American pilot Charles A. Lindbergh lands at Le Bourget Field in Paris, successfully completing the first solo, nonstop transatlantic flight and the first ever nonstop flight between New York to Paris. His single-engine monoplane, The Spirit of St. Louis, had lifted off from Roosevelt Field in New York 33 1/2 hours before.
Charles Augustus Lindbergh, born in Detroit in 1902, took up flying at the age of 20. In 1923, he bought a surplus World War I Curtiss “Jenny” biplane and toured the country as a barnstorming stunt flyer. In 1924, he enrolled in the Army Air Service flying school in Texas and graduated at the top of his class as a first lieutenant. He became an airmail pilot in 1926 and pioneered the route between St. Louis and Chicago. Among U.S. aviators, he was highly regarded.
In May 1919, the first transatlantic flight was made by a U.S. hydroplane that flew from New York to Plymouth, England, via Newfoundland, the Azores Islands, and Lisbon. Later that month, Frenchman Raymond Orteig, an owner of hotels in New York, put up a purse of $25,000 to the first aviator or aviators to fly nonstop from Paris to New York or New York to Paris. In June 1919, the British fliers John W. Alcock and Arthur W. Brown made the first nonstop transatlantic flight, flying 1,960 miles from Newfoundland to Ireland. The flight from New York to Paris would be nearly twice that distance.
READ MORE: 10 Fascinating Facts About Charles Lindbergh
Orteig said his challenge would be good for five years. In 1926, with no one having attempted the flight, Orteig made the offer again. By this time, aircraft technology had advanced to a point where a few thought such a flight might be possible. Several of the world’s top aviators–including American polar explorer Richard Byrd, French flying ace Rene Fonck–decided to accept the challenge, and so did Charles Lindbergh.
Lindbergh convinced the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce to sponsor the flight, and a budget of $15,000 was set. The Ryan Airlines Corporation of San Diego volunteered to build a single-engine aircraft to his specifications. Extra fuel tanks were added, and the wing span was increased to 46 feet to accommodate the additional weight. The main fuel tank was placed in front of the cockpit because it would be safest there in the event of a crash. This meant Lindbergh would have no forward vision, so a periscope was added. To reduce weight, everything that was not utterly essential was left out. There would be no radio, gas gauge, night-flying lights, navigation equipment, or parachute. Lindbergh would sit in a light seat made of wicker. Unlike other aviators attempting the flight, Lindbergh would be alone, with no navigator or co-pilot.
The aircraft was christened The Spirit of St. Louis, and on May 12, 1927, Lindbergh flew it from San Diego to New York, setting a new record for the fastest transcontinental flight. Bad weather delayed Lindbergh’s transatlantic attempt for a week. On the night of May 19, nerves and a newspaperman’s noisy poker game kept him up all night. Early the next morning, though he hadn’t slept, the skies were clear and he rushed to Roosevelt Field on Long Island. Six men had died attempting the long and dangerous flight he was about to take.
At 7:52 a.m. EST on May 20, The Spirit of St. Louis lifted off from Roosevelt Field, so loaded with fuel that it barely cleared the telephone wires at the end of the runway. Lindbergh traveled northeast up the coast. After only four hours, he felt tired and flew within 10 feet of the water to keep his mind clear. As night fell, the aircraft left the coast of Newfoundland and set off across the Atlantic. At about 2 a.m. on May 21, Lindbergh passed the halfway mark, and an hour later dawn came. Soon after, The Spirit of St. Louis entered a fog, and Lindbergh struggled to stay awake, holding his eyelids open with his fingers and hallucinating that ghosts were passing through the cockpit.
After 24 hours in the air, he felt a little more awake and spotted fishing boats in the water. At about 11 a.m. (3 p.m. local time), he saw the coast of Ireland. Despite using only rudimentary navigation, he was two hours ahead of schedule and only three miles off course. He flew past England and by 3 p.m. EST was flying over France. It was 8 p.m. in France, and night was falling.
At the Le Bourget Aerodrome in Paris, tens of thousands of Saturday night revelers had gathered to await Lindbergh’s arrival. At 10:22 p.m. local time, his gray and white monoplane slipped out of the darkness and made a perfect landing in the air field. The crowd surged on The Spirit of St. Louis, and Lindbergh, weary from his 33 1/2-hour, 3,600-mile journey, was cheered and lifted above their heads. He hadn’t slept for 55 hours. Two French aviators saved Lindbergh from the boisterous crowd, whisking him away in an automobile. He was an immediate international celebrity.
President Calvin Coolidge dispatched a warship to take the hero home, and “Lucky Lindy” was given a ticker-tape parade in New York and presented with the Congressional Medal of Honor. His place in history, however, was not complete.
In 1932, he was the subject of international headlines again when his infant son, Charles Jr., was kidnapped, unsuccessfully ransomed, and then found murdered in the woods near the Lindbergh home. German-born Bruno Richard Hauptmann was convicted of the crime in a controversial trial and then executed. Then, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Lindbergh became a spokesperson for the U.S. isolationism movement and was sharply criticized for his apparent Nazi sympathies and anti-Semitic views. After the outbreak of World War II, the fallen hero traveled to the Pacific as a military observer and eventually flew more than two dozen combat missions, including one in which he downed a Japanese aircraft. Lindbergh’s war-time service largely restored public faith in him, and for many years later he worked with the U.S. government on aviation issues. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed him brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve. He died in Hawaii in 1974.
