Tag Archives: Charles Augustus Lindbergh

Charles A. Lindbergh’s Ryan NYP, NX211, “Spirit of St. Louis”

Charles A. Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis over San Diego Bay. Photograph by H.A. Erickson. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)
Charles A. Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis over San Diego Bay. Photograph by H.A. Erickson. (San Diego Air and Space Museum)

On 25 February 1927, Charles A. Lindbergh, backed by a group of St. Louis, Missouri, businessmen, contracted the Ryan Airlines Company to build an airplane for the purpose of flying across the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Paris. The agreed price was $10,580. 63 days later, 28 April, Lindbergh made the first flight of the Ryan NYP at Dutch Flats, a short distance from the factory on Juniper Street.

Ryan airplane factory at the foot of Juniper Street, San Diego, California. (Donald A. Hall Photograph & Document Collection)
Ryan airplane factory at the foot of Juniper Street, San Diego, California. (Donald A. Hall Photograph & Document Collection)

The Ryan NYP is a single-place, single-engine, strut-braced high-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear and tail skid, built at the Ryan Airlines Company factory, San Diego, California. Although it was based on the earlier Ryan M-2, Spirit of St. Louis was a complete redesign, with longer wings and fuselage. The ailerons are smaller. The airplane has no serial number and was not issued a type certificate by the Civil Aeronautics Authority. It was assigned an experimental registration number, NX211.

Spirit of St. Louis is 27 feet, 8 inches (8.433 meters) long with a wingspan of 46 feet, 0 inches (14.021 meters) and height of 9 feet, 10 inches (2.997 meters). The wing has a chord of 7 feet, 0 inches (2.134 meters) and area of 319 square feet (29.636 square meters). There is no dihedral or sweep. The airfoil is the Clark Y, with a cambered upper surface, while the lower surface is flat from aft of the wing’s forward spar.

The fuselage and tail surfaces are constructed of welded tubular SAE 1020 steel framework covered with doped linen fabric. The wing was built as a single unit with wooden spars and ribs. The leading edge is covered in plywood and the entire wing with doped fabric. The rib spacing is 11 inches (27.94 centimeters). The horizontal stabilizer is adjustable from the cockpit to control trim as the fuel load decreased.

Welded tubular steel framework fuselage of the Spirit of St. Louis. (Donald A. Hall)
Welded SAE 1020 tubular steel framework fuselage of the Spirit of St. Louis. (Donald A. Hall Photograph & Document Collection)
This photograph shows the wooden structure of the wing and welded tubular framework of the fuselage of Spirit of St. Louis. The forward fuselage fuel tank is in place. (Donald A. Hall)
This photograph shows the complex wooden structure of the wing and welded tubular framework of the fuselage of Spirit of St. Louis. The 310 gallon (1,174.5 liter) main fuel tank is in place. The flat lower surface of the wing is the primary characteristic of the Clark Y airfoil. (Donald A. Hall Photograph & Document Collection)

The split-axle main landing gear uses bungee cords for shock absorption. B.F. Goodrich pneumatic tires are mounted on 21 inch × 4 inch (533 millimeter × 102 millimeter) wire-spoked wheels. The struts were designed for a load factor of 4 and allow 6½ inches (165 millimeters) of vertical motion. The wheels can spread to absorb impacts. The tail skid is heat-treated chrome moly tubing.

This photograph shows the forward 86-gallon fuel tank and 25 gallon lubricating oil tank in the nose of Spirit of St. Louis. The Wright J-5C Whirlwind has been installed. (Donald A. Hall)
This photograph shows the forward 86 gallon (325.6 liter) fuel tank and 25 gallon (94.6 liter) lubricating oil tank in the nose of Spirit of St. Louis. The Wright J-5C Whirlwind radial engine has been installed. The bungee cord suspension of the main landing gear is also visible. (Donald A. Hall Photograph & Document Collection)

The main fuel tank and lubricating oil tank were placed in front of the cockpit for safety reasons, but this eliminated any forward view for the pilot. A small retractable periscope with a 3 inch × 5 inch (76 × 127 millimeters) viewing area in the instrument panel could be extended through the left side of the fuselage.

