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Sir Arthur over the Atlantic

Students often complain about the Manchester weather, but in June 1919 one of our alumni, Sir Arthur Whitten Brown, braved freezing temperatures and lashing sleet, hail and rain to do what was necessary. If this sounds like your morning commute to lectures, bear in mind that Brown was somewhere over the Atlantic, clinging unprotected to the wing of a converted Vimy bomber aeroplane. This was the lowest point on a flight that experienced more catastrophes than the Alan Gilbert Learning Commons.

Brown had been convinced to attempt the dangerous journey when, unlike other Manchester graduates, he found himself unemployed and needing money. After serving as an observer with the Royal Flying Corps and being captured by the Germans during the First World War, Brown decided he had had enough excitement and approached Vickers engineering company to ask for a nice, steady job. Instead, they offered him the chance to risk life and limb for eternal glory and a £10,000 reward. The Daily Mail promised this prize to the first people to fly across the Atlantic without stopping.

Weeks later, Brown found himself squeezed into the cockpit of the Vickers Vimy next to fellow Mancunion John William Alcock, in a space more cramped than the 147 bus in Welcome Week. During the flight the plane not only lost bits including the exhaust pipe, but Brown was forced to crawl onto the wing to clear snow which was blocking an essential dial. If that wasn’t impressive enough, the failure of his wireless transmitter and airspeed indicator, as well as dense cloud and fog, meant he had to navigate almost entirely by intuition and educated guesswork. After sixteen-and-a-half hours the pair somehow landed in Ireland. Brown’s quick thinking and skill had secured them a hero’s welcome. His former University can be justifiably proud.