Douglas Corrigan was the right man in the right place at the wrong time when Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly across the Atlantic solo. The son of an engineer with a troubled upbringing, he had fallen in love with flying in 1925 when he took a pleasure flight in a Curtiss JN-4 biplane. Within a week he was taking flying lessons and six months later he was flying solo.

To be a flyer in the 1920s was to be an engineer, as the aeroplanes of the day required extensive maintenance just to keep flying. Corrigan soon got a job as an aeronautical engineer with the Ryan Aeronautical company, where he was charged with fitting the fuel tanks and instrument panels on a new, bespoke plane for Charles Lindbergh – the Spirit of St Louis. Lindbergh had everything going for him, including a $15,000 line of credit from two St Louis businessmen to pay for the new plane. A year later, Lindbergh was in the history books. Corrigan, meanwhile, was very much...

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