Spirit of St. Louis was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 787.26-cubic-inch-displacement (12.901 liter) Wright Aeronautical Corporation Model J-5C Whirlwind nine-cylinder radial engine, serial number 7331. This was a direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 5.1:1. The engine was assembled by Thomas W. Rutledge at the Wright factory in Paterson, New Jersey, and was completed 1 April 1927.

Charles Lindbergh works on the Wright Model J-5C Whirlwind installed on the Spirit of St. Louis. (Library of Congress)

The J-5 was built with a cylindrical cast aluminum crankcase and steel cylinder barrels with integral cooling fins. The cylinder head was cast aluminum with a hemispherical combustion chamber, which allowed larger valves and improved combustion efficiency. There were two valves per cylinder, actuated by pushrods and rocker arms.

The Wright J-5C was rated at 200 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m., and 220 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. The engine was 2 feet, 10 inches (0.864 meters) long and 3 feet, 9 inches (1.143 meters) in diameter. It weighed 508 pounds (230.4 kilograms).

During 50-hour endurance tests, the J-5C produced 216 horsepower at 1,837 r.p.m., and 238 horsepower at 1,970 r.p.m. It averaged 223 horsepower during a 100-hour, full-throttle test conducted by the U.S. Navy in May 1927. An overload test run with an external supercharger produced 295 horsepower at 2,150 r.p.m. for 50 hours.

The engine drove a two-bladed Standard Steel Propeller Co. adjustable-pitch propeller with a diameter of 8 feet, 9 inches (2.667 meters). The drop-forged solid Duralumin blades attached to a steel hub. The pitch of the propeller blades could be set prior to flight. Spirit of St. Louis‘ blades were set to 16¼ inches (41.275 centimeters). (This is the distance that the propeller would travel forward during one revolution.)

Instrument panel and fuel manifold
Instrument panel and fuel manifold. (Donald A. Hall Photograph & Document Collection)

The airplane’s Instrument panel included a Waltham Watch Company Eight-Day Clock and a Pioneer Instrument Company Earth Inductor Compass.

A barograph was carried on board to certify the non-stop flight for the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.

Ryan NYP N-X-211, Spirit of St. Louis, front view, at Dutch Flats, San Diego, California, 28 April 1927. (Donald A. Hall Collection)
Ryan NYP N-X-211, Spirit of St. Louis, front view, at Dutch Flats, San Diego, California, 28 April 1927. (Donald A. Hall Photograph & Document Collection)

During flight testing at San Diego, the maximum speed of Spirit of St. Louis was found to be 120.0 miles per hour (193.1 kilometers per hour) at full load, increasing to 124.5 miles per hour (200.4 kilometers per hour) when lightly loaded. It reached 129 miles per hour (207.6 kilometers per hour) over a 3-kilometer course, when the fuel load was just 25 gallons (95 liters). The Ryan’s best economic speed was 97 miles per hour (156.1 kilometers per hour) at full load, and 67 miles per hour (107.8 kilometers per hour), light. Under ideal conditions, the airplane had a maximum range of 4,110 miles (6,614 kilometers).

The Ryan NYP N-X-211, Spirit of St. Louis, right front quarter view, at Dutch Flats, San Diego, California. (Donald A. Hall Collection)
The Ryan NYP N-X-211, Spirit of St. Louis, right front quarter view, at Dutch Flats, San Diego, California. (Donald A. Hall Photograph & Document Collection)
Ryan NYP N-X-211, Spirit of St. Louis, right side view, at Dutch Flats, San Diego, California, 28 April 1927. (Donald A. Hall Collection)
Ryan NYP N-X-211, Spirit of St. Louis, right side view, at Dutch Flats, San Diego, California, 28 April 1927. (Donald A. Hall Photograph & Document Collection)

Spirit if St. Louis has an empty weight of 2,150 pounds (975 kilograms). When in departed San Diego on 10 May 1927, it was overloaded with an additional 25 gallons (94.6 liters) of gasoline, bringing the total gross weight at takeoff to 5,250 pounds (2,381 kilograms). (The density of California gasoline was 6.12 pounds per gallon/0.73 kilograms per litre.)

