Charles Augustus Lindbergh (February 4, 1902 – August 26, 1974) (nicknamed “Slim”, “Lucky Lindy”, and “The Lone Eagle”) was an American aviator, author, inventor, explorer, and social activist.
Charles Lindbergh with the Spirit of St. Louis – 1927
As a 25-year-old U.S. Air Mail pilot Lindbergh emerged suddenly from virtual obscurity to instantaneous world fame as the result of his Orteig Prize-winning solo non-stop flight on May 20–21, 1927, made from Roosevelt Field located in Garden City on New York’s Long Island to Le Bourget Field in Paris, France, a distance of nearly 3,600 statute miles (5,800 km), in the single-seat, single-engine purpose built Ryan monoplane Spirit of St. Louis. Lindbergh, a U.S. Army Corps Reserve officer, was also awarded the nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, for his historic exploit.
Lindbergh’s flight to Paris
Six well known aviators had thus already lost their lives in pursuit of the Orteig Prize when Lindbergh took off on his successful attempt in the early morning of Friday, May 20, 1927. Dubbed the Spirit of St. Louis, his “partner” was a fabric covered, single-seat, single-engine “Ryan NYP” high-wing monoplane (CAB registration: N-X-211) designed by Donald Hall and custom built by B.F. Mahoney’s Ryan Aircraft Company of San Diego, California. The primary source of funding for the purchase of the Spirit and other expenses related to the overall New York to Paris effort came from a $15,000 State National Bank of St. Louis loan made on February 18, 1927, to St. Louis businessmen Harry H. Knight and Harold M. Bixby, the project’s two principal trustess, and another $1,000 donated by Frank Robertson of RAC on the same day. Lindbergh himself also personally contributed $2,000 of his own money from both his savings and his earnings from the 10 months that he flew the U.S. Air Mail for RAC.
Burdened by its heavy load of 450 U.S. gallons (1,704 liters) of gasoline weighing approximately 2,710 lbs (1,230 kg), and hampered by a muddy, rain soaked runway, Lindbergh’s Wright Whirlwind powered monoplane gained speed very slowly as it made its 7:52 AM takeoff run from Roosevelt Field, but its J-5C radial engine still proved powerful enough to allow the Spirit to clear the telephone lines at the far end of the field “by about twenty feet with a fair reserve of flying speed.” Over the next 33.5 hours he and the “Spirit”—which Lindbergh always jointly referred to simply as “WE”—faced many challenges including skimming over both storm clouds at 10,000 feet (3,000 m) and wave tops at as low at 10 ft (3.0 m), fighting icing, flying blind through fog for several hours, and navigating only by the stars (whenever visible) and “dead reckoning” before landing at Le Bourget Airport at 10:22 PM on Saturday, May 21. A crowd estimated at 150,000 spectators stormed the field, dragged Lindbergh out of the cockpit, and literally carried him around above their heads for “nearly half an hour.” While some damage was done to the Spirit (especially to the fabric covering on the fuselage) by souvenir hunters, both Lindbergh and the Spirit were eventually “rescued” from the mob by a group of French military fliers, soldiers, and police who took them both to safety in a nearby hangar. From that moment on, however, life would never again be the same for the previously little known former U.S. Air Mail pilot who, by his successful flight, had just achieved virtually instantaneous—and lifelong—world fame.
Although Lindbergh was the first to fly nonstop from New York to Paris, he was not the first aviator to complete a transatlantic flight in a heavier-than-air aircraft. That had been done first in stages between May 8 and May 31, 1919, by the crew of the Navy-Curtiss NC-4 flying boat which took 24 days to complete its journey from Jamaica Bay at Far Rockaway, Queens, New York, to Plymouth, England, via Halifax, Nova Scotia, Trepassey Bay (Newfoundland), Horta (Azores) and Lisbon, Portugal. The lighter-than-air (LTA) U.S. Navy airship USS LOs Angeles (ZR-3)made a non-stop crossing from the Zeppelin Company works in Friedrichshafen, Germany to the U.S. Naval Air Station at Lakehurst, New Jersey from October 12 to 15, 1924.
The world’s first non-stop transatlantic flight (albeit over a route far shorter than Lindbergh’s, 1,890 miles (3,040 km) vs. 3,600 statute miles (5,800 km)) was achieved nearly eight years earlier on June 14–15, 1919. Two British aviators, John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown, flew a modified Vickers Vimy IV bomber from Lester’s Field near St. John’s, Newfoundland on June 14 and arrived at Clifden, Ireland, the following day. Both men were knighted at Buckingham Palac by King George V, in recognition of their pioneering achievement.