Photo courtesy of the National Air & Space Museum
First to fly solo across the Atlantic
Charles Augustus Lindbergh was not the first person to fly across the great Atlantic Ocean , but he was the first to fly it alone. He flew this great body of water “solo” as it is called in aviation terms. He achieved immediate world fame for his daring and flying skill.
He learned to fly in Lincoln , Nebraska , and soon found he could make a living flying from town to town giving people airplane rides. This adventure was known as barnstorming. Lindbergh later joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps as a reserve pilot and eventually he flew for the U.S. Mail Service between Chicago and St. Louis .
In 1927, Lindbergh heard about the $25,000 Orteig Prize, to be awarded to the first person who could fly from New York to Paris non-stop. He decided to go for the award and solicited sponsorship from a group of St. Louis , Missouri businessmen. A contract was signed with the Ryan Company in San Diego , California , to build a single-wing monoplane. The plane was named, “The Spirit of St. Louis” in honor of the businessmen who backed the project.
On the morning of May 20th, 1927, Lindbergh took off into the rainy skies over Roosevelt Field in Long Island , New York . He flew 3,614 miles through storms, fog, ice and other factors, which limited his progress. However, his greatest challenge became a lack of sleep. When he spotted the coast of Ireland , he became elated and this surge of adrenalin helped him regain his strength and stamina. On the evening of May 21st, after flying a total of 33-1/2 hours, Lindbergh spotted Paris , the “City of Lights ,” and he landed at Le Bourget Field. A crowd of over 400,000 people broke down the barriers and ran to greet him. Finally, the police were able to rescue him and his airplane before both he and the airplane were damaged.
More than any other flight in history, Lindbergh’s success proved to people that aircraft were safe and air travel was the way of the future. He brought credibility to aviation. His Spirit of St. Louis now hangs in the main gallery on permanent display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington , D.C. The balance of his career was spent as an aeronautical consultant and ambassador to the aviation industry. He was truly one of aviation history’s greatest pioneers.
Younger youth. Charles Lindbergh earned the nicknames “Lucky Lindy” and the “Lone Eagle” for his successful trans-Atlantic solo flight in the Spirit of St. Louis . He faced many unknowns and hazards. Others had tried before him, and they had failed. Remember, too, that flying was still relatively new to many. At this time, the automobile was only just beginning to replace horses as a primary means of transportation in many locations in the nation, and very few people had actually flown in airplanes of any kind. And there was still so much yet to be learned about flying, especially long flights over the ocean! Lindbergh’s airplane was new and mostly untested — would it stand up to the demands of flying across the Atlantic Ocean ? The only way to find out was to try it, and that is exactly what Charles Lindbergh set out to do. He took off from New York and soon found himself completely alone — no radio, no satellite to link with, no other aircraft to monitor his progress. And he flew like that, alone, and forcing himself to stay awake for over 33 hours — and he made it! “Lucky Lindy?” Perhaps, but it took a lot more than luck to do what he did. “Lone Eagle?” Yes, without a doubt, and a courageous one at that! Needless to say, had Lindbergh indulged in drugs or alcohol on his long flight, he would never have been able to complete the journey, and the history of flight would have suffered a great setback. Charles Lindbergh lived his life drug-free! Way to be!
Older youth. Imagine for a moment that you are Charles Lindbergh. Perhaps you are tempted by the $25,000 dollar prize offered to be the first to fly across the Atlantic Ocean . (And $25,000 was worth far more in purchase power in 1927 than it would be today. Would you be tempted?) Perhaps you are tempted instead by the fame and glory that would come to you — if you are successful. And that’s a big “if!” Several before you have tried and failed, and it cost them their lives. Or, perhaps you want to do it to prove that it can be done, so that it could further the goals of manned flight and benefit mankind world-wide.
Regardless of your motivation, you would be alone, out over the wide expanse of the Atlantic, with no radio communication, and certainly by today’s standards, the simplest of equipment to guide you — a compass, engine temperature, a crude altimeter, and a fuel gauge — not much to instill confidence for such a long flight. Your plane is new and relatively untested. Can it get off the ground with the heavy load of fuel it needs for such a long journey? Do you have enough fuel? No one really knows. Should your plane crash on take-off — a very real fear at the time -- you would no doubt be lost in the inferno from all that burning aviation gas. What weather lies in store — can you fly through it Will you succeed? How long will it take;how many hours? Will you be able to stay awake? (Could you stay awake for over 33 hours, and remain alert enough to fly an airplane? Remember, there is no auto pilot to take over should you fall asleep.) These and many more were the questions Lindbergh faced. Could he make it? Would he really be the first to fly solo across the Atlantic to Europe, or would he, too, perish? No small question!
Some might have suggested that he should use amphetamine stimulants to stay awake, but he chose nothing stronger than coffee. Charles Lindbergh realized fully that use of drugs could have easily resulted in mental confusion and disorientation — which would have proven fatal while out alone over the middle of the ocean. That he was successful in his epic journey is mute testimony that drugs and alcohol do not mix with success and have absolutely no place in any significant or important task. Charles Lindbergh was drug-free! And that’s a good way to be!
Photo Courtesy of the Experimental Aircraft Association
This curriculum is sponsored by the Drug Demand Reduction
Program of the Civil Air Patrol National Headquarters
Maxwell AFB, Alabama
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