Donald A. Hall, designer of the Ryan NYP, Spirit of St. Louis, at work in his office at the Ryan Airlines, Inc., factory, San Diego, CA, 1927. (Donald A Hall Collection)

Designer Donald A. Hall estimated that the Ryan NYP required 850 engineering man hours and 3,000 construction man hours.

Spirit of St. Louis made 174 flights, with a total duration of 489 hours, 28 minutes. NX211 last made its final flight 30 April 1928, from St. Louis, Missouri, to Bolling Field, Washington, D.C., where Charles A. Lindbergh presented it to the Smithsonian Institution. Its registration was cancelled 2 June 1928.

The Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis, NX211, on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum
The Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis, NX211, on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum (NASM)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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30 March 1934

Sikorsky S-42 NC822M, Brazilian Clipper, first of three of the initial S-42 variant. (NASM)

30 March 1934: At Bridgeport, Connecticut, Sikorsky Aircraft Company test pilot Boris Vasilievich Sergievsky made the first flight of the prototype Sikorsky S-42, a large, four-engine flying boat which had been designed for long range passenger and cargo flights.

In discussions with Igor Sikorsky, Charles A. Lindbergh, acting as technical advisor to Pan American Airways System, the two aviation icons established the specifications for a new flying boat. The new airplane would be a significant improvement over Sikorky’s previous S-40.

The Hartford Courant report:

New Giant Sikorsky Tries Its Wings

Sikorsky S-42 (Associated Press Photo)

     Bridgeport.  March 30.—(AP)—America’s greatest passenger plane, the S-42, destined for the South American service, took to the air for the first time and passed two test flights with flying colors.

     Once for 10 minutes, and again for a longer period, the giant flying boat hovered over Long Island Sound and its shore. Captain Boris Sergievsky, accompanied only by a lone mechanic, was at the controls.

     “Congratulations, sir,” Igor Sikorsky, designer of the plane, hailed the pilot as he came ashore after the flights.

     “The congratulations,” Captain Sergievsky replied, “are yours, sir.”

     “I am very pleased with the results,” Sikorsky said. “It was most thrilling to see the ship take off. Everything seems excellent.”

     Frederick W. Neilsen, president of the Sikorsky Aviation Corporation, who watched the flights with Sikorsky and hundreds of residents of Bridgeport and shore towns, said, “The tests were most successful and we are all pleased.”

     The ship, built for Pan American Airways on specifications by Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh, technical advisor for the line, is the first of six such planes to be completed for Pan American.

     Powered with four engines, it is 76 feet long, has a span of 114 feet 2 inches, and a gross weight of 38,000 pounds. It will be fitted with 32 passenger seats, and will have a non-stop range of 1200 miles with a full complement of passengers, five members of the crew and 1000 pounds of mail.

The Hartford Courant, Vol. XCVII, Saturday, 31 March 1934, Page 18, Columns 4 and 5

Interior of a Sikorsky S-42. (NASM)

The Sikorsky S-42 was a four-engine long-range flying boat built for Pan American Airways by the Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft Division of United Technologies at Stratford, Connecticut. It was 67 feet, 8 inches (20.625 meters) long with a wingspan of 114 feet, 2 inches (34.798 meters). The S-42 had an empty weight of 18,236 pounds (8,272 kilograms) and gross weight of 38,000 pounds (17,237 kilograms). It could carry up to 37 passengers.

A Pan American Airways Sikorsky S-42.

The S-42 was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,690.537-cubic-inch-displacement (27.703 liters) Pratt & Whitney Hornet S1E-G nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.5:1. The S1E-G had a Normal Power rating of 750 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m., to 7,000 feet (2,134 meters), and 875 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., for Takeoff. The engines drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard constant-speed propellers through a 3:2 gear reduction. The S1E-G was 4 feet, 1.38 inches (1.254 meters) long, 4 feet, 6.44 inches (1.383 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,064 pounds (483 kilograms).