Lindbergh’s autobiographical works include “We” (1927), The Spirit of St. Louis (1953) and The Wartime Journals of Charles A. Lindbergh (1970).
Lindbergh's Influence on Aviation
Before Charles Lindbergh made the first solo, nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean in May 1927, most Americans—including many North Carolinians—thought it too dangerous to travel by airplane. Two United States Army pilots had made a nonstop transcontinental flight in 1923, and navy commander Richard Byrd had flown over the North Pole in 1926. But the average citizen in 1927 still preferred to do his or her traveling by car, ship, or train.
Lindbergh’s flight changed that. When the twenty-five-year-old former airmail pilot safely landed his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, at Le Bourget Field near Paris, France, after a 33½-hour flight from Long Island, New York, on May 20–21, 1927, Americans gained a new confidence in air travel. Suddenly, everybody wanted to fly. In 1929 more than 170,000 paying passengers boarded United States airliners—nearly three times the 60,000 that had flown the previous year. Almost 3 million more—most of them businesspeople—traveled in private planes in 1929. Even Mickey Mouse took to the air, mimicking Lindbergh’s flight in the 1928 Walt Disney cartoon Plane Crazy.
Because of Lindbergh’s flight, aviation stocks soared. For a short time, even the stock of a small eastern company called Seaboard Airline saw activity—until it was discovered that the corporation was actually a railroad. As financial investors came forward, more and more fledgling airlines began to emerge. By the end of the 1920s, there were forty-four scheduled United States airlines, and many nonscheduled ones. Commercial airplanes began serving Raleigh in September 1929. One line flew passengers to New York, and another offered service to Charlotte and Atlanta. A Richmond, Virginia-to-Atlanta flight soon began making stops in Greensboro and Charlotte, and one from Richmond to Jacksonville, Florida, made stops in Raleigh.
After his transatlantic flight, Charles Lindbergh used his fame to promote the development of aviation. At the request of the Guggenheim Fund for the Promotion of Aeronautics, Lindbergh toured the United States in the Spirit of St. Louis during the summer and fall of 1927. Traveling a total of 22,350 miles, he visited seventy-five cities and dropped messages over towns where he couldn’t stop. In North Carolina, Lindbergh visited Greensboro and Winston-Salem on October 14–15, 1927, and dropped messages over Salisbury and Lexington.
To prepare for Lindbergh’s visits, cities across the nation groomed their airports, and those without facilities built them. Greensboro’s Lindley Field, later to become the Piedmont Triad International Airport, was dedicated in May 1927, just five months before Lindbergh landed there. Regular airmail service began at the airport the following year, and regular commercial air passenger service from Greensboro to Washington, D.C., started in 1930. Inspired by Lindbergh and local aviation pioneers Dick and Zachary Smith Reynolds, Winston-Salem also began its airport in 1927. Clint Miller gave the materials, grading work, and his name to Miller Municipal Airport, which Lindbergh helped to dedicate during his visit to the city. The airport would later be renamed Smith Reynolds Airport in memory of Z. Smith Reynolds, who became the nation’s youngest licensed pilot at age nineteen and died at the age of twenty-one.
Among the crowd listening to Lindbergh’s speech at the dedication of Miller Municipal Airport in 1927 was nine-year-old Thomas H. “Tom” Davis. Inspired by Lindbergh’s words, Davis decided to pursue a career in aviation. He earned his pilot’s license at age sixteen and founded Piedmont Airlines in 1947, at the age of twenty-nine. The North Carolina–based airline became the nation’s seventh largest before merging with USAir in the late 1980s.
While young Davis was listening to Lindbergh in Winston-Salem, another nine-year-old boy, Robert Morgan of Asheville, was following Lindbergh’s national tour in the newspapers and clipping articles about it to keep in his scrapbook. During World War II, Morgan became the pilot of the famous Memphis Belle, the first B-17 bomber to complete twenty-five missions over Europe—and without losing any crew members.
Another North Carolinian, William A. “Bill” Winston of Wendell, became a minor celebrity after Lindbergh’s flight, when the media learned that he was the Army Air Service sergeant who had given Lindbergh his first “official” flying lessons, at Brooks Field in Texas in 1924. Lindbergh even wrote about Winston in WE, the 1927 autobiographical book about his famous flight. Winston later became a master pilot for Pan American World Airways and was one of the first American pilots to make more than a hundred transatlantic flights.
Immediately after Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight, newspapers began comparing it to the Wright brothers’ first flight at Kill Devil Hill in 1903. The attention sparked an effort to establish a national memorial to the brothers. Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, a North Carolinian, had first raised the issue in 1913. Fourteen years later, Congress passed a bill authorizing the Wright memorial. Orville Wright was present at the laying of the cornerstone in 1928, but Lindbergh was not. The young aviator had been invited to attend the ceremony but reportedly declined at the last minute, not wanting to detract any attention from Orville and his accomplishment.
Lindbergh continued to influence aviation throughout his life. In 1931, with his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, serving as copilot and navigator, Lindbergh charted international air routes for new commercial airlines flying across Canada to Asia. Two years later, the Lindberghs flew 30,000 miles mapping out commercial routes across the Atlantic. During World War II, Lindbergh worked with Ford Motor Company as a consultant on B-24 bomber production and then served as a technical adviser and test pilot for United Aircraft. Later, he went to the South Pacific to study fighter planes’ capabilities and to teach pilots how to conserve their fuel so they could increase their bombing range. As a civilian adviser in the Pacific theater, Lindbergh actually flew about fifty combat missions. On at least one sortie, he shot down a Japanese plane.
