Charles Lindbergh and the Transatlantic Flight

This Day in History

In one of the most miraculous feats at the time, Charles Lindbergh accomplished an extraordinary triumph as he successfully completed the first solo, nonstop transatlantic flight in history. 

His airplane, The Spirit of St. Louis, inspired countless people, books, shows, and movies. 

After taking off in New York, the pilot traveled 33 1/2 hours across the murky waters of the Atlantic to Paris, France, where he was greeted by a roaring crowd. 

Born in 1902 in Detroit, Michigan, Charles Lindbergh was born just as the Wright brothers were making blueprints for their soon to be airplane. Once the strange new invention was released to the world, millions flocked to see the impossible- man flying with the birds of the air. Like many young boys growing up in the era of flight, Lindbergh became enamored with the wings of the plane. At the age of 20, he bought a used World War I biplane and toured as a stunt flyer. Two years later, he enrolled in the Army Air Service flying school and graduated top in his class. 

Charles Lindbergh

In 1919, Frenchman Raymond Orteig declared that he would donate $25,000 to the first to fly nonstop from Paris to New York or New York to Paris- a challenge that would expire at the end of 5 years. Five years passed and no one attempted the suicidal mission. Again Orteig made his offer. 

Daring 25-year-old Charles Lindbergh raised to the challenge.  After successfully convincing the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce to sponsor his flight, he contacted the Ryan Airlines Corporation to build a custom aircraft. In order to withstand the significant distance, the plane would need to be accommodated with additional fuel tanks. The added fuel tanks, however, made the plane very heavy, so Lindbergh would need to travel alone, without a radio, gas gauge, navigation equipment, or parachute. The young pilot understood the risks he was undertaking, but was still determined to do what no man had successfully done before. 

On the morning of May 20, a sleepy-eyed Charles boarded his plane and said goodbye to America, not knowing if this would be the last time he would see his home country. 

Four hours into the flight, he was exhausted and flew within 10 feet of the water in order to keep his mind sharp. Throughout the dangerous journey he struggled to stay awake and hallucinated frequently. 

Although he had no formal navigation monitor, he was two hours ahead of schedule and only three miles off course. 

After 33 1/2 hours and 3,600 miles of constant flying, Lindbergh successfully landed at the Le Bourget Aerodrome in Paris on this day in 1927. The crowds cheered and welcomed the world hero- a strikingly similar event of an American aviator flying in France had also occurred not 15 years prior when Wilbur Wright stunned the French with his flying machine. Now the French celebrated another milestone in American aviation. 

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