Boris Vasilievich Sergievsky

The S-42 had a cruise speed 165 miles per hour (266 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 188 miles per hour (303 kilometers per hour) at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). The service ceiling was 16,000 feet (4,877 meters). It could maintain 7,500 feet (2,286 meters) with three engines. Its range was 1,930 miles (3,106 kilometers).

During flight testing of the S-42, Boris Sergievsky, with co-pilot Raymond B. Quick, set three Fédération Aéronautique Internationale world records for payload and altitude.¹  Later, Captain Edwin Musick, with Sergievsky and Charles Lindbergh, flew the S-42 to set eight Fédération Aéronautique Internationale world records for speed.²

Ten Sikorsky S-42, S-42A and S-42B flying boats were built for Pan Am. None remain in existence.

A Pan American Airways Sikorsky S-42, NC16742, moored at Honolulu, Territory of the Hawaiian Islands. (hawaii.gov/hawaiiaviation)

¹ 26 April 1934 FAI Record File Numbers: 11583: Greatest load to 2,000 meters (6,562 feet): 7,533 kilograms (16,652 pounds). 17 May 1934: 11582 and 11978: Altitude with a 5,000 Kilogram (11,023 pounds) Load, 6,220 meters (20,407 feet).

² 1 April 1934 FAI Record File Numbers: 11517: Speed over a closed circuit of 1,000 Kilometers (621.3 statute miles), 253,60 km/h (157.58 m.p.h.); 11518: . . . with a 500 Kilogram (1,102 pounds) Payload, 253,60 km/h (157.58 m.p.h.); 11519: . . . with a 1,000 Kilogram (2,205 pounds) Payload, 253,60 km/h (157.58 m.p.h.); 11520: . . . with a 2,000 kilogram (4,409 pounds) Payload, 253,60 km/h (157.58 m.p.h.); 11521: Speed over a closed circuit of 2,000 Kilometers (1,242.7 statute miles), 253,18 km/h (157.32 m.p.h); 11522: . . . with a 500 Kilogram Payload, 253,18 km/h (157.32 m.p.h.); 11523: . . . with a 1,000 Kilogram Payload, 253,18 km/h (157.32 m.p.h.); 11524: . . . with a 2,000 Kilogram Payload, 253,18 km/h (157.32 m.p.h.).

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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Charles Augustus Lindbergh (4 February 1902–26 August 1974)

Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Aviator.

4 February 1902: Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Brigadier General, United States Air Force, Medal of Honor, was born at Detroit, Michigan. He was the son of Swedish immigrant Charles August Lindbergh (born Karl Månsson), an attorney, and Evangeline Lodge Land Lindbergh, a high school chemistry teacher. Lindbergh attended Redondo Beach High School, Redondo Beach, California, 1917–1918.

Lindbergh, age 11, with his dog, Dingo. (The Denver Post)

In 1920–1922 Lindbergh was enrolled as an engineering student at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He shared an apartment with his mother who was teaching at the nearby Emerson School. A friend from the university showed Lindbergh a brochure from a flight school. Mrs. Lindbergh is reported to have told the friend, “If Charles goes to flying school, I will hold you responsible.” Soon after, Lindbergh left the university and entered a flying school in Nebraska. In 1927, the University of Wisconsin bestowed the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) on him.

Certainly one of the world’s best known pilots, Lindbergh began flight training at the age of 20. He was an Aviation Cadet, 19 March 1924–16 March 1925, and trained at the United States Army flight schools at Brooks and Kelly Fields, in Texas. He graduated at the top of his class and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Officers Reserve Corps, U.S. Air Service, with date of rank of 14 March 1925.

Second Lieutenant Charles A. Lindbergh, Air Service, United States Army, circa 1925. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

Lindbergh was promoted to First Lieutenant, Air Corps, 7 December 1925, and to Captain, 13 July 1926. He flew as an Air Mail pilot and gained valuable flight experience.

