Charles Lindbergh

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Charles Lindbergh

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Charles Lindbergh
Photo by Harris & Ewing, c. 1927
BornCharles Augustus Lindbergh
February 4, 1902
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
DiedAugust 26, 1974 (aged 72)
Kipahulu, Hawaii, U.S.
Resting placePalapala Ho’omau Church, Kipahulu
Other namesLucky LindyLone EagleSlim[1]
EducationUniversity of Wisconsin–Madison (no degree)
Known forFirst solo transatlantic flight (1927), pioneer of international commercial aviation and air mail
SpouseAnne Morrow ​(m.1929)​
Children13,[N 1] including Charles Jr.JonAnne, and Reeve
ParentsCharles August Lindbergh (father)Evangeline Lodge Land (mother)
Military career
Service/branchUnited States Army Air CorpsUnited States Army Air ForcesUnited States Air Force
Years of service1925–1941, 1954–1974
RankColonelBrigadier general (promoted 1954)[3]
Battles/warsWorld War II
AwardsMedal of HonorDistinguished Flying CrossLégion d’honneurCongressional Gold Medal

Charles Augustus Lindbergh (February 4, 1902 – August 26, 1974) was an American aviator, military officer, author, inventor, and activist. On May 20–21, 1927, Lindbergh made the first nonstop flight from New York City to Paris, a distance of 3,600 miles (5,800 km), flying alone for 33.5 hours. His aircraft, the Spirit of St. Louis, was designed and built by the Ryan Airline Company specifically to compete for the Orteig Prize for the first flight between the two cities. Although not the first transatlantic flight, it was the first solo transatlantic flight, the first nonstop transatlantic flight between two major city hubs, and the longest by over 1,900 miles (3,000 km). It is known as one of the most consequential flights in history and ushered in a new era of air transportation between parts of the globe.

Lindbergh was raised mostly in Little Falls, Minnesota and Washington, D.C., the son of prominent U.S. Congressman from Minnesota, Charles August Lindbergh. He became an officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps Reserve in 1924, earning the rank of second lieutenant in 1925. Later that year, he was hired as a U.S. Air Mail pilot in the Greater St. Louis area, where he started to prepare for his historic 1927 transatlantic flight. Lindbergh received the United States’ highest military decoration from President Calvin Coolidge, the Medal of Honor, as well as the Distinguished Flying Cross for his transatlantic flight.[4] The flight also earned him the highest French order of merit, civil or military, the Legion of Honor.[5] His achievement spurred significant global interest in both commercial aviation and air mail, which revolutionized the aviation industry worldwide (described then as the “Lindbergh boom“), and he devoted much time and effort to promoting such activity. He was honored as Time‘s first Man of the Year in 1928, was appointed to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in 1929 by President Herbert Hoover, and was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in 1930. In 1931, he and French surgeon Alexis Carrel began work on inventing the first perfusion pump, which is credited with making future heart surgeries and organ transplantation possible.

On March 1, 1932, Lindbergh’s first-born infant child, Charles Jr., was kidnapped and murdered in what the American media called the “Crime of the Century“. The case prompted the United States Congress to establish kidnapping as a federal crime if a kidnapper crosses state lines with a victim. By late 1935, the press and hysteria surrounding the case had driven the Lindbergh family into exile in Europe, from where they returned in 1939.

In the months before the United States entered World War II, Lindbergh’s non-interventionist stance and statements about Jews and race led some to believe he was a Nazi sympathizer, although Lindbergh never publicly stated support for the Nazis and condemned them several times in both his public speeches and in his personal diary. However, like many Americans before the attack on Pearl Harbor, he opposed not only the military intervention of the United States but also the provision of military supplies to the British.[6] He supported the isolationist America First Committee and resigned his commission in the U.S. Army Air Forces in April 1941 after President Franklin Roosevelt publicly rebuked him for his views. In September 1941, Lindbergh gave a significant address, titled “Speech on Neutrality”, outlining his position and arguments against greater American involvement in the war.[7]

Lindbergh ultimately expressed public support for the U.S. war effort after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and declaration of war on Germany, but was rejected for active duty as Roosevelt refused to restore his Air Corps colonel‘s commission.[8] Instead he flew 50 combat missions in the Pacific Theater as a civilian consultant and was unofficially credited with shooting down an enemy aircraft.[9][10] In 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower restored his commission and promoted him to brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.[11] In his later years, Lindbergh became a prolific author, international explorer, inventor, and environmentalist, eventually dying of lymphoma in 1974 at age 72.


