Today, 63 years ago, the city of New York witnessed one of the most spectacular achievements in aviation history.
It was late in the night of 29 September 1956. 26-year-old Thomas Edward Fitzpatrick was getting drunk in a bar and chatting with his friends, as many young men around the city were doing.
Thomas was an average middle-class guy. He volunteered for the Marine Corps in World War 2, and also served in the Korean War. Recently he had been taking flying lessons at the Teterboro School of Aeronautics, where the source of the drama was about to take place…
The conversation between Thomas and another guy went something like this:
Other guy: The traffic is horrendous down here in New York… it takes an hour just to drive out of the city.
Thomas: Who needs to drive when you can fly?
Other guy: What?
Thomas: I bet you I can fly from New Jersey to New York in 15 minutes.
Other guy: You’re drunk, Tommy.
Thomas: So are you.
At 3 AM on 30 September, Thomas drove to his flight school, the Teterboro School of Aeronautics. He proceeded to steal a Cessna 140 and take off from the taxiway, without lights or radio. He was severely intoxicated as he was doing all this.
Meanwhile, back at the bar, his friends had gone for another round of drinking and reckless partying.
The light and manoeuvrable Cessna 140 flew low between the skyscrapers of New York City. The roar of its engine scared pedestrians and motorists out of their wits.
Thomas Fitzpatrick narrowly missed a truck and several cars before performing a perfect landing on St Nicholas Avenue, right outside the bar.
His friends were shocked out of their wits.
Needless to say, he won the bet.
Thomas initially claimed that the plane had suffered an engine failure, but that was soon disproven. He was arrested by the police.
Asked to explain himself, he simply said “I had an urge to fly.”
The Police Aviation Bureau said that the landing was a “100,000 to 1” shot, and that it could have gone much worse.
The owner of the stolen aircraft was so astounded that he didn’t press charges against Thomas, so he walked free with only a $100 fine.
Two years later, in 1958, Thomas was in another bar in New York City. He was dismayed that the guys at the bar didn’t believe what he’d done in 1956.
So he did it again.
It was truly a “Hold My Beer” moment.
But that’s a story for another time. October 4 is the date—you’ll know more then!