Today in history: Charles Lindbergh

November 19, 2014

Today we’d like to remember the legacy of Charles Lindbergh – the first man to accomplish a solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean. For it was on this day in 1974 that Mr. Lindbergh passed on at the young age of 72.

An aviator with big dreams since the he was 20, Lindbergh convinced the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce to sponsor the first nonstop transatlantic flight, flying 1,960 miles from Newfoundland to Ireland with a budget of only $15,000. 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. To offset the weight, everything that was not utterly essential was left out. This included no radio, gas gauge, night-flying lights, navigation equipment, or parachute., and a seat made of wicker. And unlike other aviators attempting the flight, Lindbergh would be alone, with no navigator or co-pilot.

[Learn more about Charles Lindbergh by viewing his Footprint]

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. At about 2 a.m. on May 21, Lindbergh passed the halfway mark, and soon after he entered a thick fog. 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.

At the Le Bourget Aerodrome in Paris, tens of thousands of 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. 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, so two French aviators saved Lindbergh from the boisterous crowd, whisking him away in an automobile. And he was an immediate international celebrity.

How’s that for a moment in history that the world should never forget? Way to go Mr. Lindbergh. You had a long journey. Now just sit back in the heavens above…relax, and enjoy the stories we continue to share about your life.

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