Today, a pilot adds an expression to the English
language. The University of Houston's College of
Engineering presents this series about the machines
that make our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.
As a child, I listened to
stories on the radio. I loved radio stories. One
program was Hop Harrigan. It began
with a voice: "This is CX4 to control tower, CX4 to
control tower. Hop Harrigan, Americaís Ace
of the Airways, coming in!" VaarrooOOOOM!
That show echoed the name of a real-life hero --
Wrong-Way Corrigan. Corrigan made his name in 1938,
and I listened to Hop Harrigan in the
years right after that. Now the Dec. 14th, 1995,
New York Times announces Douglas
Corrigan's death at 88.
Corrigan was the last of the early glory-seeking
fliers. He flew a single-engine 1929 Curtiss-Robin
heíd bought second hand for $310. No mean
mechanic, heíd rebuilt the airplane and
modified it for long-distance flight. Like
Corrigan, it was a hold-over from earlier days.
By now, Lindbergh's flight was eleven years old.
Others had also flown the Atlantic, but it was
still not a trick you'd try in any regular
Corrigan flew non-stop from California to New York
in 1938. He'd filed plans for a transatlantic
flight and was denied by aviation authorities. The
piece of junk he was flying had no business
challenging the Atlantic! So he gave up and filed a
plan for a non-stop return to California.
He took off at dawn. A few puzzled onlookers
watched him do a 180-degree turn and vanish into a
cloudbank. Twenty-eight hours later, he stepped out
of his plane in Dublin, Ireland, saying, "Just got
in from New York. Where am I?"
The authorities suspended his license while
Corrigan stuck to his story: He'd got turned around
-- read his compass backward He'd meant to fly to
California. The only people who were fooled by that
wanted to be fooled. After all, he was the perfect
anti-hero -- the little guy in his home-made
By the time the ship carrying Corrigan and his
crated plane got back to New York, the suspension
had been lifted. The city gave him a bigger parade
than itíd given Lindbergh.
The next year saw the first commercial
transatlantic airline. The year after that saw
four-engine bombers being ferried off to war in
Europe. Corrigan became a test pilot. For a few
years I listened to Hop Harrigan. Then
he too was overtaken by war.
When Corrigan was 81, his old Curtiss-Robin came
out of mothballs and went on display at an airshow.
Corrigan, who'd grown reclusive, was suddenly so
enthusiastic they put a guard on the plane, lest he
try to take off one more time.
Now he's dead, but the expression, "Wrong-way
Corrigan!" will be around long after we've
forgotten his wonderful off-the-wall story.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds
Thomas, R. McG., Jr., Douglas Corrigan, 88, Dies;
Wrong-Way Trip Was the Right Way to Celebrity as an
Aviator. The New York Times OBITUARIES,
Thursday, December 14, 1995, p. C19.
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is
Copyright © 1988-1997 by John H.
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