By Jeff Pelletier
Special to The Telegram
A variety of events are set to take place in June to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first non-stop transatlantic flight.
The events aim to celebrate John Alcock and Arthur Brown’s historic flight from St. John’s to Ireland, but also to inspire younger generations to pursue aviation careers, Aviation History Newfoundland and Labrador (AHNL) announced at a news conference Monday at the 150 RCAF (North Atlantic) Wing in Pleasantville.
“What we are celebrating is a spirit of adventure and a drive to succeed that, in this instance, marked the beginning of a commercial aviation industry,” said Paul Snow, a member of the Alcock and Brown 100th Anniversary Committee.
A music festival, lecture series, public reception and aviators’ ball are among the commemorative events that will be held. A new statue of Alcock and Brown is also set to be unveiled.
Aviation historian and journalist Gary Hebbard says “it’s about time” such a statue was erected in St. John’s.
“The flight originated here, this is where all the history started,” Hebbard said. “I think it’s very appropriate that we’re going to have a proper statue to mark that accomplishment.”
A re-creation of the flight is set to take place during the June celebrations. Organizers say a crew will fly from St. John’s to Ireland to exchange letters and alcohol with a group of Irish, who are also celebrating the anniversary.
The federal and provincial governments are covering some of the costs of the events. St. John’s East MP Nick Whalen announced that through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, the federal government will provide AHNL with $257,000.
Advanced Education, Skills and Labour Minister Bernard Davis announced at the news conference that the province will contribute an additional $100,000 to AHNL.
“By reminding Newfoundlanders of our rich aviation history, we can encourage young people to get involved and pursue their dreams in the skies,” Whalen said.
Although the events are mostly about the history of Alcock and Brown’s flight, organizers say there will be a significant focus on the future of aviation. AHNL says it hopes the events will inspire young people to consider aviation as a potential career, to counter the consequences of a global pilot shortage.
“When you do a historic celebration, I think it’s appropriate to do something future forward that includes our young people, and there’s huge opportunity for them,” Snow said.
Alcock and Brown took off for their historic flight from St. John’s on June 14, 1919, flying in a modified Vickers Vimy. For nearly 16 hours, they flew with faulty instruments through heavy snow and fog, before crash landing in bog in Clifden, Ireland. The two survived the crash and, a week later, they were knighted for being the first people to complete a non-stop transatlantic flight.
Members of the aviation community say the accomplishment inspired many other early pilots to attempt the same route, and also was the beginning of the modern commercial aviation industry.
“The transatlantic aviation industry today was born on the 14th of June when Alcock and Brown lifted off from a field not very far from here,” Hebbard said. “They were the first people to prove not only that it could be done, but that it could be done safely and that there was a future for that industry.”