After a flight of 33 hours, 30 minutes, 30 seconds, from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York, United States of America, Charles A. Lindbergh lands his Spirit of St. Louis at Le Bourget Aerodrome, Paris, France, at 10:22 p.m. (20:22 G.M.T.), 21 May 1927. He is the first pilot to fly solo, non-stop, across the Atlantic Ocean.
“I circle. Yes, it’s definitely an airport. . . It must be Le Bourget. . . I shift fuel valves to the center wing-tank, sweep my flashlight over the instrument board in a final check, fasten my safety belt, and nose the Spirit of St. Louis down into a gradually descending spiral. . .
“I straighten out my wings and let the throttled engine drag me on beyond the leeward border. Now the steep bank into the wind, and the dive toward the ground. But how strange it is, this descent. I’m wide awake, but the feel of my plane has not returned. . . My movements are mechanical, uncoordinated, as though I were coming down at the end of my first solo. . .
“It’s only a hundred yards to the hangars now — solid forms emerging from the night. I’m too high — too fast. Drop wing — left rudder — sideslip — — — Careful — mustn’t get anywhere near the stall — — — I’ve never landed the Spirit of St. Louis at night before. . . Below the hangar roofs now — — — straighten out — — — A short burst of the engine — — — Over the lighted area — — — Sod coming up to meet me. . . Still too fast — — — Tail too high — — — The wheels touch gently — off again — No, I’ll keep contact — Ease the stick forward — — — Back on the ground — Off — Back — the tail skid too — — — Not a bad landing. . . .”
— The Spirit of St. Louis, by Charles A. Lindbergh, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953, Pages 489–492.
Lindbergh established a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance in a Straight Line Without Landing of 5,809 kilometers (3,310 miles). ¹
Over 100,000 people have come to Le Bourget to greet Lindbergh. He has flown the Spirit of St. Louis into history.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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).
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.)
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.
20 May 1927, 7:51:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (11:51:30 G.M.T.): In his effort to advance the Art and Science of Aviation, to win the $25,000 Orteig Prize, to fly from New York to Paris, 25-year-old aviator Charles A. Lindbergh takes off from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York, United States of America, and heads north-eastward over the Atlantic Ocean on his solo, record-breaking flight to Paris, France, and into History.
“I buckle my safety belt, pull goggles down over my eyes, turn to the men at the blocks, and nod.”
— The Spirit of St. Louis, by Charles A. Lindbergh, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953, at Page 185.
As he circles to gain altitude after takeoff, Lindbergh scans his instruments.
“On the instrument board in front of me, the earth-inductor compass needle leans steeply to the right. I bank cautiously northward until it rises to the center line — 65 degrees — the compass heading for the first 100-mile segment of my great-circle route to France and Paris. It’s 7:54 a.m. Eastern daylight time.”
— The Spirit of St. Louis, by Charles A. Lindbergh, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953, at Page 189.
8 May 1927: At 5:18 a.m., famed World War I aviators François Coli and Charles Eugène Jules Marie Nungesser departed Le Bourget Airport, Paris, aboard their single-engine Levasseur PL.8 biplane, L’Oiseau Blanc (“The White Bird”). Their destination was New York City, non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean.
In 1919, New York hotel owner Raymond Orteig offered a $25,000 prize to the first aviator(s) who flew non-stop from New York to Paris or the reverse. It was several years before the technology had progressed far enough that this became possible.
By 1927, a number of people on both sides of the Atlantic had begun preparations for just such a flight. Coli had begun planning a transatlantic flight as early as 1923. He and a wartime friend, fighter ace Paul Tarascon, were interested in the Orteig Prize, but after being injured in a crash, Tarascon was replaced by Charles Nungesser. Coli was in charge of the flight.
François Coli, a former sea captain, had enlisted as a private in the French Army at the start of the War when no position was offered to him as captain of a French naval vessel. By 1915 he was a commissioned officer and soon promoted to the rank of captain. Severely wounded and no longer able to serve in the infantry, he became a pilot in 1916, and later a squadron commander. In 1918, Coli lost his right eye in an airplane crash. He was considered to be an excellent leader and was known as an expert navigator.
Charles Nungesser was the third-leading French fighter ace of World War I. His was a flamboyant personality. He didn’t like military discipline and was punished for it several times. But he was a highly successful fighter pilot, with an official record of 42 aerial victories. Like Coli, he had been seriously wounded on numerous occasions. He was awarded the Officier de la Legion d’Honneur, Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur, and the Médaille Militaire, as well as many foreign decorations for valor.
The Sociéte Pierre Levasseur Aéronautique PL.8 was a modified naval reconnaissance airplane, built especially for the Atlantic crossing. The wings were lengthened and the fuselage reinforced. It was 9.7 meters (31 feet, 10 inches) long with a wingspan of 14.6 meters (47 feet, 11 inches) and height of 3.9 meters (12 feet, 9.5 inches). The single-bay biplane had an empty weight of 1,905 kilograms (4,199.8 pounds) and gross weight of 5,030 kilograms (11,089.25 pounds). Three large fuel tanks were installed with a total capacity of 4,000 liters (1,057 gallons) of gasoline.
L’Oiseau Blanc was powered by a liquid-cooled, normally-aspirated 24.429 liter (1,490.751-cubic-inch) Société Lorraine des Anciens Establissements de Dietrich & Cie de Lunéville (Lorraine-Dietrich) 12Ed “broad arrow” (W-12) single overhead camshaft (SOHC) engine which had three banks of four cylinders spaced at 60° angles and driving a single crankshaft. It had a compression ratio of 6:1 and produced 450 chaval vapeur (443.8 horsepower) at 1,850 r.p.m. Reduction gearing reduced propeller r.p.m. by a ratio of 1.545:1. The two-bladed forged duralumin propeller had a diameter of 3.80 meters (12 feet, 8.5 inches). The 12Ed was 1.374 meters (4 feet, 6.10 inches) long, 1.210 meters (3.970 feet, 11.64 inches) wide and 1.138 meters (3 feet, 8.81 inches) high. It weighed 363.874 kilograms (802.205 pounds).
The two aviators planned to land on the water in front of the Statue of Liberty, so they had the PL.8’s landing gear modified so that it could be dropped after takeoff, saving the unneeded weight and decreasing the airplane’s aerodynamic drag. The White Bird‘s maximum speed was 193 kilometers per hour (120 miles per hour), with a cruising speed of 165 kilometers per hour (103 miles per hour). Its range was 7,000 kilometers (4,350 miles). The service ceiling was 7,000 meters (22,966 feet).
When The White Bird left Paris, it was carrying enough fuel for 42 hours of flight. It was escorted as far as the English Channel by several airplanes and crossed the coast at about 7:00 a.m.
Nungesser and Coli never arrived at New York. They were never seen again, and their fate is a mystery.