Early life[edit]

Early childhood[edit]

Charles A. Lindbergh and his father, circa 1910

Lindbergh was born in Detroit, Michigan, on February 4, 1902, and spent most of his childhood in Little Falls, Minnesota, and Washington, D.C. He was the only child of Charles August Lindbergh (birth name Carl Månsson; 1859–1924), who had emigrated from Sweden to Melrose, Minnesota, as an infant, and Evangeline Lodge Land Lindbergh (1876–1954) of Detroit. Lindbergh had three elder paternal half-sisters: Lillian, Edith, and Eva. The couple separated in 1909 when Lindbergh was seven years old.[12][13] His father, a U.S. Congressman (RMN-6) from 1907 to 1917, was one of the few congressmen to oppose the entry of the U.S. into World War I (although his congressional term ended one month before the House of Representatives voted to declare war on Germany).[14] His father’s book Why Is Your Country at War?, which criticized the nation’s entry into the war, was seized by federal agents under the Comstock Act. It was later posthumously reprinted and issued in 1934 under the title Your Country at War, and What Happens to You After a War.[15]

Lindbergh’s mother was a chemistry teacher at Cass Technical High School in Detroit and later at Little Falls High School, from which her son graduated on June 5, 1918. Lindbergh attended more than a dozen other schools from Washington, D.C., to California during his childhood and teenage years (none for more than a year or two), including the Force School and Sidwell Friends School while living in Washington with his father, and Redondo Union High School in Redondo Beach, California, while living there with his mother.[16] Although he enrolled in the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in late 1920, Lindbergh dropped out in the middle of his sophomore year and then went to Lincoln, Nebraska, in March 1922 to begin flight training.[17]

Early aviation career[edit]

Lincoln Standard J biplane

From an early age, Lindbergh had exhibited an interest in the mechanics of motorized transportation, including his family’s Saxon Six automobile, and later his Excelsior motorbike. By the time that he started college as a mechanical engineering student, he had also become fascinated with flying, though he “had never been close enough to a plane to touch it”.[18] After quitting college in February 1922, Lindbergh enrolled at the Nebraska Aircraft Corporation’s flying school in Lincoln and flew for the first time on April 9 as a passenger in a two-seat Lincoln Standard “Tourabout” biplane trainer piloted by Otto Timm.[19]

A few days later, Lindbergh took his first formal flying lesson in that same aircraft, though he was never permitted to solo because he could not afford to post the requisite damage bond.[20] To gain flight experience and earn money for further instruction, Lindbergh left Lincoln in June to spend the next few months barnstorming across NebraskaKansasColoradoWyoming, and Montana as a wing walker and parachutist. He also briefly worked as an airplane mechanic at the Billings, Montana, municipal airport.[21][22]

“Daredevil Lindbergh” in a re-engined Standard J-1, c. 1925. The plane in this photo is often misidentified as a Curtiss “Jenny”.

Lindbergh left flying with the onset of winter and returned to his father’s home in Minnesota.[23] His return to the air and his first solo flight did not come until half a year later in May 1923 at Souther Field in Americus, Georgia, a former Army flight-training field, where he bought a World War I surplus Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” biplane. Though Lindbergh had not touched an airplane in more than six months, he had already secretly decided that he was ready to take to the air by himself. After a half-hour of dual time with a pilot who was visiting the field to pick up another surplus JN-4, Lindbergh flew solo for the first time in the Jenny that he had just purchased for $500.[24][25] After spending another week or so at the field to “practice” (thereby acquiring five hours of “pilot in command” time), Lindbergh took off from Americus for Montgomery, Alabama, some 140 miles to the west, for his first solo cross-country flight.[26] He went on to spend much of the remainder of 1923 engaged in almost nonstop barnstorming under the name of “Daredevil Lindbergh”. Unlike in the previous year, this time Lindbergh flew in his “own ship” as the pilot.[27][28] A few weeks after leaving Americus, he achieved another key aviation milestone when he made his first night flight near Lake Village, Arkansas.[29]

