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1938 brought out some interesting aviation news

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This week, we feature three aviation stories that have no relevance to Cedar County other than the fact they all appeared in Cedar County newspapers in July and August, 1938.

The first is about an aviator named Douglas Corrigan.

Corrigan was a 31-year-old aircraft mechanic who had helped with the construction of the “Spirit of St. Louis” plane which Charles Lindbergh used to make the first solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927. Corrigan wanted to duplicate Lindbergh’s flight but instead of using a specially-built plane like the “Spirit,” Corrigan bought a nine-year-old Curtis Robin and modified it himself at a cost of $900.

In July 1938 he flew from California to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, NY, with the intention of flying on to Dublin, Ireland, instead of Paris as Lindbergh had done. He was refused permission because officials did not consider his plane air worthy. Corrigan then filed a flight plan to return to California.

But instead of flying west, Corrigan headed northeast over the Atlantic with 320 gallons of fuel but with no radio and no instruments other than a compass. Twenty-eight hours later he landed in Dublin claiming he thought he was flying to Los Angeles. He was known ever after as “Wrongway Corrigan.”

Postscript: Douglas Corrigan died in 1995. His old Curtis Robin remained tucked away in the garage of his old home until 2018 when it was hauled away to storage. His son Harry Corrigan plans to donate it to an aviation museum.

Although Corrigan was given a heroes welcome when he returned to New York by ship, his achievement was overshadowed by Howard Hughes who had just completed a 15,000 mile round-the-world flight. On July 10, 1938, Hughes and four crew members began their record-breaking flight from the same airfield in Brooklyn that Corrigan would use a couple of weeks later. Unlike Corrigan’s cobbled-together plane, Hughes flew a twinengine Lockheed Super Electra — the most advanced plane of its time. They made six refueling stops at Paris, Moscow, Omak, Yakutsk, Fairbanks and Minneapolis before returning to New York in just 91 hours.

Hughes was not the first, however. Wiley Post had accomplished a similar solo flight in 1933 in a singleengine Lockheed Vega. The plane is now on display in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. Post died in a plane crash in 1935 that also took the life of Will Rogers. Howard Hughes, the daredevil aviator of the 1930s, died in 1976 after spending the last 10 years of his life as a recluse in a Las Vegas hotel.

The third story appeared in the Laurel Advocate of Aug. 10, 1938. While solo transoceanic flights in small planes were still considered risky, several commercial airlines were using seaplanes to carry passengers and mail across the Atlantic and Pacific. On July, 23, 1938, Pan American’s “Hawaii Clipper” took off from Alameda, Calif., bound for Manila in the Philippine Islands. On board were six passengers and nine crew. Overnight stops were made in Honolulu, Midway Island, Wake Island, and Guam. On the morning of July 29, the Clipper departed from Guam for Manila. It never arrived and, despite a massive search by both sea and air, no trace of the plane has ever been found.

This was surprising in view of the fact that the Clipper was the Titanic of flying boats. It was powered by four powerful engines of which only two were needed to keep the plane aloft. There were six watertight compartments of which only two were needed to keep the plane afloat. The plane also carried life rafts, a saltwater still, marker balloons, flares and enough food for a month.

Amelia Earhart’s disappearance a year earlier added to the mystery.

In his book “Fix on the Rising Sun: The Clipper Hijacking of 1938,” Charles N. Hill speculated the plane had been taken over by two Japanese officers who had stowed away in the baggage compartment while the plane was in Guam. Hill believed the plane was then diverted to Truk where the passengers and crew were executed and the plane was taken to Japan to copy the design for their own flying boat. (This would seem unlikely in view of the fact that a Japanese ship participated in the search for the missing plane.) The most likely theory, however, is the pilot ran into a bad storm that caused structural failure. The Pacific is a big ocean and even today with the latest equipment, the disappearance of Malaysian Airways Flight 370 which vanished in March 2014 remains a mystery.