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.
20 May 1932: At 7:12 p.m., local, aviatrix Amelia Earhart departed Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, on a solo transoceanic flight. Her airplane was a modified single-engine Lockheed Model 5B Vega, registration NR7952.
Her plan was to fly all the way to Paris, but after her altimeter had failed, encountering adverse weather, including heavy icing and fog, a fuel leak, and a damaged exhaust manifold, Earhart landed in a field at Culmore, Northern Ireland. The distance flown was 2,026 miles (3,260.5 kilometers). Her elapsed time was 14 hours, 56 minutes.
A lone, astonished farmer saw her land.
Amelia cut the switches, climbed out of the plane, and, as the man approached the plane, called out, “Where am I?”
Danny McCallion replied obligingly and with excruciating accuracy. “In Gallegher’s pasture.”
—The Sound of Wingsby Mary S. Lovell, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1989, Chapter Fifteen at Page 183.
Though she didn’t make it all the way to Paris, she was the first woman—and only the second person, after Charles A. Lindbergh—to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Lindbergh’s flight was on the same date, five years earlier.
In an unusual move, Amelia Earhart, a civilian, was awarded the United States military’s Distinguished Flying Cross by Patrick J. Hurley, Secretary of War, 18 July 1932.
Built by the Lockheed Aircraft Company in December 1928, the Vega is a single-engine high-wing monoplane designed to carry a pilot and up to seven passengers. The fuselage was molded laminated plywood monocoque construction and the wing was cantilevered wood. The Vega 5B is 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) long with a wingspan of 41 feet (12.497 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 2 inches (2.489 meters).
Earhart’s Vega, serial number 22, was certified by the Department of Commerce, 17 September 1931, with its empty weight increased 220 pounds (99.8 kilograms) to 2,695 pounds (1,222.4 kilograms) and maximum gross weight of 4,375 pounds (1984.5 kilograms).
NR7952 was modified at the Fokker Aircraft Corporation of America factory in Teterboro, New Jersey, to increase the fuel capacity to 420 gallons (1,589.9 liters). While it was there, Earhart’s mechanic, Eddie Gorski, replaced the original Pratt & Whitney Wasp B engine with a new Wasp C, an air-cooled, supercharged 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) nine cylinder radial engine with a compression ration of 5.25:1. The Wasp C was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level, burning 58 octane gasoline.¹ It was a direct-drive engine, and turned a two-bladed Hamilton Standard controllable-pitch propeller. The Wasp C was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) in diameter and weighed 745 pounds (338 kilograms).
The standard Vega 5 had a cruising speed of 165 miles per hour (265.5 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 185 miles per hour (297.7 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). Range with standard fuel tanks was 725 miles (1,166.8 kilometers).
Amelia Earhart disappeared in 1937 while attempting to fly around the world. Her Lockheed Model 5B Vega, NR7952, is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.
¹ The Pratt & Whitney Wasp C was also used by the U.S. Army and Navy, designated R-1340-7. It was rated at 450 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m. at Sea Level.
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.
12–13 May 1930: In an effort to connect the North African and South American air mail routes, Jean Mermoz, the chief pilot of Compagnie générale aéropostale, along with co-pilot and navigator Jean Dabry, and radio navigator Léopold Martial Émile Gimié, departed Saint-Louis, on the western coast of Senegal, French West Africa, enroute to Natal, Brazil.
Their airplane, a pontoon-equipped Latécoère 28-3, was carrying 122 kilograms (269 pounds) of mail and fuel for 30 hours of flight. The crew had named the airplane Comte de la Vaulx, after an early French aeronaut and the founder of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.
The aviators flew southwest across the South Atlantic Ocean. Natal was approximately 2,000 miles away. [3,178.879 kilometers; 1,975.264 statute miles; 1,716.595 nautical miles]
Gimié transmitted a radio message: “19º Frame-A.J.N.Q. Mermoz, Dabry, Gimié, partis pour Natal à 10 h. 56 locale.” (“19º Frame-A.J.N.Q. Mermoz, Dabry, Gimié, left for Natal at 10:56 a.m., local.”) Gimié was an expert in radio-navigation. The airplane was equipped with radios that could be used to triangulate their position using nine land stations and several ships along their course.
A contemporary United Press wire service news report stated that they arrived at Natal at 6:15 a.m., local time. The actual duration of the flight is difficult to determine. Sources very from as few as 17 hours to as many as 21 hours, 24 minutes. The U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission reported that the flight took 19 hours, 35 minutes.