Seventy-six years after his famous transatlantic flight, North Carolinians still have reason to remember and to celebrate Lindbergh. To learn more about the man, his flight, and his legend, visit Lindbergh, a traveling exhibit produced by the Missouri Historical Society.
At the time of this article’s publication, RoAnn Bishop was an associate curator at the North Carolina Museum of History.
References and additional resources:
"Charles Lindbergh, wearing helmet with goggles up, in open cockpit of airplane at Lambert Field, St. Louis, Missouri," 1923. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-68852.
"Mayor Thomas Barber and Colonel Charles Lindbergh at Miller Municipal Airport with Lindbergh’s airplane, the Spirit of St. Louis," 1927. Courtesy of the Forsyth County Public Library Photograph Collection.
First Solo Non-Stop Flight Across the Atlantic
On May 20, 1927, Charles Lindbergh began his famous flight across the Atlantic aboard the Spirit of St. Louis.
Born in 1902, Charles Augustus Lindbergh was taught to be completely self-reliant. It was this mindset, along with the spirit of an explorer, that led to the flight that would make him an aviation pioneer.
“Lucky Lindy” began his career at the age of 20, when he left the University of Wisconsin to enroll in flight school. Soon he was a barnstormer, offering plane rides for $5 a person and performing as a stunt pilot at fairs. He also trained with the Army Air Service and went on to fly airmail between St. Louis and Chicago.
U.S. #3184m was issued as part of the Celebrate the Century Series.
Lindbergh was an airmail pilot for the United States Postal Service (U.S.P.S.). He was very familiar with the risks of flying. Between the years 1919 and 1926, 19 U.S.P.S. pilots had died in accidents. In fact, Lindbergh himself had crashed on his St. Louis to Chicago route. It didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for flying, though. He dreamed of trans-Atlantic flights – carrying mail and passengers – becoming an everyday occurrence.
Since 1919, a New York City hotel owner, Raymond Orteig, had offered a $25,000 reward to the first pilot to fly non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean. Several pilots attempted to earn this prize, but all failed – some were injured or even killed. In 1927, this unclaimed prize came to Lindbergh’s attention. He believed the trip was possible with the right plane.
U.S. #1710 commemorates the 50th anniversary of Lindbergh’s historic solo transatlantic flight.
Lindbergh convinced a group of St. Louis businessmen to give him the financial support he needed to build a special airplane of his own design. He named the plane the Spirit of St. Louis.
On May 20, 1927, at 7:52 a.m., Lindbergh took off in the Spirit of St. Louis from Roosevelt Field, located near New York City. Lindbergh’s plane was so heavy with fuel it barely cleared the telephone lines to begin the daring flight. When fully loaded with fuel for the flight, the 27-foot Ryan M-2 aircraft weighed slightly more than the average U.S. automobile. Lindbergh insisted that the plane be purposely constructed to be uncomfortable to help keep him awake during the long journey.
Item #571317B – French commemorative cover marking 75th anniversary of Lindbergh’s flight.
Lindbergh’s only tools were a compass, an airspeed indicator, and his own navigational skills. His greatest challenge on that long, lonely flight was to stay awake, as he began to feel tired just four hours in. The storms he encountered took him off course and became navigational challenges. While over the Atlantic Ocean, he saw two fishing boats, circled down, and tried to ask them to point to land. Unsuccessful, he continued on and soon spotted the coast of Ireland. He knew at that point that his flight was a success, and he flew on to Paris in higher spirits.
Cruising at an average speed of 100 miles an hour, Lindbergh crossed Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Ireland, England, and the English Channel. Thirty-three-and-a-half hours and 1,000 miles later, he landed near Paris at Bourget Field where a wildly excited crowd of well over 100,000 rushed onto the runway to meet him. The next day, another crowd formed outside the American Embassy where he was staying, cheering and waving hats and handkerchiefs. Lindbergh received the Legion of Honor Medal from the President of France, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by U.S. President Coolidge.
Item #59715 – Coin cover honoring 75th anniversary of Lindbergh’s flight with U.S. and French stamps and cancels.
The First Transatlantic Flight
When Charles Lindbergh made the first solo, non-stop transatlantic flight, it marked a significant moment in travel history and forever changed the tourism industry.
Charles A. Lindbergh is credited with making the first solo, nonstop, transatlantic flight, when he flew the Ryan NYP “Spirit of St. Louis” from Roosevelt Field, New York to Paris, France. This accomplishment not only catapulted Lindbergh into instant celebrity, but it was an event that would define the future of air travel. Lindbergh made his journey across the Atlantic during a time when aviation was still thought of as some crazy idea, just something that would never exist beyond trials and imagination. Although flights had been made prior to Lindbergh’s famous transatlantic journey, the true significance, potential uses, and connections air travel could provide were not understood by the majority of people. Charles Lindbergh’s flight is not only significant to the history of air travel, but it is significant to the history of tourism.
Lindbergh’s First Transatlantic Flight & Its Impact on Travel and Tourism
Charles A. Lindbergh did not just open a passageway to Europe he opened up the hopes and interests of people who never thought they would see beyond their continental boundaries. His flight opened up possibilities. Prior to Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight, it seemed travel was confined to the ground or the sea and even cars and wagons were blocked by waterways or treacherous terrain, and boats exposed to rough seas. Travel had boundaries prior to Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic, but after his flight people could see beyond those boundaries.
