Douglas Corrigan


Douglas Corrigan


In 1937 Corrigan applied to the Bureau of Air Commerce for permission to make a solo flight across the Atlantic in his 1929 Curtis-Robin monoplane (nicknamed Lizzy). After inspecting the aircraft the bureau refused permission on the grounds that it could not condone suicide: Lizzy lacked any safety devices, radio, or beam finders, and the extra fuel tanks that Corrigan had put on completely obscured the pilot’s forward view, so he had to look out of the side windows to see where he was going.

Undaunted, Corrigan flew from Los Angeles to New York in 27 hours in mid-July 1938. Still denied permission, but appearing to accept the official refusal, Corrigan told the airfield manager at New York that he would fly back home to California. Departing on July 17, 1938, Lizzy was so weighed down with fuel that she traveled 3,200 feet along the runway before achieving takeoff. Just 23 hours and 13 minutes later, Corrigan landed at Baldonnel Airport, Dublin, Ireland. “I’ve just flown from New York,” Corrigan announced to the airport officials. “Not in that thing!” someone said, and told Corrigan where he was.

“My compass froze. I guess I flew the wrong way,” exclaimed the man who shortly (and forever after) would be known as Wrong-Way Corrigan. He became an instant celebrity on both sides of the Atlantic, receiving a ticker-tape parade in New York. [The Bureau of Air Commerce gave Corrigan only a five-day suspension.]

Wrong Way Corrigan

I guess the moral of this story is:

“It is easier to obtain forgiveness than permission.

Biographical Note: 

Douglas “Wrong Way” Corrigan was a U.S. aviator. After the episode described above, he went on to fly for the U.S. Army in World War II, and later flew as a test pilot. He also starred as himself in a Hollywood feature “The Flying Irishman.”

More Information: 

Read a tribute to “Wrong Way” Corrigan published in the SanDiego Tribune.
And don’t miss the Engines of Our Ingenuity page, a nice friendly account of Corrigan’s “mistake.”