Lindbergh as a young 2nd Lt., March 1925

While Lindbergh was barnstorming in Lone Rock, Wisconsin, on two occasions he flew a local physician across the Wisconsin River to emergency calls that were otherwise unreachable because of flooding.[30] He broke his propeller several times while landing, and on June 3, 1923 he was grounded for a week when he ran into a ditch in Glencoe, Minnesota, while flying his father—then running for the U.S. Senate—to a campaign stop. In October, Lindbergh flew his Jenny to Iowa, where he sold it to a flying student. After selling the Jenny, Lindbergh returned to Lincoln by train. There, he joined Leon Klink and continued to barnstorm through the South for the next few months in Klink’s Curtiss JN-4C “Canuck” (the Canadian version of the Jenny). Lindbergh also “cracked up” this aircraft once when his engine failed shortly after takeoff in Pensacola, Florida, but again he managed to repair the damage himself.[31]

Following a few months of barnstorming through the South, the two pilots parted company in San Antonio, Texas, where Lindbergh reported to Brooks Field on March 19, 1924 to begin a year of military flight training with the United States Army Air Service there (and later at nearby Kelly Field).[32] Lindbergh had his most serious flying accident on March 5, 1925, eight days before graduation, when a mid-air collision with another Army S.E.5 during aerial combat maneuvers forced him to bail out.[33] Only 18 of the 104 cadets who started flight training a year earlier remained when Lindbergh graduated first overall in his class in March 1925, thereby earning his Army pilot’s wings and a commission as a second lieutenant in the Air Service Reserve Corps.[34][N 2]

Lindbergh later said that this year was critical to his development as both a focused, goal-oriented individual and as an aviator.[N 3] The Army did not need additional active-duty pilots, however, so immediately following graduation, Lindbergh returned to civilian aviation as a barnstormer and flight instructor, although as a reserve officer he also continued to do some part-time military flying by joining the 110th Observation Squadron, 35th Division, Missouri National Guard, in St. Louis. He was promoted to first lieutenant on December 7, 1925, and to captain in July 1926.[37]

Air mail pilot[edit]

“Certificate of the Oath of Mail Messengers”, executed by Lindbergh

In October 1925, Lindbergh was hired by the Robertson Aircraft Corporation (RAC) at the Lambert-St. Louis Flying Field in Anglum, Missouri, (where he had been working as a flight instructor) to first lay out and then serve as chief pilot for the newly designated 278-mile (447 km) Contract Air Mail Route #2 (CAM-2) to provide service between St. Louis and Chicago (Maywood Field) with two intermediate stops in Springfield and Peoria, Illinois.[38] Lindbergh and three other RAC pilots, Philip R. Love, Thomas P. Nelson, and Harlan A. “Bud” Gurney, flew the mail over CAM-2 in a fleet of four modified war-surplus de Havilland DH-4 biplanes.

Just before signing on to fly with CAM, Lindbergh had applied to serve as a pilot on Richard E. Byrd‘s North Pole expedition, but apparently his bid came too late.[39]

On April 13, 1926, Lindbergh executed the United States Post Office Department‘s Oath of Mail Messengers,[40] and two days later he opened service on the new route. On two occasions, combinations of bad weather, equipment failure, and fuel exhaustion forced him to bail out on night approach to Chicago;[41][42] both times he reached the ground without serious injury and immediately set about ensuring that his cargo was located and sent on with minimum delay.[42][43] In mid-February 1927 he left for San Diego, California, to oversee design and construction of the Spirit of St. Louis.[44]

CAM-2 first flight cover

A CAM-2 “Weekly Postage Report” by Lindbergh

One of Lindbergh’s Air Mail paychecks

New York–Paris flight[edit]

Orteig Prize[edit]