Charles Lindbergh is the subject of the article, “Air Travel: Its Impact on the Way We Live and the Way We See Ourselves,” by James Kruggel. The article defines the social history of air travel how Lindbergh’s feat and the accomplishments he made paved the way for change, how we live, how we see ourselves, and how we view the world around us. Kruggel closes his essay with the following, which speaks volumes of Lindbergh’s impact on tourism:
“Like the interstate highway system, airline travel has shrunk America’s vast distances.
Giant resorts such as Disney World in Orlando, and casinos in Las Vegas, teem with millions of visitors flown from hundreds, often thousands, of miles away. Air travel may no longer inspire, but it connects Americans of all economic means with their loved ones, with business partners, with customers, and vacations. Along with highways, the Internet, and cable and satellite television, widely available air travel has helped connect Americans with the world outside of their own communities. And perhaps it has helped its citizens see themselves as members of a much larger world, with greater control over their destinies, than was possible for most people only 100 years ago”
The Lindbergh Boom
Following Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 flight was what was known as the “Lindbergh Boom.” This was a time when aircraft industry stocks soared and interest in flight was astronomical. After Lindbergh returned from Paris, he toured the United States in the “Spirit of St. Louis.” This solidified the initial excitement of Americans people were not just excited about Lindbergh’s flight, but they realized that the airplane was safe and could be the future of transportation. Although flight was still quite expensive for most, it was the interest that Lindbergh created that fueled milestone after milestone in flight history until flight became an accessible mode of transportation for everyone.
The first transatlantic flight by Charles Lindbergh marks a truly significant moment in travel history. Charles Lindbergh proved that airplanes and air travel were safe, and that what was only was imagined was possible in reality. Charles Lindbergh created the boom that would establish air travel as a popular and preferred method of travel. Charles Lindbergh’s accomplishment connected people and cultures.
90 years ago, Longines timed the amazing first solo transatlantic flight by Charles Lindbergh
Bernard Decré, President of La Recherche de l’Oiseau Blanc, Juan-Carlos Capelli, Vice President of Longines and Head of International Marketing, Catherine Maunoury, President of l’Aéro-Club de France, Katja Henke, DG The Peninsula Paris and Colonel Jack Aalborg, from the United States Embassy, during the special evening for the 90th anniversary of Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight. © agence photo skiss
New York, May 20, 1927, 7:52 a.m., the &ldquoSpirit of St. Louis&rdquo leaves Roosevelt Airport. Its destination: Le Bourget airport near Paris. At the controls: a young American pilot named Charles A. Lindbergh. Thirty-three and a half hours later, Lindbergh lands at Le Bourget after completing the first ever non-stop solo transatlantic flight. It was a historic feat. As official timekeeper for the World Air Sports Federation, Longines contributed to the homologation of this prowess by timing Lindbergh&rsquos flight and adding it to the list of aviation records.
Shortly thereafter, Charles Lindbergh contacted Longines to develop a watch designed to meet his aviator&rsquos needs. The Longines Hour Angle watch, a veritable icon in the history of the Swiss watchmaker was born. Designed by Lindbergh himself in partnership with Longines, this watch allows for accurate determination of the longitude during long-distance flights. As a result, pilots and navigators can find their geographic location quickly, efficiently and with great accuracy. This extraordinary timepiece was reissued by the brand in 2002 and it is still one of its iconic Heritage models.
Today, Longines commemorates the 90th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh&rsquos amazing feat and of its timekeeping. During a special anniversary reception in l&rsquoOiseau Blanc with Catherine Maunoury, President of the l&rsquoAéro-Club de France and double world champion of aerobatics, and Colonel Jack Aalborg, from the US Embassy, Juan-Carlos Capelli, Vice President of Longines and Head of International Marketing reminded the audience of the links between Longines and Charles Lindbergh and presented a new edition of the legendary timepiece in a numbered series limited to 90 watches, The Lindbergh Hour Angle Watch 90th Anniversary. This exceptional titanium and steel timepiece is intended for those who are passionate about history, adventure and watchmaking.
The understated brushed silver dial displays the time on a &ldquorailtrack&rdquo minute circle with painted Roman numerals, and features a 180° scale for calculating the longitude. A galvanic black rotating central dial and a black PVD steel rotating bezel complete the system. Equally as impressive as the original timepiece, this model measures 47.5 mm, which makes it easier to read and manipulate in the dark and when subjected to the vibrations that were common to aircraft of the era. It will draw the attention of admirers when worn on the wrist of today&rsquos modern adventurers.
This day in history: Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis make first solo transatlantic flight
On the evening of May 21, Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis touched down at the Le Bourget airfield in Paris, after flying a total distance of 3,610 miles in 33.5 hours.
A global celebrity was born.
How did he do it?
A former barnstormer and airmail pilot, Lindbergh was no rookie aviator. He secured $15,000 of funding from Harold Bixby, the head of the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce, and set his sights on the $25,000 Orteig prize. All he needed now was a plane.
As with most great feats, there was huge risk involved in the Orteig challenge. Pilots had attempted to make the journey prior to Lindbergh’s own attempt. Many were never heard from again. Crossing the Atlantic Ocean alone is no simple task, but Lindbergh was determined to make the trip.
