On May 20th, 1927, at 7:52am, a pilot named Charles Lindbergh set out on a flight that would go down in history. His goal was to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, from New York to Paris. This would be the first trans-Atlantic, non-stop flight in an airplane, the success of which catapulted Lindbergh to the status of “American Hero” seemingly overnight.
Lindbergh’s flight also bolstered aviation into a firmly established industry. Private investments – to the tune of millions of dollars – flooded the field almost instantaneously, as did the support of millions of Americans.
Lindbergh himself was studying engineering at the University of Wisconsin when he decided to drop out of the program to learn how to fly instead. He became a “barnstormer”, participating in aerial shows all across the country. Lindbergh eventually joined up with the Robertson Aircraft Corporation, transporting mail from St. Louis to Chicago and back.
One of Lindbergh’s first decisions that he made when planning his trans-Atlantic journey was to complete it by himself. The thought process behind this was that, with no navigator, he would be able to carry more fuel. Lindbergh’s plane, aptly named “The Spirit of St. Louis”, had a wingspan of 46 feet and was just shy of 28 feet in length. The aircraft was able to carry 450 gallons of gasoline, which made up approximately half of its take-off weight.
The cockpit was too small for navigation via the start so, instead, Lindbergh flew by dead reckoning. He was able to find maps at his local library, and divided them into thirty-three (33) 100-mile segments, and noted the heading he would follow as each segment was flown. Upon seeing the coast of Ireland, Lindbergh was on nearly the exact route he had plotted! Several hours later Lindbergh landed in Paris, with almost 80 gallons of fuel to spare.
Throughout the duration of the journey, Lindbergh’s biggest nemesis was fatigue. The trip was exhausting, clocking in at 33 hours, 29 minutes, and 30 seconds. It’s reported that he managed to keep himself awake by alternately sticking his head out the window to inhale the cold air and by holding his eyelids open…and by continually reminding himself that, should he succumb to sleep, he would most certainly perish. There was also a slight instability that had been built into his airplane, which aided in keeping him awake and focused.
When everything was all said and done, Lindbergh landed at Le Bourget Field – just outside of Paris, France – at 10:24pm (Paris time) on May 21st, 1927. News of his flight flew faster than his plane, and he was met by a large crowd at the airfield to witness history in the making. The magnitude of his accomplishment was undeniable, as was the fact that The Air Age had officially arrived.