Sir Arthur Whitten Brown, Glasgow born aviator, was born on the 23rd of July, 1886.
As every schoolboy used to know, Arthur Whitten Brown is famous as one half of a duo, being one of the first pair of aviators to fly non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean, which feat he accomplished, together with John Alcock, in 1919. Brown and Alcock were knighted for their efforts and deserved all the acclaim they got for that most significant milestone. Incidentally, in addition to being the first ever, non-stop transatlantic flight, Aclock and Brown's journey was also the first transatlantic airmail flight. However, before he became a benighted Sir, he was a Second Lieutenant Sir in the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, before being seconded to 2 Squadron the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) as an observer, during the First World War.
Stationed in France, Brown was shot down
twice and injured his leg, but lived to tell the tale and meet his destiny – and Alcock. It's not clear if he ever met Flying Officer James Bigglesworth or 'Captain' W. E. Johns, for that matter. On the first occasion, Brown's aircraft was shot down by anti-aircraft fire over Vendin-le-Vieil, while he was on artillery observation duties. After recuperating from his injuries, back in Blighty, Brown returned to the Western Front, only for his BE2c 2673 to be shot down again, near Bapaume, whilst on a reconnaissance flight. Brown and his pilot, 2nd Lt. H. W. Medlicott, were captured by the Germans on the 10th of November, 1915 and sent to a PoW camp. Later, Brown was sent to Switzerland, from where he was eventually repatriated.
Brown's 'oppo' on the ground breaking (shouldn't that be air breaking?) transatlantic flight was also a war hero; in Alcock's case, he was a bomber pilot, and another thing the two men shared was having been a prisoner of war. And just to prove that everything happens in 'threes', they were both employed by Vickers Ltd. (Aviation Department). Before the war, in April, 1913, the The Daily Mail newspaper had offered a prize of £10,000 to “the aviator who shall first cross the Atlantic in an aeroplane in flight from any point in the United States of America, Canada or Newfoundland to any point in Great Britain or Ireland ...in 72 continuous hours.” Of course, the challenge was withdrawn due to the outbreak of WWI, but it was reinstated in 1918, after the Armistice was declared.
Alcock and Brown flew a converted Vickers Vimy IV twin-engined bomber that had been modified for the long flight by having its bomb carriers replaced with extra tanks, sufficient to carry 865 imperial gallons of fuel. They had competition from several teams, including one from Handley Page, but those others were far less intrepid than the Brits in their Vimy, powered by its two Rolls-Royce Eagle 360 hp engines.
The two British aviators took off from Lester's Field near St. John's, Newfoundland at around 1:45 p.m. on the 14th of June, 1919. During the flight, their altitude varied between sea level (give, but not take, a few ft) and 12,000 ft. At the higher altitude, Brown's airspeed indicator went out of action, quite likely because it iced-up, and so he had to make his own estimates, but you cannae really blame Brown for the bog landing.
John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown landed in Derrygimla bog, near Clifden, in Galway, Connemara, Ireland, at just after 4:28 p.m. on the 15th of June, after a 1,980 mile, 16 hour flight. They made landfall not too far from their intended landing place, but the Vimy was damaged in the bog, which had appeared to Alcock from the air to have been a desirable green field. Thankfully neither of the two heroic British aviators was hurt. Cut out the overland flight distances and times and Alcock and Brown had crossed the North Atlantic, 1890 miles from coast line to coast line, in 15 hours 57 minutes at an average speed of 115 mph.
You can find some stories about Brown having to climb onto the Vimy's wing to clear ice from the plane, but as Brendan Lynch in his biography, 'Yesterday We Were in America' explains, those tales are myth. Brown did have to clear snow, but only from a fuel-overflow gauge on a strut a metre above his head, albeit he had to do that several times and by standing up in the cockpit and swivelling round in the confined space.
Alcock and Brown were treated as heroes on the completion of their flight and, in addition to the Daily Mail prize, presented by Winston Churchill, the then Secretary of State for Air, the two men got 2,000 guineas from a tobacco company and a spare £1,000 from Lawrence R. Phillips. The week after their historic achievement, the pair were awarded knighthoods (KBEs) by King George V at Windsor Castle.
Arthur Whitten Brown was born in Glasgow on the 23rd of July, 1886, but his family later relocated to Lancashire, where his American father worked for Westinghouse, near Manchester. For some reason, Arthur was known as 'Teddie' and he began his career in engineering with an apprenticeship with British Westinghouse, shortly before the outbreak of the First World War. When war came, Arthur took up British citizenship and enlisted in the University and Public Schools Brigade. Brown then sought a commission and became a Second Lieutenant in the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. After that, 2nd Lieut. Brown saw service in France, before being seconded to 2 Squadron RFC as an observer.
Shot down twice over France, before being captured by the Germans and subsequently interned in Switzerland, Brown was repatriated in September 1917. Afterwards, he worked in the Ministry of Munitions until the end of the war and when he was released, he approached Vickers for a job. As a direct consequence of his long distance navigation skills, Brown was asked if he would be the navigator for the proposed transatlantic flight. John Alcock had already been chosen as the pilot and Brown jumped at the chance of being his partner.
After the transatlantic adventure, Brown Metropolitan-Vickers, the company that had once been British Westinghouse and, in 1923, he was appointed chief representative for Metropolitan-Vickers in the Swansea area. During the Second World War, Brown served in the Home Guard as a Lieutenant-Colonel before rejoining the RAF to work in Training Command, dealing specifically with navigation.
Arthur Whitten Brown died in his sleep on the 4th of October, 1948, and he was buried at St Margaret Churchyard, Tylers Green, Buckinghamshire, England.