Lindbergh was the chief pilot of Robertson Aircraft Corporation at Lambert Field, St. Louis, Missouri. The company was contracted to fly the mail to Chicago, with intermediate stops at Springfield and Peoria, Illinois, using several modified de Havilland DH-4 biplanes. On two occasions, 16 September and 3 November 1926, Lindbergh had to bail out of his mail plane at night.

Air Mail Pilot Charles A. Lindbergh, circa 1927. (NASM)

He resigned from Robertson Aircraft and formed a group to finance and build the Spirit of St. Louis.

On 20 May 1927, Lindbergh departed New York in his custom-built Ryan NYP monoplane, Spirit of St. Louis, and 33 hours, 30 minutes later, he landed at Paris, France, becoming the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. For this accomplishment he won the Orteig Prize of $25,000 (about $355,000 in 2018 dollars).

Charles A. Lindbergh with the Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis at Roosevelt Field, New York, 20 May 1927.
Charles A. Lindbergh with the Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis at Roosevelt Field, New York, 20 May 1927. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

When he returned to the United States, Lindbergh was presented the Distinguished Flying Cross by President Coolidge. On 14 December 1927, by Act of Congress, Lindbergh was awarded the Medal of Honor:

“For displaying heroic courage and skill as a navigator, at the risk of his life, by his nonstop flight in his airplane, the Spirit of St. Louis, from New York City to Paris, France, 20–21 May 1927, by which Capt. Lindbergh not only achieved the greatest individual triumph of any American citizen but demonstrated that travel across the ocean by aircraft was possible.”

Charles Augustus Lindbergh’s Medal of Honor at the Missouri History Museum, St. Louis, Missouri. (Robert Lawton)

Captain Lindbergh was promoted to the rank of Colonel, Officers Reserve Corps, U.S. Army Air Corps, 18 July 1927. In the 1930s, he had various assignments, including evaluating new aircraft at Wright Field.

Two years after his transatlantic flight, Lindbergh married Miss Anne Spencer Morrow, daughter of the United States Ambassador to Mexico, 27 May 1929, at Englewood, New Jersey. They would have six children.

Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh with their Lockheed Model 8 Sirius, NR211, at Grand Central Airport, Glendale, California, shortly before their departure for New York, 20 April 1930. (HistoryNet)

In 1930–1931, the Lindberghs flew a Lockheed Model 8 Sirius named Tingmissartoq from the United States to China, traveling through Canada, Alaska, Siberia, and Japan.  Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote about the journey in North to the Orient (Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1935). The Sirius was equipped with floats for a part of the trip. In 1933 they flew the Model 8 to explore air routes in Europe, Africa and South America. NR211 is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum.

Charles Lindbergh testifies at “The Trial of the Century.” The defendant, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, is at the lower right with his back toward the camera. (Library of Congress/New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection 3c09416)

Their first son, Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr., was kidnapped from the family’s home, 1 March 1932. A ransom of $50,000 was paid (equivalent to $900,000 today), however the boy’s body was found 12 March. At “The Trial of the Century,” Bruno Richard Hauptman was convicted of the crime. He was later executed.

Left to Right: Albert Kisk, Harry Guggenheim, Dr. Goddard, Charles A. Lindbergh, Nils Lindquist and Charles Mansur. (U.S. Air Force photograph.)

During the mid-1930s, Lindbergh was an active supporter of the rocketry experiments of Dr. Robert H. Goddard. He had other interests a well. With Nobel Prize winner Dr. Alexis Carrel, he invented the Perfusion Pump to allow oxygenated blood to be supplied to human organs. This eventually led to the “heart-lung machine” that made “open heart” surgery possible.

“Charles Lindbergh and Alexis Carrel with the glass heart,” Samuel Johnsonson Woolf, 1938. (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)
Colonel Lindbergh in the cockpit of a Curtiss Wright P-36A Hawk, 38-102, circa 1938. This airplane was destroyed during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, 7 December 1941. (Niagara Aerospace Museum)

During World War II, Lindbergh served as a civilian adviser and flew the Chance Vought F4U Corsair in combat missions with Marine fighter squadrons VMF-216 and VMF-222. He also flew the Lockheed P-38 Lightning with the Army Air Force 433rd Fighter Squadron, 475th Fighter Group.

