THE CURTISS-WRIGHT ROBIN “SUNSHINE” & “WRONGWAY” CORRIGAN
In the mid-30s, Douglas Corrigan a resident of CA was trying to make a living as a pilot. He had been turned down by the airlines and the military due to colorblindness and his lack of formal education. Corrigan conceived the idea of emulating his hero, Charles Lindbergh, by making a transatlantic flight to Ireland. He rebuilt his Robin, installed large fuel tanks and refitted it with a Wright J6-5 engine. Following the disappearance of Amelia Earhart in 1937, the Bureau of Air Commerce was reluctant to approve further transoceanic flights from the US and therefore, turned Corrigan down several times. He obtained an experimental license for his Robin to attempt a two-way transcontinental flight and flew non-stop from LA to NYC on July 8-9, 1938. While waiting for good weather for his return trip, Howard Hughes completed his around-the-world flight and stole the limelight from Corrigan. On July 17th, Corrigan departed from Floyd Bennett Field supposedly headed back to CA. Heading east instead, he flew across the North Atlantic and landed in Dublin the following afternoon. Knowing he could lose his license for making the Atlantic crossing without permission, he claimed he had misread his compass and had flown east instead of west … and by pure luck had ended up in Ireland. Tired of the economic depression, the world was ready for a good laugh, so Corrigan became an instant “reverse hero” and the favorite son of all Irish descendants. After shipping his plane back to New York, he was given a hero’s ticker tape parade down Broadway and was dubbed “Wrongway” Corrigan; went on a whirlwind personal appearance tour around the country, met President Roosevelt; wrote his autobiography, “That’s My Story”; and starred as himself in a movie entitled “The Flying Irishman.” Realizing his fame rested on his “wrong way” story that had so amused the world, Corrigan stuck to it for the rest of his life.
He served as a test pilot for Douglas during WW II and also ferried airplanes to overseas embarkation points. After the war, he bought an orange grove in Santa Ana, CA and settled down to a life of self-imposed obscurity.
As is often the case with anything having to do with aviation, a great number of myths have persisted concerning Douglas Corrigan. Generally, he has always been depicted as a “grease monkey and amateur pilot who read his compass backwards and flew his worn out old airplane east across the Atlantic.” In fact, Corrigan had held a mechanics license since 1927, had held a Transport pilot’s license since Oct of 1929 and was . . . obviously . . . a skilled navigator. Lost on the general public was the fact that he had made his flight to Ireland in mostly IFR conditions by needle, ball and airspeed and with only a magnetic compass . . .yet hit his target right on the nose. In reality it was an amazing feat of flying and navigating. Corrigan’s Curtiss Robin was no piece of junk, either. It was only about nine years old in 1938 and he had completely rebuilt the airframe and majored the engine, so it was essentially a new airplane. None of that sort of information would have sold newspapers at the time, however, so Corrigan went along with the gag and let people enjoy what they wanted to believe.
He named his Robin “Sunshine” and owned the aircraft for the rest of his life. Douglas Corrigan died in Orange, CA on Dec 9, 1995 at age 88.