In the 1920s, flying the mail was an extremely dangerous occupation. On November 3rd, 1926, while flying between St. Louis and Chicago, Lindbergh had to abandon his plane when visibility became too poor to land it safely at night. He parachuted to safety but was unable to find the wrecked plane until morning. The plane’s nose and wheels had hit the ground simultaneously, slid about 75 feet, and piled up in a pasture beside a hedge fence. A hundred yards away stood one inflated wheel, propped up against the inside wall of a hog house. The plane had gone through two fences and a house wall. The full sack of mail from St. Louis had split open and oil soaked some of it, but the other two partially full mail sacks were undamaged. Lindbergh continued on in another plane to his next destination.
- Learned to fly in Nebraska in 1922 and joined the flying circus performing primarily as a wing-walker and parachutist.
- Joined the Air Corps in 1924 and became an airmail pilot.
- On May 20th, 1927, in a Ryan monoplane named the Spirit of St Louis he took off from Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York and flew to Paris, France. He won the Orteig prize and the Congressional Medal of Honor.
- With his wife Anne he helped inaugurate the first transcontinental airmail passenger service, participated in the Pan American expansion in the Caribbean and made aerial observations of Mayan ruins in 1928.
- In 1932 he and Anne surveyed an air route to East Asia.
- Surveyed transatlantic routes with his wife in 1933, covering 29,000 miles and visiting 23 countries.
- Prior to World War II he piloted trips with Anne to Germany, the Middle East and Russia.
- During World War II he helped establish B-24 production lines and participated in combat missions in the South Pacific, destroying at least one enemy plane.
- After the war, he continued as technical advisor to Pan American airlines.
- Won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for his autobiographical history The Spirit of St. Louis.
One of the greatest aviators and adventurers that the world has ever known was born in Detroit on February 4th, 1902. At the age of eight, he saw his first airplane, piloted by the great daredevil of the air, Lincoln Beachey. This was the origin of Lindbergh’s love for flight.
By the time he had graduated from high school, he had spent three years working on his father’s farm, and then enrolled as a mechanical engineering student at the University of Wisconsin. It was the 1920s and the Age of the Barnstormers.
After an airplane landed on the campus, a great desire to learn to fly welled within him and he quit college and became a learner in a Nebraska aircraft company, where he was taken aloft for his first flight in April 1922. After learning the basics of aircraft construction, he went on a cross-country tour with a seasoned barnstormer and learned to wing-walk and make exhibition parachute jumps.
In 1923 he made his solo flight in a surplus Curtiss Jenny, which he had bought for $500 cash in Georgia. On the way home he audaciously took up for $5 a head, and also suffered his first crackup. It was in early 1923 that he enlisted as a cadet in the Army Air Service and reported to Brooks Field, Texas to learn to fly the “military way.” His surprised instructors found that he was almost as proficient as they were, a testament to the 325 hours in the air that he had already acquired.
In 1925, he won his wings and a second lieutenant’s commission in the Reserves. In the spring of 1926 he made the first air mail flight between Chicago and St. Louis. Later, he was twice forced to parachute to safety from his disabled mail plane while flying the difficult, poorly marked, and unlighted routes.
It was in 1926 that he began to think about the $25,000 prize offered by Raymond Orteig to the first aviator who flew nonstop between New York and Paris. Finally, with $2,000 of his own money, he enlisted the aid of other St. Louis businessmen, who hesitatingly agreed to raise another $13,000 to buy a new monoplane. Meanwhile, The elusive prize also lured many other veteran pilots. Rene Fonck crashed on takeoff from Roosevelt Field, killing two crew members. Commander Richard E. Byrd was preparing a new Fokker trimotor. Navy pilots Davis and Wooster were readying a Keystone Bomber, and in France, war hero Charles Nungesser was almost ready.
In San Diego, the Ryan Airlines agreed to build him a special Ryan monoplane in 60 days. When it was finished, it was light, sturdy, and powerful. In bold letters was her name, the Spirit of St. Louis, and she performed almost perfectly. Almost before the dope was dry upon her wings, he flew the beautiful monoplane East to Curtiss Field, Long Island, setting records as he came. When he arrived in the East, he was unknown, but his youthful appearance and quiet manners found great appeal. Because he would attempt the flight alone, carrying neither radio nor parachute, so he could carry more fuel, all the world had an eye upon him, and he became known as the “Lone Eagle.”
