he was hooked, and five months after that, he’d earned his own pilot’s license.
He even worked at an aircraft company that assembled the Spirit of St. Louis, the first plane to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.
Corrigan wanted to make that same flight himself, but the secondhand plane he bought in 1933 was, to put it nicely, not the Spirit of St. Louis.
He repeatedly asked the authorities for permission to fly from the east coast of the US to western Europe, and they repeatedly turned him down.
They said his plane simply wasn’t in good enough condition to make the long trip.
In 1938, he flew from California to New York and tried one more time to get permission for a transatlantic flight.
When he was turned down, he filed a flight plan to return to Calfornia.
And he took off headed west, but then did a 180 in the air.
The authorities were right about the safety issues with the plane: at one point fuel was leaking to the point that Corrigan had to jab a hole in the cockpit floor so he wouldn’t be overcome by fumes or catch fire.
After 27 hours in the air, he landed in Dublin, where he did not have permission to land.
He told the authorities that he just didn’t know how the heck he had ended up there, that he’d been flying over the clouds so he didn’t know he was over the ocean instead of over the United States, and his compass must’ve just pointed him the wrong way.
Some people loved the idea of a wrong-way pilot, hence the nickname “Wrong Way” Corrigan.
And while the man himself never ever budged from this official version of the story, it was hard for nearly everybody else to believe.
So Corrigan also became a folk hero for being told no and achieving his dream anyway.
He had to take an ocean liner back to the US.
But once he was home, he got to star in parades, meet President Franklin Roosevelt at the White House, and travel around the country getting gifts from supporters, including a lot of compasses.
He did receive a punishment for flying to Ireland without permission.
Before taking that ocean liner home, he got word from the US that his pilot’s license was suspended… for the length of his 14 day boat trip.
Today in 1966, the first space mission for Michael Collins.
In 1969, he piloted the Apollo 11 command module while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans on the moon.
NASA reportedly offered Collins the chance to lead Apollo 17 and get a chance to actually land on the moon.
But he turned it down and ended up retiring from the astronaut corps.
‘Wrong Way’ Corrigan took infamous transatlantic flight (Amarillo Globe-News)
Photo by Malcolm via Flickr/Creative Commons