Unlike many other pilots of his time, Lindbergh thought that a single-engine plane would work best for the journey. He had some trouble finding an aircraft company to work with, but eventually discovered one out of San Diego that offered a great price, and a near-impossible 2-month construction guarantee.
Ryan Airlines Corporation, based out of an old fish cannery and in a state of disrepair, failed to make a good first impression upon Lindbergh.
However, upon meeting with their president, Frank Mahoney, and their chief engineer, Donald Hall, Lindbergh’s initial thoughts of the company were replaced with confidence as the men backed Lindbergh’s specifications and agreed to his timeline. They asked for a mere $6,000 for the modified Ryan M-2 aircraft, newly named the Ryan NYP (for New York to Paris).
Lindbergh’s Spirit of the St. Louis was modified for the long journey. The plane needed to accommodate the weight of extra fuel, so the fuselage and wingspan were lengthened, and the plane was reinforced structurally to support the added load. The engine was moved to the front of the aircraft and the fuel tank was placed at the center of the plane for balance.
The cockpit was relocated to the rear of the plane for safety. A periscope was installed in case Lindbergh needed to see forward. He would only be able to view things directly ahead of him by way of that periscope, or by turning the aircraft and peering out the window during his flight. Additionally, the leather pilot seat was removed and replaced by a lightweight wicker chair. He even ditched the radio for maps.
What was the record-breaking flight like?
Prior to his famous solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic, Lindbergh had smashed the record for the quickest transcontinental flight. His journey from San Diego to Long Island in preparation for his transatlantic adventure took just 21 hours, 40 minutes.
Lindberg’s transatlantic flight was nothing short of treacherous, and nowhere close to pleasant.
A flight of such proportions was quite difficult for man and machine. Once during the flight, Lindbergh considered turning back due to sleet, but chose to push ahead.
According to Lindbergh’s flight timeline, he battled sleep deprivation not long into the flight. He also struggled to stay warm through the cold storms. He thought about closing the aircraft’s windows to heat up but opted to remain cold to stay awake. Just as the icy conditions began to improve, Lindbergh started to fall asleep for moments at a time.
Lindbergh knew he was nearing land when he began to see fishing boats below him. When he finally spotted Ireland, he was hours ahead of schedule, and increased his air speed to reach France before sunset.
Despite hours battling sleep deprivation, hallucinations, icy conditions and an unyielding fog, Lindbergh landed in Paris as a massive crowd encircled plane and pilot to celebrate a huge feat in aviation history.
The city of New York recognized Lindbergh’s groundbreaking achievement with a jubilant celebration upon his return to the United States.
What impact did his accomplishment have on the future of aviation and space exploration?
Lindbergh’s success triggered what came to be known as the “Lindbergh Boom”.
His solo transatlantic flight aboard the Spirit of St. Louis highlighted the potential of long distance flight, and that as a result of the achievement, aircraft industry stocks rose in value and interest in commercial aviation skyrocketed in the United States. American aviation was on top thanks to Lindbergh and his trusty monoplane.
Lindbergh made a large impression in the aviation industry, but he also supported advancements in the space industry as well, having served as an advocate of Robert Goddard, regarded as the father of American rocketry.
Lindbergh assisted Goddard by securing funding for his research, which in turn, allowed Goddard to lay the foundation for modern rocketry.
As we look back on a historic milestone that drew the attention of the world, we celebrate Lindbergh, who not only promoted American aviation, but also helped a fellow pioneer pave the way in American space exploration.
The Spirit of St. Louis is currently on display in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall, located at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
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The privilege and power of community
Unlike Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, you and I are not intended to complete the “flight” of life on our own.
When God made the first man, he said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). We are to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). That’s why Scripture encourages us to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:24–25).
For Christians, such community is found in Christ. The closer we draw to him, the closer we draw to each other.
Henri Nouwen: “Community has little to do with mutual compatibility. Similarities in educational background, psychological makeup, or social status can bring us together, but they can never be the basis for community. Community is grounded in God, who calls us together, and not in the attractiveness of people to each other.”
He adds: “The mystery of community is precisely that it embraces all people, whatever their individual differences may be, and allows them to live together as brothers and sisters of Christ and sons and daughters of his heavenly Father.” Whose burden will you help to bear today? Who will help you bear yours?
James, Edwin L. "Lindbergh Does It! To Paris in 33-1/2 Hours Flies 1,000 Miles Through Snow and Sleet Cheering French Carry Him Off Field." New York Times, May 22, 1927, page 1+.
- This article, written on the day that Lindbergh landed at Le Bourget airfield outside Paris, describes the hero's welcome that Lindbergh received upon arrival in France.
James, Edwin L. "Hero of the Hour in Paris Lindbergh is Hailed by Huge Crowds and Gets Regal Honors…" New York Times, May 23, 1927, page 1+.
- Times correspondent Edwin L. James describes the tumultuous welcome that greeted Lindbergh upon his arrival in Paris and relates the reporter's conversation with Lindbergh on the following afternoon.
Lindbergh, Charles A. "Lindbergh's Own Story of Epochal Flight Tempted to Turn Back, Keeps on in Storm Asks Fishing Boat: 'Am I on Road to Ireland?'" New York Times, May 23, 1927, page 1+.
- With his characteristic modesty, Lindbergh recalls his just-completed transatlantic flight in this first-hand account written the day after his arrival in Paris. He wrote, "They call me 'Lucky,' but luck isn't enough."
MacDonald, Charlie. "Could Have Gone 500 Miles Farther." New York Times, May 22, 1927, page 1+.
