Let me tell you how this started—it was a typical Wikipedia rabbit hole. I was looking at the page for Broadway (Manhattan) for a previous post (Traces). Then I followed a link to List of ticker-tape parades in New York City. While I was scrolling through that list, I came across this entry:
August 5 – Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan following flight from New York City to Ireland (he was scheduled to fly to California).
What? I can't believe I've never heard about this story in aviation.
I don't have any more information than what's available in that page on Wikipedia, so you can go there and get a fuller set of details. The short story is: he built his own plane (he was also a mechanic on Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis), he applied repeatedly for a flight clearance to fly from New York to Ireland but was repeatedly rejected, he "mistakenly" flew from New York to Ireland on a flight plan that was supposed to take him to California.
There's a man after my own heart.
Given my line of work, that's a funny thing to say. In systems engineering, a great deal of my job involves making sure the thing that was built matches what the customer wanted, what the requirements spec says, what the test plan says, etc. You really have to work hard to drive out expected and unexpected problems. In that context—making things that the public will fly in, making things that will fly above the public—there's really no tolerance for surprises. As it should be. We have our forums for developing wild new ideas in aerospace, but there's a palpable tension between production (making things the same way every time) and prototyping (making something new once). It's a different approach, and it really takes a different kind of person for each.
But: here's to the troublemakers—some of them, at least. It's a hair's breadth between feats of bravery and feats of stupidity. It's a hair's breadth (in the mind of the beholder) between knowing you can do something and thinking that you know how to do something. Like jazz (or at least like my marginal understanding of jazz), you need to have the talent, know the forms, and put in the work for deviation to become progress. Sometimes it's better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.
His plane was due to be shown at an event in Chino in July 2020, but that got canceled. Just looking at the photo of that plane makes my throat tighten up a little. Over the Atlantic in that lagwagon? Oof.
One more thing—Frank Zappa wanted to have his say about deviation from the norm: