This weekend marks the 115th birthday of the notorious Galveston-born, Douglas "Wrong-Way" Corrigan. The pilot who was supposed to be flying from New York to California, but landed in... Ireland? Corrigan noticed people paying to be taken for short rides in a Curtiss JN-4 "Jenny" biplane near his home on October 1925. He paid $2.50 (equivalent to $33.62 now) for his own flight and began flying lessons a week later. He spent all of his non-flying time observing and learning from local aircraft mechanics. On March 25, 1926, he flew solo for the first time after only twenty lessons.
Shortly after, Corrigan joined Lindbergh's mechanic team for the world's first non-stop, transatlantic flight! Less than 1 year after his first solo flight, he we responsible for installation of the gas tanks and instrument panel. He even redesigned and assembled the wings with Dan Burnett. On May 20, 1927, Lindbergh landed safely in Paris, France from New York. Corrigan was inspired to duplicate it. His destination? Ireland!
In 1929, he bought a used Curtiss Robin OX-5 monoplane for $310, flew it home, and went back to work as an aircraft mechanic, modifying the Robin for his very own transatlantic voyage. He applied for authorization to fly nonstop from New York to Ireland in 1935. The application was denied because his plane was deemed unfit for a nonstop transatlantic flight, despite being certified to a lower requirement for cross-country flights. After two long years of hard work modifying his aircraft, the aircraft was deemed unfit for safe flight and it's license renewal was denied.
On July 9, 1938, Corrigan was able to gain approval for a flight from California to New York and back after obtaining an experimental license. His flight took 27 hours and he had a very critical fuel leak causing fumes to fill the cockpit. After landing in New York, he decided repairing the fuel leak would take way to long and decided to make the trip back to California anyway. On July 17, 1938 Corrigan took off for California landing in Ireland 28 hours later on July 18.
Since his fuel tanks were mounted on the front, he was only able to see out of the sides. He claims to have notice his "error" 26 hours in. Stating he was preoccupied punch a hole in the bottom of the aircraft with a screw driver. The fuel leak had worsened flooding the cockpit floor. To reduce the explosion risk, he had to punch the hole to drain the fuel away from the hot exhaust pipe. After speculation that he had planned to fly to Ireland the entire time, he blamed it on his faulty 20-year-old compass.
You may be asking, "What does any of this have to do with Galveston besides him being born here?" After his flight in 1938, he returned to Galveston where there was a parade in his honor. He even inspired two Galveston local women to write and compose a song. "If Your Compass Is Turned Around" was written by Eloise Drake and Christine Smith in 1938. The original signed sheet music is even on file at our very own Rosenberg Library.
Image Description: a picture of Corrigan at 21st and Post Office waving to the crowd in the parade.
Image Description: the announcement of the composing of "If Your Compass Is Turned Around."
Image Description: a digital copy of the original sheet music to "If Your Compass Is Turned Around."
I took the liberty of translating the sheet music with an app so we could hear this catchy swing-tune.
On January 23, 1992 the day after his 85th birthday, July 17th was declared "Wrong-Way Corrigan Day" in Galveston. For 6 years, the city hosted a parade in which everyone participating marched backwards! I, for one, would have loved to see that! Below are many articles celebrating Douglas "Wrong-Way" Corrigan.