25 February 1927: Acting on behalf of a syndicate of St. Louis business men, Charles A. Lindbergh contracts Ryan Airlines Company of San Diego to design and build a single-engine monoplane for a flight from New York to Paris. This would become the Spirit of St. Louis. The cost is $10,580.
“The Ryan Airlines factory is in an old, dilapidated building near the waterfront. I feel conspicuous driving up to it in a taxicab. A couple of loafers stare at me as I pay my fare. There’s no flying field, no hangar, no sound of engines warming up; and the unmistakable smell of dead fish from a near-by cannery mixes with the banana odor of dope from drying wings. . .
“I open the door to a small, dusty, paper-strewn office. A slender young man advances to meet me—clear, piercing eyes, intent face. He introduces himself as Donald Hall, chief engineer for Ryan Airlines, Incorporated. . . .”
—The Spirit of St. Louis, by Charles A. Lindbergh, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1953, Chapter III, Page 79.
“I check the wording and hand my telegram to the girl in the office. I’m ready to cast my lot with the Ryan organization. I believe in Hall’s ability; I like Mahoney’s enthusiasm. I have confidence in the character of the workmen I’ve met. This company is a fit partner for our organization in St. Louis. They’re as anxious to build a plane that will fly to Paris as I am to fly it there.”
—The Spirit of St. Louis, by Charles A. Lindbergh, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1953, Chapter III, Page 85.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.