- Reportedly one of the first interviews that Lindbergh granted after his arrival in Paris, this account presents an early version of the historic flight.
"New York-Paris Flight Capt. Lindbergh's Lone Voyage British Airmen's Mishap Machine Down in Persian Gulf." The Times (London), May 23, 1927, page 14.
- Relegated to page 14 of The Times, Lindbergh's historic flight here shares the headlines with an aborted British attempt to fly nonstop to Pakistan.
Owen, Russell. "Lindbergh Speeds Across North Atlantic, Keeping to Schedule of 100 Miles an Hour Sighted Passing St. John's, N.F., at 7:15 P.M." New York Times, May 21, 1927, page 1+.
- Times reporter Owen describes Lindbergh's takeoff from New York and the first phase of his flight to Paris.
A pioneering flight: Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic crossing
In May 1927, 25-year-old Charles Lindbergh became the first person to make a nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, soaring from New York to Paris and capturing the imaginations of people all over the world. Here, author Dan Hampton shares the story of the aviator's tumultuous arrival in Paris…
This competition is now closed
Published: May 21, 2018 at 5:00 am
While two British pilots, John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown, had made the first nonstop transatlantic flight in 1919, Lindbergh was the first person to complete this feat while flying solo, while his was also the first nonstop flight between New York and Paris.
In 1919, the challenge to become the first to fly solo across the Atlantic had been bolstered by Raymond Orteig, the French owner of a New York hotel. Fascinated by the travel and advancement opportunities offered by aviation, Orteig promised $25,000 to “the first aviator of any Allied country crossing the Atlantic in one flight, from Paris to New York or New York to Paris”. The Orteig Prize, as it became known, was initially intended to run for five years, but when 1924 arrived with the money still unclaimed it was renewed for another five-year period.
Despite the prize money on offer, it was a passion for aviation that drove Lindbergh, writes author Dan Hampton in his new book The Flight, a pilot’s-eye-view of the journey: “Charles Lindbergh believed in the power of aviation: its untapped potential and inherent capacity to join peoples, advance technology and bring the world closer together”.
Hampton also describes Lindbergh as “a complicated man and, in later years, a controversial one” – an acknowledgment of Lindbergh’s mixed legacy in the years following his momentous flight. In 1932, the aviator found himself in the spotlight once more, following the tragic death of his 20-month-old son during a kidnapping dubbed “the crime of the century”, and in later years, Lindbergh also made headlines for his high-profile opposition to US involvement in the Second World War and well-documented anti-Semitism and fascist sympathies.
Yet back in 1927, Lindbergh’s accomplishment saw him become one of the most famous people in the world overnight. While only 500 people showed up to see the aviator depart from New York on 20 May, upon his arrival in Paris on 21 May he was mobbed by a crowd of more than 100,000 people. In this extract from his new book, courtesy of publisher William Morrow, Dan Hampton shares the story of Lindbergh’s arrival at Le Bourget airfield…
From The Flight:
Pandemonium. This is an entirely apt description of the one hundred thousand hysterically exuberant French citizens who poured across Le Bourget’s grassy field toward the Spirit of St. Louis and its startled young pilot. “I had barely cut the engine switch when the first people reached my cockpit,” Lindbergh later wrote about his first moments in Paris. “Within seconds my open windows were blocked with faces.”
He was immediately concerned about his beloved aircraft. He felt it “tremble with pressure” from the press of bodies, and then heard wood crack as three fairings gave way beneath the human weight. It was critical to get the Spirit covered and under guard, as souvenir hunters were already clawing strips of fabric away from the steel framing.
Much has been made of Lindbergh’s opening statement on French soil, usually in error, but all he truly managed to yell was “Are there any mechanics here?” He was greeted with excited shouts in French, and screamed back, “Does anyone here speak English?”
The plane was being rolled forward now, but the tail skid dragged in the grass. Slim [one of Lindbergh’s nicknames] needed to deal with the problem, so he opened the door for the first time since New York and stuck out a leg. That was as far as he got. The first men around the Spirit yanked Lindbergh from his plane and hoisted him horizontally above the throng. Thousands of jumping, stumbling people were cheering and calling his name. Helplessly prostrate “in the center of an ocean of heads that extended as far out into the darkness as I could see,” and stiff from hours in the same position, he was unable to break loose from the dozens of hands gripping his body. Inexorably carried off toward the lights, 25 years later he reflected on that night and remembered, “After the warnings I had been given in America, I was completely unprepared for the welcome which awaited me on Le Bourget.”
He had indeed been warned. The French, both proud and nationalistic, had been embarrassed by Nungesser and Coli’s failure to reach New York [two leading French aviators who had attempted a nonstop transatlantic flight two weeks before Lindbergh]. A rumour, quite incorrect, was circulated that the US Weather Bureau had withheld essential meteorological information from the French aviators in order to give Byrd, Chamberlin, and Lindbergh a better chance at success. Tensions between the United States and France had lingered since the Great War, and Washington was insisting that France’s portion of some $10 billion in outstanding loans be paid in full. Many Europeans felt the debt should be forgiven in return for the blood they had spilt, and as the loans were generally used to buy American goods it was unfair for the United States to profit twice. Roughly 1,700,000 French soldiers and civilians had perished fighting the Germans and it was not an uncommon perception that the United States had avoided entry into the war until most of the fighting was over. Adding to the bitterness was the fact that Europe’s economies were still battered while America was enjoying the Roaring Twenties.
