21
May
09

On This Day, May 21: Lucky Lindy

May 21, 1927

Lindbergh lands in Paris

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.

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 10:24 a.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.

“Lindbergh lands in Paris,” The History Channel website, 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=6904 [accessed May 21, 2009]

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