Charles A. Lindbergh with a Chance Vought F4U-1 Corsair at Emirau Island in the Bismarck Archipelago, May 1944. (U.S. Navy)
Charles A. Lindbergh in the cockpit of a Chance Vought F4U-1D Corsair, Green Islands, Solomon Sea, May 1944. (NASM)
Another photograph showing Charles A. Lindbergh in the cockpit of a Chance Vought F4U-1D Corsair of VF-24, Roi-Namur, Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands, circa 1944.

On 28 July 1944, Lindbergh was flying “Blue 3” with a flight of P-38s from the 433rd along the north coast of New Guinea. Over Elpaputih Bay, Blue Flight encountered enemy aircraft. Lindbergh shot down one of them. Various sources identify the aircraft as a Mitsubishi Ki-51 Type 99 “Sonia” flown by Captain Saburo Shimada.

He is starting down in a wing over—out of control. The nose goes down. The plane turns slightly as it picks up speed—down—down—down toward the sea. A fountain of spray—white foam on the water—waves circling outward as from a stone tossed in a pool—the waves merge into those of the sea—the foam disappears—the surface is at it was before.

The Wartime Journals of Charles A. Lindbergh, by Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Harcourt Brace Jovanovoch, Inc., New York, 1970, at page 889

 

Charles A. Lindbergh with a Lockheed P-38J Lightning, circa July 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower reactivated his Army Air Corps commission and appointed him Brigadier General, United States Air Force.

Charles A. Lindbergh was the author of We (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1927), Of Flight and Life, (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1948), and The Spirit of St. Louis (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1953). This third book won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1954, and is very highly recommended by This Day in Aviation. The book was made into a motion picture in 1957, directed by Billy Wilder and starring Jimmy Stewart as Lindbergh. (This film was a major influence on the author of TDiA.)

In 1972, while accompanying a television crew investigating a “lost tribe” in the Philippine Islands, Lindbergh and the group were stranded when their helicopter broke down. They were rescued by the 31st Aerospace rescue and Recovery Squadron, based at Clark Field.

Charles Lindbergh died on Maui, Hawaii, 26 August 1974. He was buried at the Palapala Ho’omau Church Cemetery, Kipahulu, Maui.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 November 1926

Chief Pilot Charles A. Lindbergh in the cockpit of Robertson Aircraft Corporation’s modified De Havilland DH-4, Number 109, 15 May 1926. (Swenson Studio)
Charles A. Lindbergh, circe 1926. (SDA&SM)
Charles A. Lindbergh, circa 1926. (San Diego Air & Space Museum)

3 November 1926: Charles Augustus Lindbergh, chief pilot of the Robertson Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri, was flying a night air mail route between St. Louis and Chicago, Illinois. His airplane was a modified De Havilland DH-4B, U.S. Postal Service Airmail Plane Number 109.

Lindbergh was flying Contract Air Mail Route 2, or “C.A.M. No. 2.” He departed St. Louis at 4:20 p.m. and made his first stop at Springfield, Illinois, at 5:15 p.m. He then continued on the second stage, Springfield to Peoria, Illinois.

Visibility was poor, about a half-mile (800 meters) in fog. Lindbergh flew at 600 feet (183 meters) but was unable to see the ground. Near the air field at Peoria, he could see lights from 200 feet (61 meters) altitude, but was unable to land.

After circling for 30 minutes, he continued toward Chicago. Lindbergh occasionally saw lights on the ground through the fog, but with his fuel running low, he decided that he was going to have to abandon his airplane. He headed out over more open country and climbed to 14,000 feet (4,267 meters).

Robertson Aircraft Corporation Dh-4 No. 109. The airplane's fuselage is painted "Tuscan Red" and the wings and tail surafces are silver. The lettering on the side is white. (Minnesota Historical Society)
Robertson Aircraft Corporation DH-4 No. 109, 15 May 1926. (Swenson Studio/Minnesota Historical Society)

At 8:10 p.m., the de Havilland’s fuel supply was exhausted and the engine stopped. Lindbergh switched off the battery and magnetos, then stepped over the side. He immediately pulled the ripcord of his parachute and safely descended to the ground.

