is a right way to do something and there is a wrong way, but sometimes
the wrong way is the only way. That's one of the lessons we can
take from the saga of Daniel "Wrong Way" Corrigan who made a transatlantic
flight from New York to Dublin in 1938 but did it by flying the
wrong way. Or so he said. For his part, Corrigan always insisted
he just made a simple mistake.
Wrong Way Corrigan, as he will forever be known, was another in
a long line of aviation pioneers from Texas
who earned a certain degree of fame and fortune by being part of
the first generation to leave the confines of earth in a flying
machine. He was born in Galveston
in 1907 but moved around a great deal as a child, eventually ending
up in Los Angeles where he took his first flight lesson. From that
point on he was usually flying an airplane, building an airplane
or repairing one. He worked as an airplane mechanic for a company
that built the "Spirit of St. Louis" for Charles Lindbergh but simply
having an association with the world's first transatlantic flight
wasn't enough for Corrigan. He had his eyes set on a distant shore
- Ireland's. (In case the surname hasn't already given it away,
Corrigan was of Irish descent.)
After quitting the factory and becoming one of those pilots who
flew into small towns and offered people an airplane ride for a
small fee, Corrigan applied to federal aviation officials for permission
to make his own transatlantic flight. The feds decreed that the
plane was stable enough to fly cross-country but not across the
ocean. Corrigan made some adjustments and tried again. And again.
Permission denied, and denied again.
Finally deciding - and we are sure of this - that it would be easier
to obtain forgiveness than permission, Corrigan flew from California
to New York after filing a flight plan that called for him to fly
back to California on July 17. He took off on that day from Brooklyn
in a heavy fog with instructions to head east out of the airport
and then veer west, toward California, once he cleared the airport's
airspace. To the airport officials' dismay, Corrigan kept going
hours and 31 minutes later, Irish officials were as appalled as
their American counterparts when Corrigan landed his plane in Dublin.
Corrigan explained that he got lost in the fog and his compass stuck
and he thought he was going west until he came out of the clouds
after flying for 26 hours and saw a large body of water. Since he
hadn't been in the air long enough to be over the Pacific Ocean,
he figured out that he was over the Atlantic. No one believed him,
no matter how many times he explained it.
"That's my story," he finally said, and he said no more.
Irish officials let him go and Corrigan returned to a hero's welcome
in New York and the rest of the country. People admired the spunk
and audacity of the man they affectionately called Wrong-Way Corrigan.
His ticker tape parade in New York matched Lindbergh's. Corrigan
took full advantage, endorsing a watch that ran backwards, of course,
and writing a best-selling autobiography, That's My Story. After
more than a decade in the public eye Corrigan returned to Texas,
bought an 18-acre orange grove in Coleman
County and moved his family there in the 1950s.
That he knew nothing about growing oranges deterred Corrigan not
at all. Corrigan said he climbed to the roof of his barn to watch
what his neighbors were doing, and then did the same thing. When
they set out smudge pots, he set out smudge pots. When they irrigated,
he irrigated. Even late in his life he was interviewed many times
and always insisted he simply made a mistake on his flight because
the dadgum compass got stuck.
His wife, Elizabeth, was diplomatic about the issue. In a Jan. 26,
1960 article in the "Santa Ana Register," she said, "He always told
me the truth and he still sticks to his story."
We're glad he did.