His flight plan was simple: he would fly the 3,600 mile “great circle” route to Paris non-stop, half of which would take him over the Atlantic Ocean. Lindbergh waited impatiently for a week while spring storms raged over the Atlantic. Suddenly, the weather improved and he completed his final preparations. He hurried to Curtiss Field early in the morning of May 20th, 1927 and had the Spirit of St. Louis towed to adjoining Roosevelt Field, where the gas tanks were filled to the brim. Takeoff conditions were difficult. The runway was soaked with rain. The plane was grossly overloaded with fuel, the engine and propeller were set for maximum economy, not takeoff power, and the cross-wind was brutal. Gingerly, Lindbergh he nursed the Spirit off the ground and into the skies, barely clearing telephone wires as he vanished into the morning mist. It was 7:52 and for the world, time stood still.
By the time Lindbergh reached Cape Cod, the weather was improving. He occupied himself with checking the instruments and the maps on his lap, and began the long flight against what was to be his worst enemy: sleep. During the 12th hour he flew low over St. Johns, Newfoundland, where weather-beaten faces stared up at him in disbelief. At this point the North American continent was behind him and he flew on through more fog into the gathering darkness. During the seemingly endless night he stomped his feet until they ached, he bounced up and down in the seat and he held open his eyelids with his thumbs. As dawn broke, the fog began to break up and he dropped down to within 100 feet of the slate gray waves, then climbed again, his eye hopefully searching the horizon for the first signs of landfall.
Finally, excitement conquered Lindbergh’s desire for sleep when far off to the Northeast he sighted a rough-looking coastline. It was Ireland! Changing course slightly, he come in over Cape Valentia, then headed for England. Two hours later he had crossed the tip of England and was over the Channel. He hit the coast of France at Cherbourg and flew on into the darkness toward Paris and the pages of history. Ahead he saw the light of Paris, and sweeping in, he circled the Eiffel Tower before heading for the floodlit Le Bourget Field. As Lindbergh set the Spirit of St. Louis down on French soil, his tired body slumped. But suddenly, a hysterical, ecstatic crowd broke through the restraining ropes and stampeded toward him, cheering and shouting. As he opened the door, police lifted Lindbergh down and hoisted hime onto their shoulders. They then carried him through the surging crowd, as cries of “Vive” sounded through the night. Lindbergh had conquered the Atlantic alone, covering 3,610 miles in 33.5 hours.
From the balcony of the American Embassy the following morning, he responded briefly and modestly to the persistent calls of the great crowd which had gathered. For hours after he retreated back inside, they shouted, clapped, and waved their hats and handkerchiefs. In the days that followed, his fame as a hero grew to unbelievable proportions as he took Europe by storm. The President of France pinned the Legion of Honor upon the lapel of his borrowed suit and thousands of messages poured in upon him.
It was as if everyone saw in him something that they sought in themselves – a spirit of adventure and achievement in life. He represented a symbol of hope to a weary world, for he displayed something unique with his integrity, courage, and indifference to honors. “He had started with no purpose but to arrive. He remained with no desire but to serve. He sought nothing, he was offered all.”
When he came home to America aboard the USS Memphis, a majestic convoy of warships and aircraft escorted him up the Chesapeake and Potomac Rivers to Washington. President Coolidge welcomed him home and bestowed the Distinguished Flying Cross upon him. His New York reception was the wildest in the city’s history as 4 million people lined the parade route and Mayor Jimmy Walker pinned New York’s Medal of Valor upon him. Finally, when it was all over, he turned and flew to St. Louis for a rest and to contemplate. His epic flight would become the one singular event which electrified the world and changed the whole course of history.
It was now that the Daniel Guggenheim Fund sponsored him on a three month nation-wide tour. Flying the Spirit of St. Louis, he touched down in 49 states, visited 92 cities, gave 147 speeches, and rode 1,290 miles in parades. Exhausted but satisfied with the job he had done in promoting aviation, Lindbergh returned to New York. He made a goodwill tour at the request of Ambassador Dwight Morrow. It was here that he first met Anne Morrow, daughter of the Ambassador, a meeting that would blossom into romance. After Mexico, he visited twelve other Central American and West Indies countries, conveying goodwill all along the 9,000 mile flight tour.
On March 21st,1929, President Coolidge presented him with the nation’s highest honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor. Throughout the rest of his life he would continue to serve America as an advisor on aviation. He resigned his commission as a colonel in the Reserves an April 29th, 1941, but he served in the Pacific Theater during World War II as a technical advisor. He taught American fighter pilots how to get increased range from their planes – as much as fifty percent more. He flew several combat missions in P-38 fighters and on at least one sortie shot down a Japanese plane. After the war, he continued to serve his country in many ways and on April 7th, 1954, he was appointed a brigadier general in the Air Force Reserves.
Charles Lindbergh passed away on August 26th, 1974.
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