A Tale of One Flyer’s Misadventures

Doug dreamed of flying. Ever since he saw his first airplane, the young man longed for the day when he could soar through the sky to unreached heights and unmatched distances.  This is a story of a young man who in two of his most anomalous flights made critical miscalculations involving two Emerald cities.

Doug was born in 1907 in Galveston, Texas, just four years after the Wright Brothers made their first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Then, on a Sunday afternoon in October 1925, Douglas decided to visit a local airfield. Corrigan watched a pilot take passengers for rides in a Curtiss "Jenny.” near his new home in Los Angeles.  In a matter of hours, the teenager made a life altering decision, the decision to fly a plane.  He came back the next Sunday and began taking flying lessons.  Five months later, Doug made his first solo flight.

Set on a career in aviation, Doug took a job in an airplane factory in San Diego.  A man came into the plant one day and asked Mahoney and Ryan, the company’s owners to construct a special aircraft for him.  Doug was assigned the job of assembling the plane’s wing and installing the instrument panel and gas tanks.  The pilot took off in May 1927 on a voyage unprecedented in the history of aviation.  The pilot was Charles Lindbergh. The plane was the Spirit of St. Louis. And the rest was history.  Right then and there Doug decided that it was his life’s mission to follow Lindbergh across the Atlantic.  Owing to the fact that he was the descendant of a long line of Irishmen, Doug established Dublin, the ancient capital of the Ireland, as his ultimate destination.   

Over the next eight years, Doug piloted small planes up and down the Atlantic coast.  He flew passengers from one town to another and often solicited air plane rides for anyone willing to plunk down a couple of coins.  Not satisfied with his life’s direction, he moved back to California to resume the pursuit of his dream.  In 1935 his application to make a trans. Atlantic, nonstop flight from New York to Ireland was denied because officials believed his plane was unsafe.   More applications were made.  All were denied.

Doug was determined he was going to fly to Ireland, with or without the approval of the U.S. government.  A 1937 trip was aborted when the weather conditions prevented long flight over the ocean.  It was on July 8, 1938 when the determined pilot set out to achieve his goal.  With only $69.00 in his jacket and two chocolate bars, two small boxes of fig crackers and a quart milk bottle of drinking water in his jerry-rigged once-wrecked nine hundred dollar plane, he landed in New York.  Airport officials suspected nothing of his deceitful plans.  There was nothing to indicate that he wouldn’t turn around an head back home to California.  He didn’t ask about the weather over the Atlantic.  The only navigational charts in his plane marked his return route back home.  Besides, no one ever expected that this clanky modified 1929 Jenny could make it across the ocean with its five extra gas tanks which blocked the pilot’s forward view.  

Given the option of taking off in all directions of west, which was in the path of several tall buildings, Doug took off in a thick fog.  Control tower personnel believed he would head east away from the obstructions and turn around and head west.  Much to their dismay, Doug disappeared into a bank of clouds and was never seen again, that is until he completed his journey.

Though he would never admit it, the young pilot maintained that he misread his instruments which led him on a course in the opposite direction of his approved flight plan.  Just twenty-six hours after he took off from New York, Doug’s plane dropped down out of the clouds.  According to Doug, he believed he would find the flat lands of Southern California.  Instead, he found he was flying above a large body of water.   Whether his destination was divine or devious, Doug landed at  Baldonnel Airport, in Dublin, after a 28-hour, 13-minute flight.

Maintaining that he intended to return to California at the time and for the rest of his life, the instant hero in the eyes of his native people and thousands of new admirers back in the United States was dubbed with the new name of Douglas “Wrong Way” Corrigan.  Not even slightly amused or delightfully amazed, federal officials immediately revoked his pilot’s license.   In the face of rising public outcries, officials restored his pilot’s status as his ship steamed back to New York.    More than one million New Yorkers showered their newest hero in a ticker tape parade which surpassed their welcome of Lindbergh eleven years earlier.  Adulating admirers swarmed their hero and hugged him so hard that they damaged portions of his chest cartilage.  His new found fame brought him the a vast fortune and a the satisfaction of reaching his life’s goal.  

At the age of thirty-one, “Wrong Way” Corrigan was at the top of the world in the eyes of the American people.   Though he could never surpass the high mark of his aviation career, Corrigan continued to fly throughout the 1940s, serving as a test pilot in World War II and as a freight pilot in the years before his retirement in the 1950s.  He died in seclusion in 1995, long forgotten by many.

Many have read about and some even remember the folly of Corrigan’s most famous flight. A few years before he made his most momentous miscalculation, “Wrong Way” Corrigan was barnstorming through Georgia trying to make a living showing off and taking country people for plane rides.  Heading west toward Columbus, Corrigan guided off the newly constructed Federal highway 80 which led from Savannah to Columbus.  As he approached Dublin, Georgia. He flew to the southwest down to Empire, Georgia which is situated near the Dodge and Bleckley County line along the Dublin and Southwestern Railroad leg of the Wrightsville and Tennille Railroad.

Corrigan took off from Empire for an estimated 120-mile flight to Columbus.  Forgetting to allow for drifting winds, he found himself more than sixty miles away from his destination.  When asked my curious onlookers, Douglas Corrigan grinned and asked his interviewers wouldn’t they expect a man who made a mistake like that to get turned around on a long night.  Little did he and those who witnessed his first mistake near the Emerald City of Dublin realize the import of what his next mistake involving the city of Dublin would involve. And now you know the story of the first time Douglas “Wrong Way” Corrigan, took a wrong turn.