Main article: Orteig Prize

In 1919, British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown won the Daily Mail prize for the first nonstop transatlantic flight. Their aircraft was a Vickers Vimy IV biplane designed for service in WW1. Alcock and Brown left St. John’s, Newfoundland, on June 14, 1919, and arrived in Ireland the following day.[45]

Around the same time, French-born New York hotelier Raymond Orteig was approached by Augustus Post, secretary of the Aero Club of America, and prompted to put up a $25,000 award for the first successful nonstop transatlantic flight specifically between New York City and Paris (in either direction) within five years after its establishment. When that time limit lapsed in 1924 without a serious attempt, Orteig renewed the offer for another five years, this time attracting a number of well-known, highly experienced, and well-financed contenders[46]‍—‌none of whom was successful. On September 21, 1926, World War I French flying ace René Fonck‘s Sikorsky S-35 crashed on takeoff from Roosevelt Field in New York. U.S. Naval aviators Noel Davis and Stanton H. Wooster were killed at Langley Field, Virginia, on April 26, 1927, while testing their Keystone Pathfinder. On May 8 French war heroes Charles Nungesser and François Coli departed Paris – Le Bourget Airport in the Levasseur PL 8 seaplane L’Oiseau Blanc; they disappeared somewhere in the Atlantic after last being seen crossing the west coast of Ireland.[47]

American air racer Clarence D. Chamberlin and Arctic explorer Richard E. Byrd were also in the race.[citation needed]

Spirit of St. Louis[edit]

Main article: Spirit of St. Louis

The Spirit of St. Louis

Financing the operation of the historic flight was a challenge due to Lindbergh’s obscurity, but two St. Louis businessmen eventually obtained a $15,000 bank loan. Lindbergh contributed $2,000 ($29,036.61 in 2020)[48] of his own money from his salary as an air mail pilot and another $1,000 was donated by RAC. The total of $18,000 was far less than what was available to Lindbergh’s rivals.[49]

The group tried to buy an “off-the-peg” single or multiengine monoplane from Wright Aeronautical, then Travel Air, and finally the newly formed Columbia Aircraft Corporation, but all insisted on selecting the pilot as a condition of sale.[50][51][52] Finally the much smaller Ryan Aircraft Company of San Diego agreed to design and build a custom monoplane for $10,580, and on February 25 a deal was formally closed.[53] Dubbed the Spirit of St. Louis, the fabric-covered, single-seat, single-engine “Ryan NYP” (for “New York-Paris”) high-wing monoplane (CAB registration: N-X-211) was designed jointly by Lindbergh and Ryan’s chief engineer Donald A. Hall.[54] The Spirit flew for the first time just two months later, and after a series of test flights Lindbergh took off from San Diego on May 10. He went first to St. Louis, then on to Roosevelt Field on New York’s Long Island.[55]


Lindbergh with the Spirit of St. Louis prior to his flight

In the early morning of Friday, May 20, 1927, Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt FieldLong Island.[56][57] His monoplane was loaded with 450 U.S. gallons (1,704 liters) of fuel that was strained repeatedly to avoid fuel line blockage. The fully loaded aircraft weighed 2.7 tons (2329 kilograms), with takeoff hampered by a muddy, rain-soaked runway. Lindbergh’s monoplane was powered by a J-5C Wright Whirlwind radial engine and gained speed very slowly during its 7:52 a.m. takeoff, but cleared telephone lines at the far end of the field “by about twenty feet [six meters] with a fair reserve of flying speed”.[58]

“Great Circle Sailing Chart of the North Atlantic Ocean”, annotated by Lindbergh

Over the next 33+12 hours, Lindbergh and the Spirit faced many challenges, which included skimming over storm clouds at 10,000 ft (3,000 m) and wave tops at as low as 10 ft (3.0 m). The aircraft fought icing, flew blind through fog for several hours, and Lindbergh navigated only by dead reckoning (he was not proficient at navigating by the sun and stars and he rejected radio navigation gear as heavy and unreliable). He was fortunate that the winds over the Atlantic cancelled each other out, giving him zero wind drift—and thus accurate navigation during the long flight over feat

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