Originally from Stretford, a suburb of Manchester, his passion for aviation began at the age of 17. At the time, he was working as an assistant to Charles Fletcher, manager of Empress Motor Works, who also happened to be one of Manchester’s first aviators and to Norman Crossland, engineer and founder of the Manchester Aero Club. This introduces him to Maurice Dubrocq, a French pilot and UK sales representative for Italian aircraft engines. Dubrocq hired him as a mechanic and enrolled him in his flying school at Brooklands (Surrey).
Having obtained his pilot’s license in 1912, he joined the Sunbeam Motor Car Company team and in 1914 took part in an air race between Hendon, Birmingham and Manchester, flying a Farman biplane.
When war broke out, he joined the Royal Naval Flying School as an instructor, then transferred in 1916 to a squadron stationed at Moudros, on the Greek island of Lemnos. In his spare time, he built an aircraft, named Alcock Scout, by assembling Sopwith parts, in this case the fuselage and one wing of a Triplane, the upper wing of a Pup and the tail of a Camel.
In September 1917, he shot down two enemy aircraft at the controls of a Sopwith Camel. Some time later, he pilots a Handley Page bomber during a raid on Constantinople, when one of the engines fails. He tried to return to base, but after a hundred kilometers the second engine failed, forcing the plane to ditch. Alcock and his two companions swam to the coast held by the Ottoman armies. Taken prisoner, they were not released until the Armistice.
Discharged from his military obligations in March 1919, Alcock became a test pilot with Vickers and took part in the first attempt to cross the Atlantic by air (see Vickers Vimy). On June 15, 1919, John Alcock and his navigator Arthur Brown landed near Cliffden, Ireland, after a non-stop flight from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland and entered the history books as the first men to accomplish this feat, for which they were decorated by King George V.
Their plane, damaged on landing, was repaired and transferred to London’s Science Museum, where it was presented to the public on December 15, 1919, in the presence of John Alcock. Three days later, while flying the new Vickers Viking seaplane, he crashed in fog at Cottévrard, near Rouen. He succumbed to his injuries the following day. A sculpture depicting Alcock and Brown in flight suits and sitting on a bench can be seen in Crayford, East London, where the Vickers factory once stood.