Charles Lindbergh is First
May 21, 1927: Charles Lindbergh touches down. Raymond Orteig, a New York City hotel owner and aviation aficionado, offered a $25,000 reward to the first aviator(s) to fly non-stop from New York to Paris (or Paris to New York). That is about $340,000 today. He did so in a letter to Ramsay Hawley, then president of the Aero Club of America written on May 19, 1919. The details for the contest were left to the ACA and they replied in the affirmative on May 26. The offer stood for five years and after it expired, Orteig reissued the prize on June 1, 1925 and deposited the money in negotiable securities at the Bryant Bank. Many men tried to win the prize. They failed.
On this day, the relatively unknown US Mail pilot completed the flight. Lindbergh was 25 years old at the time of his flight and seated in the Spirit of St. Louis as he took off from Roosevelt Airfield. He followed in the footsteps of the World War I French flying ace, Rene Fonck who left from the same airport on September 21, 1926. Fonck’s plane was overloaded and it crashed and burned on takeoff when the landing gear collapsed. Fonck had wanted to land in Paris in style and loaded a sofa and refrigerator in his plane. Fonck survived the accident, but his two ground crew did not. Lindbergh did not have these amenities loaded into St. Louis.
On April, 26, 1927, US Navy pilots Noel Davis and Stanton Wooster were killed on takeoff from Langley Field, Virginia while testing a plane they had hoped to use for the flight across the ocean. American Legion, was a three engine Keystone Pathfinder biplane. On May 8, Frenchmen Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli, both World War I vets, managed to survive takeoff at Le Bourget Airport in Paris. Their seaplane, The White Bird was lost after crossing the coast of Ireland. With six aviators dead, Charles Lindbergh was next to take the chance at the big prize money. He was flying a custom-built (by Ryan Airlines) single engine, single seat monoplane.
Early on Friday morning, May 20, 1927, Lindbergh’s plane with 450 gallons of fuel lifted off. The gasoline weight 2,710 pounds and the field was muddy making takeoff even more challenging. Liftoff was at 7:52 and he was able to clear the telephone lines at the end of the field with about twenty feet to spare. It took him 33.5 hours to fly across the Atlantic. He skimmed storm clouds at 10,000 feet and wave tops at 10 feet. He was in blinding fog for hours along the way. He used the stars to steer by – when they were visible – and was left with dead reckoning when they weren’t. He landed at le Bourget Airport at 10:22 PM on this day even though it was not marked on any map. A crowd of about 150,000 people stormed the airfield and carried Lindbergh into the city. He flew 3,610 miles on the first non-stop crossing of the Atlantic and into the history books.
Living in dreams of yesterday, we find ourselves still dreaming of impossible future conquests.
It is the greatest shot of adrenaline to be doing what you have wanted to do so badly. You almost feel like you could fly without the plane.
Life is like a landscape. You live in the midst of it but can describe it only from the vantage point of distance.
If I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes. – all from Charles Lindbergh
Also on this day: And leave the driving to us! – In 1914 Carl Wickman begins busing.
Amelia – In 1932, Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.
Bobby Franks – In 1924, Loeb and Leopold committed a murder.
St. Alex – In 1725, the Order of St. Alexander Nevsky was instituted.