Thousands are set to be dazzled this weekend by one of Ireland’s most spectacular airshows as a historic moment in the country’s remarkable contribution to global aviation will be celebrated in Foynes.
An Taoiseach Enda Kenny will be among the huge numbers of people that will flock to the West Limerick town as it celebrates the moment 75 years ago that the Pan American Airways ‘Yankee Clipper’ flying-boat made history with the first commercial transatlantic crossing to Foynes.
The Foynes/Shannon 75th Anniversary Airshow will be a key element of a fitting weekend tribute across July 5th and 6th in the town to the airmen that crossed the Atlantic all of three quarters of a century ago on the historic flight.
Air travel was the preserve of the elite and very wealthy 75 years, as illustrated by the $675 fare – estimated to be the equivalent of over $11,000 (over €8,000) today – for a return ticket on the early flights into Foynes. It took anything from 20 hours to reach Foynes from New York, via Newfoundland, at the time, with passengers in those early days of commercial aviation travel including members of the royal families, movie stars, military personnel and politicians.The inaugural passenger flight was largely used as a promotional opportunity for the service, with the passenger list dominated by media and Pan Am representatives (full list below).
This historic moment at the then ‘Shannon’ Airport will be celebrated with the family festival, which will run on Saturday and Sunday July 5th and 6th and will also double as the 25th anniversary of the opening of Foynes Flying Boat Museum – the only aviation museum in Ireland and the only dedicated flying boat museum in the world. It was officially opened in July 1989 by its Patron, Hollywood star Maureen O’Hara Blair.
The high point of the festival will be a three-hour airshow on Sunday, July 6th featuring some of Europe’s leading aerobatic experts in a range of aircraft. Over 20 acts from Ireland, the UK and Europe are booked to appear in what promises to be the country’s most spectacular airshow for many years. Sunday will also see An Taoiseach Enda Kenny unveil a plaque to all who used the Foynes Air Base. The festival will also include a stunning dare-devil display at dusk on Saturday by the UK based Breitling Wing Walkers as well as a Sky Pyro Show and a fireworks display over the river and harbour.
Shannon Airport Chairman Rose Hynes said the 75th anniversary is not just significant for Shannon and Ireland but for aviation internationally. “The name Shannon is recognized and respected across the world of aviation as it has such a pivotal place in the history of air-travel. It was the first European gateway for transatlantic flights and so much history also followed. While it is all concentrated today on this side of the estuary, it really began across the estuary at Foynes.
“We are delighted to support this very important anniversary and all the more so today as we celebrate our own 75th anniversary this weekend the landing of the first aircraft here at Shannon.
“We are very proud of our place in global aviation, having achieved so many firsts, from being the original transatlantic crossing to the birthplace of duty-free and right up to becoming the first airport outside North America to have full US preclearance. It is right that we honour that history in style with the weekend festivities in Foynes and look to the example given by the pioneers of 75 years ago as an inspiration going forward.”
Flying Boat Museum Director Margaret O’Shaughnessy said that the anniversary weekend will rightly be one to remember. “Foynes and Shannon Airport are the home of Irish aviation. The history we have is second to none here in Ireland and has few rivals internationally. It is only right then that we would put on a spectacular airshow to recognise and celebrate those who carved out that history. We have kept our aviation history alive here to this day with the Foynes Flying Boat Museum, which is also celebrating its birthday on the same weekend.”
That fantastic history, during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, at Foynes saw it host many politicians, dignitaries and royalty, among them Col Lindberg, John F Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bob Hope and Ernest Hemingway. Gracie Fields was even known to have sang quayside for staff.
“The place will be humming here again on the 5th and 6th of July. And for the first time in 70 years, the control tower at Foynes will be active again. We will have thousands here on both days but huge crowds, in particular, for the air show. It will be fantastic for young and old and really will be one of the big memories of the year,” added the Flying Boat Museum Director.
In addition to Shannon Airport, other organisations and companies supporting the event are Shannon Foynes Port Company, Limerick City & County Council, IAA, AVOLON, Air Contractors and Irelandia Aviation.
The full list of passengers on board the inaugural transatlantic commercial flight between New York and Foynes on July 9th, 1939 was:
• Thomas H Beck, President, Crowell Publishing Company
• Amon G Carter, President/Publisher, The Fort Worth Star Telegram
• Guido Coen, on a ‘mercy trip’ to see his dying son in Florence, Italy
• John Cowles, President, The Minneapollis Star
• Silliman Evans, President, Maryland Casualty Company
• John D Ewing Editor, The Shreveport Times
• James Furay, Vice President, United Press Association
• Artemus Gates, Director, Pan American Airways
• Roy W Howard, President, Scripps Howard Newspapers
• M C Meigs, Publisher/President, The Chicago Evening American
• Paul Patterson, President, The Baltimore Sun
• Mrs Ogden Reid, Vice President, The New York Herald Tribune
• G L Rihl, Vice President, Pan American Airways
• John F Royal. Vice President, National Broadcasting Company
• James A. Stahlman. President/ Publisher, The Nashville Banner
• Ed Swasey, San Francisco Advertising Executive
• William Van Duaen, Director of Public Relations, Pan American Airways
• Mr & Mrs Alfred L Wolf of Philadelphia