How We Got Here (33)

June 21, 2014

Lindbergh

A few months after the end of World War I, a man named Orteig had offered $25,000 to the first person to fly nonstop from New York to Paris. Eight years later, the Orteig prize remained unclaimed, but several people were racing to be the first. They were all well known except the boy.

In September, 1926, a three-engine biplane carrying a three-men team led by French World War I ace Rene Fonck crashed and burned on takeoff, killing the two crewmen. The following April, two famed U.S. Naval aviators, testing another three-engine biplane, died when their plane, too, crashed on takeoff. In early May, French war heroes Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli disappeared at sea on a westward flight from Paris in a seaplane.

Two weeks later, three more airplanes were preparing to fly east from Long Island. One was a two-man team led by American air racer Clarence Chamberlin, and the other was a four-man team led by Commander (later Rear Admiral) Richard Byrd. The third was not a team but a lone 25-year-old pilot who, the year before, had been flying the air mail route between St. Louis and Chicago, and his airplane was a single-engine overhead-wing monoplane whose design and construction he had overseen during the winter.

He had much less flying experience than any of the others, none of it over water. He was financing the flight on a $15,000 bank loan, a $1,000 donation from his employer at Lambert Field, St. Louis, and his own small savings. He had had to teach himself great-circle navigation, because he was afraid that if he asked the military to teach him, he would be forbidden to make the attempt. In order to keep down inessential weight, he was flying without a radio. That meant that from eight a.m. May 20, 1927, all through the day and the long night and a good part of the next day, there was no way for the world to know if he was still alive and in the air, or had joined the six who had been killed in the weeks just past.

After that long night, he was spotted over the coast of Ireland, then over England, and then, at nearly 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 21, he landed at Le Bourget field in Paris, and he and his frail craft were overrun by a hysterically welcoming mob estimated at 150,000 people. The effect his successful flight produced was perhaps proportional to the anxiety caused by the long night – and the dead airmen who had preceded him.

The French Foreign Office flew the American flag for him, President Coolidge sent a Navy cruiser to bring him and his airplane home. The Post Office issued an Air Mail stamp in his honor. He was given a ticker-tape parade in New York City. He was Time magazine’s first “Man of the Year.” His book We, published within months, sold 650,000 copies within a year, earning him a quarter of a million dollars. The boy his friends had always called Slim was being called Lucky Lindy, and The Lone Eagle.

His influence on aviation was phenomenal. Applications for pilot’s licenses in the U.S. tripled. The number of licensed aircraft quadrupled. The number of airline passengers grew 3,000%, to 173,405 in 1929, from 5,782 in 1926. Aviatrix Elinor Smith Sullivan later said that Lindbergh’s flight changed aviation forever because “after Lindbergh, suddenly everyone wanted to fly, and there weren’t enough planes to carry them.”

For more – much more — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Lindbergh

Oh, and those other two teams that we left on Long Island waiting to fly? Chamberlain made it from New York to Germany in a 43 hour flight two weeks later. Byrd and his team left on June 29, reached Paris on July 1, and, being unable to land there due to weather conditions, wound up ditching in the ocean off Normandy. They both succeeded in making the crossing, and they did it within weeks of Lindbergh’s solo flight. But it didn’t matter. That flight – and something in his winning personality — made Charles A. Lindbergh into an icon, not only in his own country but all through Europe and around the world. And that fame lasted. More than 25 years later, he won a Pulitzer Price with The Spirit of St. Louis, which, among other things, told of his out-of-body experience and spiritual contacts during that long night over the North Atlantic.

 

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