Pilot's log: Monday, May 18, 2020

Origin:RAF Cosford (EGWC), England, U.K.
Destination:Southampton International Airport (EGHI), England, U.K.
Distance:Approximately 450 miles on today's circular route over Ireland; straight-line distance about 105 miles

Today's flight takes us west from Cosford, out over the Irish Sea, and then over Dublin, the capital city of Ireland. We'll fly over the Emerald Isle to Ireland's west coast, home to an unusual aviation museum. We'll then fly south over Cork, Ireland, near the site of a famous shipwreck that changed history, then back over to England, where we'll see the mysterious ancient site of Stonehenge before landing at the port of Southampton on the English Channel.

Crossing the Irish Sea, we approach Ireland, a nation with a long history that encompasses the ancient settlements of the Celtic people, relatively early adaptation of Christianity starting in the 5th century, and then multiple Viking invasions followed by nearly 1,000 years of strife with the English over religious and political freedoms. Although Ireland won full independence in 1921, the portion known as "Northern Ireland" remains part of the United Kingdom and is governed by London.

The Irish flag

Dublin author James Joyce

Dublin, Ireland's capital and largest city, is home to the Guinness Brewing Co., but it's also known as a longtime center of literature and learning. It's the birthplace of three winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature: playwrights Samuel Beckett and George Bernard Shaw and poet William Butler Yeats. Other writers include dramatist Oscar Wilde and the novelist James Joyce, who wrote the renowned short-story collection Dubliners (1914) and also the novel Ulysses (1922), which follows a day in the life of Dublin in 1904 patterned after Homer's Odyssey.

A pub in downtown Dublin, Ireland

Continuing over Ireland to the west coast, we'll reach Foynes, a small harbor town that's home to a spectacular destination: the "Foynes Flying Boat and Maritime Museum." Visitors here can learn all about the early days of long distance flights, when large planes were equipped with floats and used water as their runways. In the 1930s, trans-Atlantic flights from New York would first arrive in Foynes, which for a time became a major port of entry to Europe. Today, the museum is home a many exhibits, including a replica of a 1930s Pan American Airways' Boeing 314 flying boat called the "Yankee Clipper" with amenities that include a dining room seating 14 people!

'The Yankee Clipper', a Boeing 314 flying boat

Foynes is also where Irish Coffee was invented, and part of the museum celebrates that important distinction. And although we're not landing in Ireland, let's salute one of the nation's signature snack foods: Tayto Cheese & Onion Crisps, which are what we call potato chips. In Great Britain and Ireland, "chips" are what we call French fries. And we supposedly all speak the same language!

See why it's called the Emerald Isle?

Leaving Foynes, we'll fly south over the countryside to the city of Cork, and you'll see why Ireland is known as the "Emerald Isle" for its many shades of green. Ireland, like Great Britain, has a fairly mild climate due to the Gulf Stream, and the moderating influence of the sea that surrounds the Irish isle, which is about the size of Indiana. As a result, Ireland has mild winters and relatively cool summers, even though it's at the same northern latitude as southern Alaska.

A memorial to the Potato Famine in Dublin

Ireland is a place of great beauty, but can also be a hard, unforgiving land. In the 1840s, the "Great Potato Famine" (caused by a spud-killing fungus) led to mass starvation, prompting more than a million people to emigrate to the U.S. and Canada. Today about 10 percent of Americans have Irish ancestry, including the writer of this text, whose family left Cork in the 19th century for a better life in America.

Flying off the coast of Cork, we'll pass over the site of a tragic shipwreck that changed the course of history. In March 1915, a British passenger liner called the Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine, killing 1,198 people in 20 minutes. The attack shocked the world, and was a major factor in the United States entering World War I two years later. Why did the Germans attack a passenger ship? Find out more in the links.

An illustration of the sinking of the Lusitania

Now we head east back to England. We'll soon be over what's called the Salisbury Plain, a flat area home to one of the world's most famous ancient sites: the ruins known as Stonehenge. Formed by large stones rising 24 feet above ground and arranged in a circle, the ruins are all that's left of a larger complex that archaeologists believe was built between 5,000 and 4,000 years ago.

It's estimated that Stonehenge was built about 5,000 years ago

Whoever built Stonehenge left no written records, so all we can do today is guess about how and why it was built. Because the openings of the stones align with the position of the sun at certain key times of the year, some theories say that it was a kind of prehistoric calendar. In years past, Stonehenge was overrun with tourists, and visitor acess is now limited. You can learn a lot more about Stonehenge, and make your own guesses about why it was built, using the links below.

Now we'll fly south to Southampton, a city on the English Channel with a harbor that once was a key landing point for trans-Atlantic passenger liners. Back before jet airliners, most people would cross the Atlantic on big ships that would dock at Southampton, and then take a "boat train" for the final distance to London.

A memorial to the Titanic's crew in Southampton

One famous ship that made only a single voyage that began here. Earlier in our journey, we flew near the spot in the North Atlantic where the Titanic struck an iceberg on its first trip and sank. Southampton was home to most of the ship's crew. About one third of the Titanic's 1,517 victims came from this city.

OKay, we're here. Rest up. Our next flight will take us right over central London!