Douglas "Wrong Way
" Corrigan is one of the most famous pilot
s in history. His greatest achievement was flying nonstop in a Curtis Robin
from New York City
. This wasn't exactly all that special, as Charles Lindbergh
had already flown to Paris
: the gimmick
of Corrigan's flight was that he was actually supposed
to fly to California
, and upon leaving New York, headed northeast instead of southwest. Corrigan's explanation for this was a faulty compass
that showed him going in the opposite direction of his true heading, but virtually nobody believed his excuse.
Let's step back for a second.
Douglas Corrigan was born in 1907. He never went to high school, and started out as a construction worker in Southern California. Eventually, he became interested in flying, and earned a pilot's license.
His first big break was working for the Ryan Aircraft Company in San Diego, California. At the time, Ryan was building Lindbergh's plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, and Corrigan was one of many people involved in souping it up for long-distance travel. Corrigan met Lindbergh during a factory tour, and later said that he wouldn't have been more thrilled if he had met Abraham Lincoln. Later, he quit Ryan and started barnstorming across the country.
So in 1934, well after Lindbergh's trip, Corrigan was stuck in Virginia, and dropped $310 on a second-hand Curtiss Robin to take him back to California. Even though he had no money for gas, he managed to cross the country in eighteen days, stopping to give rides to paying passengers along the way. For the next three years, Corrigan spent countless hours working on the plane, installing new instruments, fuel tanks, and a used Whirlwind piston engine. By the time the plane was finished, it was very similar to Lindbergh's plane: it even had a periscope for looking forward, as fuel tanks covered up where the windshield should have been. He named it Sunshine.
In 1937, Corrigan applied to the Civil Aviation Authority for a permit to fly to Ireland. The CAA inspector looked at the lashed-together airplane and told Corrigan that it was only sound for a transcontinental flight, so Corrigan agreed that he would fly it from New York to LA instead.
His plane left Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn on July 17, 1938, amid a heavy fog. He departed to the east, and his plane disappeared still heading east. For the next day, nobody knew where Corrigan was: if Corrigan was to be believed, even he didn't know where he was. Despite a leak in one of his gas tanks, Corrigan managed to keep the Robin aloft for twenty-eight hours and thirteen minutes, living on chocolate and fig bars, before landing at the Casement Aerodrome at Baldonnel, just outside Dublin. When he got out of the plane, his first words were, "Just got in from New York. Where am I?"
The CAA fined Corrigan by revoking his license until August 4, the date he was scheduled to arrive back in America. In New York, he received a ticker-tape parade rivaling that given to Lindy, and met with Franklin D. Roosevelt before taking the Robin on a national tour with the sponsorship of American Airlines.
Later, Corrigan became a test pilot, and around the 1970's, he retired to a ranch in California, taking Sunshine with him and keeping it in a special hangar. He remained something of a recluse until 1988, when he came out of hiding and went on another national tour with his aircraft, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of its flight. At air shows, he was noted for inviting people to "shake the hand that shook the hand of Charles Lindbergh."
He died in 1995, at the age of 88.