Airmail Plane Number 109 crashed on the farm of Charles and Lillie Thompson, near Covell, a small town southwest of Bloomington, Illinois. Lindbergh had been unable to find the wreck in the darkness, but in daylight, it was clearly visible just 500 feet (152 meters) from the Thompson’s house.

This was the fourth time that Charles Lindbergh has used a parachute to escape from an airplane. The last time was just six weeks earlier.

Charles A. Lindbergh (fourth from left) with the wreckage of Robertson Aircraft Corporation DH-4 No. 112, 16 September 1926. (Yale University Library)

He resigned from Robertson Aircraft and formed a group to finance and build the Spirit of St. Louis. Charles Augustus Lindbergh flew his new airplane across the Atlantic Ocean, non-stop, solo, 20–21 May 1927.

Robertson Aircraft Corporation's four de Havilland DH-4s, numbers 109, 110, 111, and 112.
Robertson Aircraft Corporation’s four de Havilland DH-4s, numbers 109, 110, 111, and 112. The airplanes’ fuselages are painted “Tuscan Red” and their wings and tail surfaces are silver. The lettering on their sides is white. No. 112 is the last airplane in this group. “Lucky Lindy” bailed out of it on the night of 16 September 1926.

The Airco DH.4 was a very successful airplane of World War I, designed by Geoffrey de Havilland. The DH.4 (DH-4 in American service) was a two-place, single-engine, two-bay biplane with fixed landing gear. The fuselage and wings were constructed of wood and covered with doped fabric. The airplane was produced by several manufacturers in Europe and the United States.

The DH-4 was 30 feet, 5 inches (9.271 meters) long with a wingspan of 42 feet, 8 inches (13.005 meters) and height of 10 feet, 6 inches (3.200 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,391 pounds, (1,085 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,297 pounds (1,949 kilograms). Fuel capacity was 67 gallons (254 liters).

Army Air Service DH-4s were powered by Liberty 12 aircraft engines in place of the Rolls-Royce Eagle VII V-12 of the British-built DH.4 version. The L-12 was water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,649.34-cubic-inch-displacement (27.028 liter), single overhead cam (SOHC) 45° V-12 engine. It produced 408 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The L-12 as a right-hand tractor, direct-drive engine and it turned turned a two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller. The Liberty 12 was 67.375 inches (1.711 meters) long, 27.0 inches (0.686 meters) wide, and 41.5 inches (1.054 meters) high. It weighed 844 pounds (383 kilograms).

The Liberty 12 aircraft engine was designed by Jesse G. Vincent of the Packard Motor Car Company and Elbert J. Hall of the Hall-Scott Motor Company. This engine was produced by Ford Motor Company, as well as the Buick and Cadillac Divisions of General Motors, The Lincoln Motor Company (which was formed by Henry Leland, the former manager of Cadillac, specifically to manufacture these aircraft engines), Marmon Motor Car Company and the Packard Motor Car Company. Hall-Scott was too small to produce engines in the numbers required.

The DH-4 had a maximum speed of 124 miles per hour (200 kilometers per hour), service ceiling of 19,600 feet (5,974 meters) and range of 400 miles (644 kilometers).

Many DH-4s were rebuilt as DH-4Bs. These can be identified by the relocated pilot’s cockpit, which was moved aft, closer to the observer’s position. The an enlarged fuel tank was place ahead of the pilot’s cockpit. Following World War II, many were rebuilt with tubular metal frames for the fuselage, replacing the original wooden structure. These aircraft were redesignated DH-4M.

The prototype American DH-4, Dayton-Wright-built airplane, is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Aviation and Space Museum.

Wreck of Robertson Aircraft Corporation's de Havilland DH-4, Number 109. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)
Wreck of Robertson Aircraft Corporation’s de Havilland DH-4, Number 109. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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