As with all such issues there was some truth in both points of view, but the situation in May 1927 was so bad that US Ambassador [Myron T] Herrick cabled Washington advising against any American attempt at the transatlantic prize – Lindbergh’s included. Reports to the contrary aside, the French had planned for Lindbergh’s arrival. A Franco-American welcome committee was formed to handle the arrangements, and the Élysée Palace sent Colonel Denain, military aide to the president of France, with full authority to act as he deemed fit. Commander Richard Byrd had also dispatched a representative to Paris weeks earlier to assist as needed. The French priority from the beginning had been the plane: escorting the Spirit of St. Louis to the main apron near the terminal, shutting it down, and safely securing it in a hangar. Lindbergh would then be taken to the welcome reception, then across to the military side of the airfield, where he would spend the night.
The American priorities were different. Ambassador Herrick, like nearly everyone else, knew nothing about Charles Lindbergh and had no idea how he would behave, or what he would say when faced with the press. Concerned with relations between the two countries, Herrick sought to isolate the young pilot until he could better judge the situation and the man. Above all, he wanted to keep Lindbergh away from the press unless Herrick himself was present. Enlisting the aid of Commandant Pierre Weiss, commander of the 34th Bombardment Squadron, the ambassador’s plan was for the French officer to meet Lindbergh at his plane and immediately whisk him away to the more secure military buildings. Weiss, who was himself a pilot of note, would have a mechanic inspect the plane, as well as have several French aviators nearby who spoke passable English. While this was happening, Herrick had arranged for a Lindbergh double dressed in flying clothes, one Jean-Claude d’Ahetze, to make a token appearance and satisfy the crowd.
On the face of it this seemed a logical approach. The French had also augmented the civil police with two companies of soldiers, and the chief of the Paris police sent an extra 500 men. But no one anticipated the wild response Spirit’s landing would generate, so maintaining order over 100,000 ecstatic Parisians and 12,000 vehicles was entirely problematic.
After the Spirit landed and turned back toward the lights, the small military group moved out to intercept it. Unfortunately, the clustered reporters saw them and believed they were being scooped by other newsmen. Breaking into a run across the field, the reporters apparently set off the stampede that broke down the fences. Lindbergh, of course, knew none of this and only saw the faces at his window. The chances that a senior mechanic and two English-speaking French pilots randomly arrived at his plane are remote and this lends credibility to the story of Herrick’s plan.
Two fellow aviators finally rescued Lindbergh from the mob. Michel Détroyat was a French Air Force pilot, and George Delage flew commercial airliners between London and Paris for Air Union. “Come,” Delage had shouted. “They will smother him!” He yanked Lindbergh’s helmet and goggles off, tossing them to d’Ahetze, the stunt double, to wear, but somehow the gear ended up in the hands of a young, blonde American named Harry Wheeler (who has been alternately identified as a reporter or a furrier shopping for rabbit pelts. Raymond Fredette, in The Making of a Hero, states that Wheeler was a Brown University student travelling in Europe, and this seems most likely).
As the mob latched on to Wheeler, Delage threw his coat over Lindbergh’s shoulders and they managed to get into the Frenchman’s little Renault. Driving away from the madness, they made it to the safety of a quiet hangar on the military side of the field called the North Block. Lindbergh’s hearing still hadn’t fully returned, and since he spoke no French, progress was slow. The Frenchmen chuckled at the young pilot’s concern over the lack of a visa and his immigration questions, but then Lindbergh asked about Nungesser and Coli and they visibly saddened. No, there had been no news the men were believed dead. Détroyat scurried off to find a higher-ranking officer who could take charge of the American, and returned with Commandant Weiss. Weiss, who hadn’t known about the double, took one look at Lindbergh and said in French, “C’est impossible… Lindbergh has just been carried triumphantly to the official reception committee.”
From The Flight: Charles Lindbergh’s Daring and Immortal 1927 Transatlantic Crossing by Dan Hampton, which is available now. Reprinted with permission from William Morrow / HarperCollins.
Did Charles Lindbergh Make the First Transatlantic Trip in an Airplane?/> Ripley's Believe It or Not! &mdash April 30, 2020
On May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh (1902-1974) touched down at Le Bourget Field in Paris, completing the first solo, nonstop transatlantic flight. Just 33 and a half hours before, his single-engine monoplane, the Spirit of St Louis, had taken off from Roosevelt Field, traveling an ambitious 3,600-miles (5,800-kilometers).
Touted as the most astounding achievement of its day, Robert Ripley featured Lindbergh in Believe It or Not!, his popular syndicated New York Evening Post cartoon, a few months later. Instead of celebrating the flier, however, Ripley pointed out that Lindbergh, far from being the first person to make the crossing, was the 67th!
Ripley soon faced a public outcry, receiving angry telegrams and letters from irate readers who called him a liar. Yet, Ripley knew his facts. Keep reading to learn more about the real first transatlantic crossing by Captain Alcock and Lieutenant Brown as well as the subsequent trips that preceded Lindbergh.
A Groundbreaking Aviation Duo
Today, few people remember the groundbreaking flight of Captain John Alcock (1892-1919) of England and Lieutenant Arthur Whitten Brown (1886-1948) of Scotland in 1919. Yet, these men achieved a milestone in aviation that some experts list on a par with the 1969 moon landing.