This was the first non-stop flight to cross the South Atlantic.
Antoine Saint Exupéry, a fellow Aéropostale pilot, described a portion of Mermoz’s transatlantic flight in Wind, Sand and Stars:
And yet we have all known flights when of a sudden, each for himself, it has seemed to us that we have crossed the border of the world of reality; when, only a couple of hours from port, we have felt ourselves more distant from it than we should feel if we were in India; when there was a premonition of an incursion into a forbidden world whence it was going to be infinitely difficult to return.
Thus, when Mermoz first crossed the South Atlantic in a hydroplane, as day was dying he ran foul of the Black Hole region, ² off Africa. Straight ahead of him were the tails of tornadoes rising minute by minute gradually higher, rising as a wall is built; and then night came down upon these preliminaries and swallowed them up; and when, and hour later, he slipped under the clouds, he came out into a fantastic kingdom.
Great black waterspouts had reared themselves seemingly in the immobility of temple pillars. Swollen at their tops, they were supporting the squat and lowering arch of the tempest, but through the rifts in the arch there fell slabs of light and the full moon sent her radiant beams between the pillars down upon the frozen tiles of the sea. Through these uninhabited ruins Mermoz made his way, gliding slantwise from one channel of light to the next, circling round those giant pillars in which there must have rumbled the upsurge of the sea, flying for four hours through these corridors of moonlight toward the exit from the temple. And this spectacle was so overwhelming that only after he had got through the Black Hole did Mermoz awaken to the fact that he had not been afraid.
—Wind, Sand and Stars, by Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger comte de Saint Exupéry, translated by Lewis Galantière, Harcourt Brace & Company, New York, Chapter 1 at Pages 16–17.
The airplane flown by Mermoz, Dabry and Gimié was a Latécoère 28-3, registration F-AJNQ, built by Société Industrielle d’Aviation Latécoère at Toulouse, France. The airplane’s serial number is reported as both “Nº 909” and “Nº 919.” It was a large, single-engine, high-wing monoplane with an enclosed cabin. Also known as the Laté 28, the airplane could be equipped with fixed landing gear or pontoons for water operations. The airplane’s fuselage was constructed of duralumin, a hardened alloy of aluminum, with a duralumin sheet skin. The wings were also of metal construction, covered with fabric.
The Latécoère 28-3 was 44 feet, 4 inches (13.513 meters) long with a wingspan of 62 feet, 6 inches (19.050) and height of 10 feet, 7½ inches (3.24 meters).
The pontoons were also constructed of Duralumin. Each had ten floatation compartments. They were 26 feet, 4 inches (8.026 meters) long, 4 feet, 5 inches (1.346 meters) wide and 2 feet, 9 inches (0.838 meters) deep.
The Latécoère 28-3 had an empty weight of 5,720 pounds (2595 kilograms), and gross weight of 11,044 pounds (5,010 kilograms). Its fuel capacity was 556 gallons¹ (2,528 liters).
The pilot’s station was an enclosed cockpit at the leading edge of the wing, behind the engine, while the navigator and radio operator were in a cabin below and behind the cockpit. The air mail cargo was placed in a separate compartment.
The Latécoère 28-3 was powered by a single right-hand-tractor, water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 31.403 liter (1,916.351 cubic inches) Hispano Suiza 12Lbr single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 6.2:1. This engine was rated at 630 cheval vapeur (621.4 horsepower) at 2,000 r.p.m. The two-bladed, fixed-pitch propeller was driven through a gear reduction unit. The 12Lbr was 1.85 meters (6.07 feet) long, 0.75 meters (2.46 feet) wide and 1.02 meters (3.35 feet) high. It weighed 440 kilograms (970 pounds).
The airplane had a maximum speed of 140 miles per hour (225 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 13,000 feet (3,962 meters).
F-AJNQ departed Natal on 8 June for the return flight to Africa. After about 14 hours, the engine developed a serious oil leak. Mermoz made a forced landing near the despatch boat Phocée, approximately 900 kilometers (560 miles) from their destination. The three crew members and the mail were transferred from F-AJNQ to the Phocée. The airplane was set adrift.
¹ The source of the fuel capacity was a contemporary British periodical. Though not specified, TDiA assumes that the capacity was given in Imperial Gallons.
² The “Black Hole region” refers to “the doldrums” or Intertropical Convergence Zone.
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.