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Lindbergh's Flight

Charles Lindbergh junto a su avión, el Espíritu de San Luis

Lo has conseguido, brindemos con champán... [Foto: Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

The modern era of aviation begins on May 21, 1927, the day a young American pilot, Charles August Lindbergh -Lucky Lindy-, successfully completed the first New York-Paris air crossing. Lindbergh was certainly not the first aviator to cross the Atlantic, nor was he the first to cover great distances; but the attempts of the aerial raids that followed one another until 1925 had preferably been of a pioneering nature, artisan in a certain way. It was thanks to Lindbergh's flight and the expeditions to the Arctic led in 1926 by Amundsen-Nobile and in 1928 by Nobile that the program for the exploitation of aeronautical means on an industrial scale and as a practical means of transport was resolutely raised in utilitarian terms. And thanks to the bravery of the pilots and the efforts of technicians and scientists, not only were the possibilities of the plane demonstrated as a popular means of communication, but the controversy surrounding the airship was also resolved in its favor. Lindbergh's name is indisputably linked to the demonstration of the great possibilities that could be expected in the plane.

First Flight on a $500 Plane

Born in Detroit on February 4, 1902 -his father represented Minnesota in Congress between 1907 and 1917-, Lindbergh became interested in aviation when he was still a student, participating in a course for pilots held in Lincoln (Nebraska); when he turned 21, he made his first flight on a plane that had cost him $500.

His life is, on the other hand, simple and clear. He chose the path of aviation, and to it he gave himself fully, taking equal interest in its various aspects; as a pilot who personally experienced the devices, as a technician, as an organizer and also as a propagandist of the new means of transport. Perfectly identified with the American way of life, among its many merits was that of having been one of the first to perceive the importance that the conquest of space represented for his country: the definitive overcoming of geographic isolation, the increase in contacts with other countries , achieving its rightful place as a country of indisputable importance in the world.

In 1924 he entered the newly created Air Force as a cadet, and a year later he obtained the rank of lieutenant; but he preferred to return to civilian life, and entered the Chicago-St. Louis airmail service. It was then that Lindbergh began his contacts with the complex, opulent, brilliant and also unprejudiced world of promoters and big industrialists; he became a symbol of the American, simple, brave, always willing to take risks, but ultimately destined to achieve success, a secure position in society.

In 1919 Raymond Orteig, a powerful New York hotel owner, had offered a $25,000 prize to the first non-stop New York-Paris flight. Because of his passion and ambition, but also because of his desire to earn money, Lindbergh was tempted by the company; Using the support of influential citizens of Saint Louis, he was able to order a monoplane built according to the most modern technique of the time at a cost of $10,580 from Claude Ryan's company in the same city.

5,800 Kilometers in 33 and a Half Hours

Thanks to the quality of the plane and the ability of Lindbergh, the trip was carried out happily. Ten days earlier, moreover, he had tested his own strength and the aircraft's resistance by breaking the record on the also non-stop link between the two coasts of the United States: in 21 hours and 20 minutes he traveled from San Diego, in California, to Long Island, next to New York. This was an excellent prologue to the other success, even more important, that awaited him. The flight, carefully prepared, was happily fulfilled: the Lone Eagle, as the Lindbergh is known, aboard the Spirit of St. Louis (named after the city that had helped him so much), departed from the airfield Roosevelt, in New York, in the early morning of May 20, 1927, and arrived at Le Bourget airport, near Paris, a day later, having covered a distance of 5,800 kilometers in 33 and a half hours. A crowd of 100,000 people triumphantly received the pilot, who had been able to combine exceptional physical resistance, a considerable dose of audacity and remarkable technical expertise, qualities that had allowed him to overcome the danger of the winds and fatigue.

Spirit of St. Louis/Spirit of Saint Louis/Lindbergh
The Spirit of St. Louis at the Air and Space Museum in Washington. It truly causes vertigo to think that someone could fly over the Atlantic aboard this single-engine airplane... [Photo: Ad Meskens, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

With his triumphant arrival in the French capital Lindbergh quickly became a popular hero as well as a public relations tool both nationally and internationally. After spending a week as the guest of the US ambassador in Paris, he made a trip to Brussels and London. He returned to his homeland by sea, and he was received by President Calvin Coolidge, who gave him the rank of full colonel. Later, the Guggenheim Foundation for the Advancement of Aeronautics organized a tour for him, always with his plane, during which he visited 75 cities in the United States. Following the example of the Spirit of St. Louis, a tangible echo of the clamor raised by the company, airlines were created, airports were built and training centers for pilots were opened: the era of aviation as a means of transport available to everyone.

Fame, Money... and Tragedy

The meaning of Lindbergh's flight, or better still, the breadth of the interests in which he found himself immersed, becomes evident when considering that the New York Times has agreed to pay Lindbergh the sum of $250,000 for the narrative of his journey. As a "goodwill ambassador", and also as an aviation propagandist and promoter of the establishment of permanent air services, Lindbergh made, at the end of 1927, a trip from Washington to Mexico City in 27 hours and 15 minutes , a tour through several Latin American countries and, finally, in 15 hours and 35 minutes, it linked Havana with San Luis.

In 1929 he married Anne Spencer Morrow, a writer and essayist, and also an aviation enthusiast; He carried out various missions with her: in 1930 the Lindbergh couple broke a new transcontinental record, and the following year they made a long journey to the East. In the meantime, Lindbergh had entered into a relationship with the large Pan American World Airways, for which he worked as technical adviser and experimenter of air routes to South America and the Pacific.

At the height of his popularity he was wounded by the tragedy of the kidnapping of his son Charles August, who was later found dead. This crime made a huge impression throughout the world, and the United States Congress passed the Lindbergh Act, which increased the amount of penalties provided for the crime of kidnapping.

After this horrible crime, and to escape publicity that was painful for them, the Lindbergh couple moved to Europe for a time, and in 1939 they visited Nazi Germany in detail. This relative retirement contributed to Lindbergh's royal figure fading further into the mists of legend. In reality, and thanks to his technical experience, he remained constantly in contact with the great aeronautical industry, and I continue to render his services even to the highest hierarchies of military aviation (United States Corps and National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics ).

Against the Intervention of His Country in II World War II

In this aspect, Lindbergh's personality –who was no longer the nice boy of the 1920s– revealed new facets. During World War II, he was a determined defender of his country's neutrality, opposed the Lend-Lease Act for countries that were at war with the Axis powers, and ended up being harshly criticized by the President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for which he had to resign from all his military occupations. But a short time later he developed an important activity on the Pacific front, especially to study the behavior, in war operations, of the P.38 aircraft; in the course of this operation he carried out more than 50 missions.

Lindbergh has continued to rack up awards and be top of his class: in 1949 he won the Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy for great services to American aviation; in 1953 he received the Daniel Guggenheim medal for being one of the most important pioneers of aerial navigation; and in 1954 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his autobiography The Spirit of St. Louis. But the freshness and gallantry, the authentic sincerity of his first adventure, are now only facts of an increasingly remote past.

Lindbergh has probably been the subject of musical tributes, but surely none like this one that Ilegales paid him in 1984.
[Source: Va.Aa. (1978). Lindbergh's Flight. In Maravillas del Saber. Consultor didáctico (Tome III, pp. 62-64). Milan, Italy: Editrice Europea di Cultura]