Both men honed their flying skills during World War I. Alcock became a prisoner of war after his aircraft’s engine failed over the Gulf of Xeros in Turkey. Brown got shot down and captured over Germany. Yet, despite these war-related aviation traumas, they enthusiastically took on the challenge of completing the first nonstop transatlantic flight.
Alcock and Brown carrying mail on the flight, making it the first transatlantic airmail flight.
The London newspaper the Daily Mail had initially offered a £10,000 prize (more than $1.1 million today) to the “aviator who shall cross the Atlantic in an aeroplane in flight” back in 1913. But World War I intervened in 1914, suspending the competition until 1918.
The Race to the First Nonstop Transatlantic Flight
This delay worked out for the best. It took WWI to develop the type of equipment necessary for such a crossing. What’s more, the timeframe suited Alcock and Brown. Both found themselves unemployed and ready for something new at the end of the Great War. Of course, the competition meant that they were also in a race against time.
On June 14th, 1919, at 1:45 pm, they began their bold journey across the ocean in a modified Vickers Vimy twin-engine biplane. They departed St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, where several other teams were also preparing to take up the challenge. While the rest assembled their planes and ran tests, Alcock and Brown hastily set out, barely clearing the trees standing near the end of the runway. To bring them luck, each man carried a toy cat mascot. Alcock called his “Lucky Jim,” and Brown named his “Twinkletoes.”
1919: The First Transatlantic Flight
During a 16-hour-long flight fraught with nearly unnavigable weather, failing equipment, and countless mishaps, the British duo flew nonstop to Ireland. The flight itself proved a disaster from start to finish.
Following the treacherous and bumpy takeoff from St. John’s, their radio failed. Fog soon inundated the pilots. At this early stage in aviation, the men relied on a sextant, an instrument that measured celestial objects in relation to the horizon, for navigation.
Captain John Alcock stowing provisions aboard Vickers Vimy aircraft before trans-Atlantic flight 14 Jun 1919.
But clouds and fog obscured their view of the stars and moon for hours at a time, rendering the sextant useless. To overcome this hurdle, they climbed above the cloud cover to get a good glimpse of the sky, yet this solution brought new obstacles.
Just When It Couldn’t Get Worse
Higher elevations meant freezing temperatures, which covered the plane in ice and snow. The men had to frequently stand up and clear the white stuff from the plane’s instrument sensors outside the cockpit. At one point, ice covered the air intake of one engine, spelling disaster. Alcock had to turn it off so that it wouldn’t backfire and cause damage.
They survived on coffee, whiskey, and sandwiches and passed the time by singing. They also conversed anxiously about the weather and if it would damage their fuel tanks.
At one point, they faced a near-fatal stall. The overloaded aircraft’s exhaust pipe blew, making communication above the roar impossible. Then, the plane’s wind-driven generator failed, leaving the two without heat. Alcock and Brown froze in their open cockpit. Just when it seemed nothing else could go wrong, they descended to 500 feet in an attempt to give the aircraft a chance to thaw. The engine restarted, they broke into clear skies, and a patch of emerald land lay before them.
A Historic Landing
On June 15th, 1919, at 8:40 am, their aircraft touched down in an Irish bog near Clifden, County Galway. They had mistaken a relatively flat swathe of green for marshland and severely damaged their plane in the aftermath. While the landing proved unceremonious, Alcock and Brown had achieved the impossible.
Up to this point, the only way to cross the Atlantic was by ship. The crossing took between 116 and 137 hours or 4.8 to 5.7 days. In comparison, a 16-hour flight was an exciting development. A century later, millions of people fly across the Atlantic every year thanks to commercial aviation. Yet, such advancements would have been inconceivable were it not for Alcock and Brown’s historic flight.
To celebrate their monumental achievement, the Secretary of State for Air, Winston Churchill, presented Alcock and Brown with the Daily Mail prize for their nonstop crossing in less than 72 consecutive hours. A week later, the aviation duo received the honor of Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE) by King George V at Windsor Castle.
Unfortunately, their triumph proved short-lived. On December 18th, 1919, Alcock died in a crash over France on his way to the Paris Airshow.
His sudden and tragic end proved a reminder of just how dangerous aviation was in its infancy. Brown survived to the ripe old age of 62, a miracle considering his daredevil lifestyle. He died on October 4th, 1948.
History’s Poor Memory
Many people mistakenly associate Charles Lindbergh with the first nonstop transatlantic crossing by plane, but Alcock and Brown hold the record. Lindbergh did, however, make the first solo crossing. But what about the 64 other people that Ripley claimed came before Lindbergh?
In 1919, following Alcock and Brown’s successful transatlantic crossing, a dirigible carrying 31 men crossed from Scotland to the United States. Then, five years later, a second dirigible traveled from Germany to Lakehurst, New Jersey, with 33 passengers on board. The official tally comes to 66 individuals who made the nonstop trip before Lindbergh.
The Customer Is Never Right
It was this type of shocking, yet truthful, storytelling that endeared audiences to Ripley in the first place. From stories of a chicken who lived 17 days after its head was cut off to tales of a German strong woman who juggled cannonballs, Ripley’s cartoons always proved true. No matter how improbable they appeared on the page.
By 1936, fans had forgotten their outrage about Lindbergh, and Ripley was one of the most famous men in the United States. He ranked as more popular than President Roosevelt, Jack Dempsey, James Cagney, and even Charles Lindbergh. As Ripley sagely noted, “I think mine is the only business in which the customer is never right.”