Reviews and Previews: The Unstoppables

Cloudy skies, freezing rain, and mechanical trouble couldn’t keep a pair of British fliers from crossing the Atlantic in an open-cockpit biplane.

John Alcock and Arthur Brown survived a not-so-pretty landing in an Irish bog. (NASM (SI Neg. #97-15205~pm))
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Yesterday We Were in America: Alcock and Brown, First to Fly the Atlantic Non-Stop

By Brendan Lynch. Haynes, 2009. 256 pp., $39.95.

It was the spring of 1919. The airplane had proven itself as a weapon of war; now it needed to demonstrate peaceful abilities: bridging oceans and drawing the peoples of the world closer together. The Atlantic beckoned. The crewmen of the U.S. Navy’s NC-4 flying boat were the first across, flying from Newfoundland, Canada, to Plymouth, England, via the Azores and Lisbon, on May 16 to 31. But the Navy effort was quickly followed by a competition that would overshadow it: to become the first to cross the Atlantic nonstop.

As the NC-4 was winging its way toward Europe, four teams of British aviators gathered on the Canadian shore, poised to climb aboard their Sopwith, Martinsyde, Handley-Page, and Vickers aircraft and attempt to capture a £10,000 prize offered by English press baron Lord Northcliffe to the first airmen to cross the Atlantic in less than 72 hours. A pair of Royal Air Force veterans, John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown, captured the prize, flying their Vickers Vimy 1,880 miles in 16 hours to a rough landing in an Irish bog on June 15.

In this fresh retelling of the familiar story, Brendan Lynch punctures one of the persistent myths surrounding the epic flight. Rather than having to leave the cockpit and clamber out on an icy wing to clear the face of a critically important gauge, Brown was able to accomplish the task simply by turning and standing up on his seat. In view of the sleet and freezing slipstream, that was quite heroic enough.

Tom Crouch is a senior aeronautics curator at the National Air and Space Museum.


The NASA Northrop T-38: Photographic Art From an Astronaut Pilot

By Story Musgrave. Lannistoria, 2009. 266 pp., $49.95.

The author, a veteran of six space shuttle flights, carried a camera on almost every flight in his NASA-issued T-38 trainer. His book features 280 color photographs selected from the more than 15,000 that Musgrave captured of and from the airplane. (For an interview with Musgrave, see p. 11.)

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