The Lindbergh Flight

By SM Sgt. Wilbur Tackaberry

 

Newsmen and a biographer have noted that Charles A. Lindbergh spent a happy childhood. He loved the outdoors, hunted and swam with his father. He enrolled in the engineering school at Wisconsin University, but dropped out near the end of his sophomore year. He later enrolled as a student flyer at Lincoln, Nebr. The biography tells us that the nickname "Slim" which aptly described his tall lean stature, was tacked on him by his flying associates. As a barnstorming pilot, he performed at many county fairs and was billed as "Daredevil Lindbergh-Parachutist". By living frugally he was able to purchase a surplus World War I "Jenny" for $500 and flew it to St. Louis in the early autumn of 1923 to watch the Pulitzer Trophy Races.

Theodore P. Wagner of the Post-Dispatch staff who covered the races, related how he met "Slim" Lindbergh at the shack where prospective participants and plane owners were required to register. In later articles he told of the happy to go lucky life that Lindbergh was living along with his flying buddies among which were Harlan Philip R. Love. Love had graduated with Lindbergh from the Army Flying School at Brooks Field, Texas, as a Reserve Second Lieutenant prior to the start of the mail service.

A prize of $25,000 had been offered by Raymond B. Orteig, a French banker, for anyone who would make the first nonstop flight from New York to Paris.

"Slim" Lindbergh felt that if he could meet the challenge of such a flight it would gain recognition for St. Louis as an aviation center. His personal savings of $2,500 were far short of the amount he needed to purchase the proper aircraft. He needed backers to provide necessary funds and an airplane capable of carrying the required fuel load. The backers would own the plane and have all their money repaid. He pointed out that therefore the venture could be profitable. He told them that "St. Louis is ideally situated to become an aviation city." He further remarked that "St. Louis has the finest commercial air hub of the national airways of the future." Several individuals he contacted for support for support felt that the venture was either "crackpot" or an investment in tragedy and denied his request.

Photo: Home adjacent to Lambert Field where Lindbergh stayed (1926-1927) before his trip to Paris. [Enlarged]

Those who agreed to back were William D. Robertson, Frank Robertson, Albert Bond Lambert, J.D. Wooster Lambert, Harry Hall Knight, Harry French Knight, E. Lansing Ray, Harold M. Bixby, and Earl C. Thompson.

Friends and associates pointed out that Lindbergh’s thoughts prior to the flight were of all the things he had experienced in the years associated with aviation. He had done parachute jumping, attended the Army School, flown the mail in all kinds of weather, become a captain in the Missouri National Guard Aviation Unit, trained others to fly and lectured on the future of aviation. Why then couldn’t he fly the Atlantic ? [ Why fly the Atlantic rather than the Pacific ? Pilots of that period considered the Atlantic was "aviation’s major obstacle." Violent storms , fog, and icing conditions and bitter cold water of the North Atlantic were all obstacles to survival.]  [Photo: Friends of Charles Lindbergh gather at the "Spirit of St. Louis".  Jim Tate, Eric H. Kaeppel, and   Walter J. Wilde. Jimmy Tate was Lindbergh's personal parachute rigger]

Lindbergh had conversed with the Navy about the problems they had encountered with flights from Newfoundland to the Azores. He was told about the countless emergencies, forced landings, and engine trouble their craft had encountered. These were the Navy’s huge flying boats powered by four Liberty engines and had a crew of five men.
 

Several weeks of delay were experienced in seeking a company to design and build an airplane capable to trans-Atlantic flight. On Februrary 3, 1927 Lindbergh wired Ryan Aviation on the west coast to see if they could produce an airplane of his desired specifications. Ryan agreed that such an aircraft could be built and on Februrary 23, 1927 Lindbergh arrived at the Ryan factory where he and Donald Hall went to work on the design. They worked day and night to meet the schedule. On April 28, 1927 "The Spirit of St. Louis" was finished. The high wing monoplane was constructed of fabric and metal painted silver. It contained only the minimum essential instruments and little comfort for the pilot. After a few test flights, Lindbergh left San Diego for St. Louis. Upon arriving at St. Louis, he buzzed the field several times like a kid with a new toy and brought the airplane in for a perfect landing. Theodore P. Wagner of the Post-Dispatch, Robert Safford of the Globe Democrat, Phil Love and a sergeant of the National Guard Air Unit greeted him. The sergeant was Walter J. Wilde whose duties were to guard the airplane while it was in St. Louis. Senior Master Sgt. Wilde recently retired from the Air National Guard after 40 years of service.

Photo: Missouri National Guard Pilots, friends of Lindbergh taken in front of 019 Aircraft in 1929--Capt. Young, Lt. Lauth, Lt. Frank Dunn, Capt. Wm. Wimer, and Capt. Wm. Robertson. [Enlargement]

After meeting with some of his backers that evening, Lindbergh prepared for the next morning’s flight to New York.

On May 20 the "Spirit of St. Louis" was towed to the west end of the Roosevelt Field runway. Lindbergh climbed into his cabin, closed the door, and signaled that all was ready. Ed Mulligan pulled the propeller several times and the engine started. At exactly 7:52 am Lindbergh lifted off with his heavy fuel load barely missing a grove of trees. The first leg of the flight his altitude was no more than 600 feet, and his airspeed 102 MPH.

Before him was a test of navigation. He would have to overcome fear, loneliness, monotony, and the lack of sleep.

The green coast of Nova Scotia must have been welcome sight to him. At this point he was four hundred pounds lighter in fuel. When he approached Cape Breton Island he ran into heavy rain, fog, and turbulent air. He had no choice but to continue as he had disgarded his parachute to allow for additional fuel.

When he approached Newfoundland he dipped his wings in recognition and flew back on course. Back in St. Louis, Betty Robertson remained at the airport transmitting news of the flight as it was relayed back from stations along the route. Betty had become a very close friend of Lindbergh while he flew the mail for Robertson Aviation.

After leaving Newfoundland, Lindbergh was to encounter another storm and had to climb to 10,500 feet. He had the problem of ice forming on the plane which could force him into the sea. How near this man must have been to panic, or the urge to turn back. Sleep continued to threaten him. He had now gone 48 hours without sleep. His body suffered from lack of oxygen due to the altitude at which he was flying. At times he would stick his head out the window for gulps of fresh air, which provided temporary relief from his weariness.

Through a break in the weather he spotted the coast of Ireland. Only four more hours and he would be in Paris. Struggling on the new hope he soon spotted the patterned lights of Paris streets, the Eiffel Tower, and Le Bourget Field. He touched down at 10:22 pm Paris time.

Suddenly from out of the darkness, photographers, newsmen, police, and an avalanche of people surrounded him. He had realized his dream in flying from New York to Paris in 33 hours and 32 minutes.

 

Photo: Lindbergh posing for a Missouri Air Guard publicity photo.  The drums depicted the amount of fuel and oil needed in his flight to Paris, May 20-21 1927. [Enlargement]

Missouri National Guard Emblem on as it appeared on Lindbergh's plane (post-TransAtlantic flight)

 


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