Yesterday We Were In America, UK First Edition, 2009
Subject of the book
This historical biography looks at the lives of John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown, the English pioneers of aviation and the first fliers to fly non-stop across the Atlantic from Newfoundland to Ireland, in June 1919. It is an entertaining story of courage and flying skill as the two pilots survive continuous cloud, freezing temperatures, snow and ice and a damaged exhaust on their Vickers Vimy plane. They cover the 1,880 miles in 16 hours, landing in Derrgimla in Ireland.
The history of aviation and plane technology is a long-standing area of interest for Deighton. He starts by making the point that often it is warfare that is the spark for innovation and forward leaps in human experiences, and this was certainly the case with the aeroplane. Alcock and Brown's plane had been a strategic bomber in the First World War, its water-cooled engine being the best available set up at the time of the flight.
Deighton writes how the Rolls-Royce Eagle engines were an improvement upon an original Mercedes design which was eventually used on many types of aircraft (Deighton is, currently, working on a history of the aero engine so is clearly in his element here). As well as the technology, Deighton acknowledges that both men had very different personality, but worked extremely well together as a team in arduous circumstances.
'In these days of ruthless competition it is satisfying to record that Alcock and Brown were attractive and modest heroes who became close friends. They generously insisted that part of their monetary prize was distributed among the Vickers support staff.'