Charles Lindbergh: America’s most famous pilot

Shy hero

Aviation at the beginning of the 20th century was young, as were often the aviators themselves. Charles Lindbergh was no exception. At the time of the main flight of his life, the future hero of America was only 25 years old.

The Lindbergh family was not an easy one – my grandfather sat in the Swedish parliament before moving to the United States. The father was elected congressman already in America. It seemed that it would be logical for Charles to use the established connections and follow in the footsteps of his ancestors. But the young Lindbergh loved technology, not politics, and delightedly delved into mechanisms.

After leaving his parental home, for a long time he combined work as a mechanic with aerial circus performance – at first performing demonstration parachute jumps, and then flying himself. Lindbergh received some kind of fame even then. But he did not revel in her at all. Charles was a modest fellow, and was not chasing after this at all – he just liked to fly and do what no one else had done before.

He was also involved in the delivery of mail by plane. It was a more serious matter than it seemed – the “postmen” flew in any weather and had vast experience in navigating from the air. At times it got to the point that the lost pilot descended as low as possible, flew as slowly as possible, and tried to read the inscriptions on the signs.

Many broke up like that. But those who survived and with a full set of limbs became masters of their craft.

Tempting prize

Soon Lindbergh had the opportunity to prove himself.

In 1919, Raymond Orteig, an American businessman who had some money to spare, offered a special prize of $ 25,000 to anyone who was the first to fly nonstop from New York to Paris – or vice versa. This had to be done within 5 years – until 1924.

Charles Lindbergh: America's most famous pilot

Raymond Orteig


This would not be the first crossing of the Atlantic – in the same 1919, two Britons were already flying from Newfoundland to Ireland. But that was a flight across northern latitudes, between two almost “extreme and coastal” points. The path to the Orteig prize was almost twice as long – more than 5.8 thousand kilometers.

True, until 1924, no one even tried to carry out such madness. Then Orteig repeated his offer. And the matter began to stir – aviation has made significant progress over the past 5 years. Both the range and the reliability of the aircraft have increased. And with new achievements, the prize could well have been won.

Eater of daredevils

True, this was not so easy to do. Many have tried and failed.

Our compatriot, the emigrant Igor Sikorsky, had a hand in one of the attempts. The one that once created the famous “Ilya Muromets”. The handsome three-engine S-35 developed by him was used by the French veteran pilot Rene Fonck. There was only one problem – Fonck and his sponsors were hurrying Sikorsky, trying to catch the best weather “window”. As a result, the tests of the aircraft were not completed. And in September 1926, the overloaded S-35 crashed and burned out at the start. 2 of 4 crew members were killed.

In April 1927, another plane crashed. And not even having time to start for the prize itself. Two Americans, Noel Davis and Stanton Worcester, wanted to load as much fuel into the car as possible. And their plane crashed during the tests at maximum load. Davis and Worcester were killed.

And in May, Nungesser and Koli took off and disappeared – two Frenchmen who tried to get a prize by flying from Paris to New York. During the First World War, Nunjesser shot down 45 enemy aircraft – this was the third result among all the French. But against the insidious Atlantic, military experience helped little – and two more names were added to the list of victims of Orteig’s venture.

The ocean devoured the pilots one by one, but attempts continued to be made.

Saint Louis Spirit

Nobody, of course, expected to earn something on the prize itself. The $ 25,000 offered was a significant amount, but much more serious money was required for such a serious event as the flight across the Atlantic in 1927. Aircraft, crew, aerodrome rental, service personnel, flight headquarters. All this cost money, and a very serious one.

One of the most famous contenders for the Orteig Prize was Richard Byrd. It was believed that he was the first to fly to the North Pole (tens of years later, it turns out that this is not so – Byrd forged flight logs) – he had a lot of sponsors. The bottom line for his spending is estimated at half a million dollars. Which exceeded the potential gain by 20 times.

No, it was planned to earn the main money later, on numerous tours of the States and Europe, book circulation and newspaper publications. And also on personal fame – in America it was already excellently monetized.

It seemed that of all the applicants, only Lindbergh himself was limited by a very modest budget – he managed to get only 13 thousand dollars. The sponsors were businessmen of the city of St. Louis. Therefore, Lindbergh dubbed the plane appropriately: “Spirit of St. Louis.” It was assumed that the success would spur the fame of the city, and it was already possible to make money on this.

True, there was not enough money for the best samples of aviation of that time. Fortunately for Charles, Ryan was on the brink of bankruptcy and would take on any job for a very humane amount of money. At his request, one of the mail planes, the Ryan M-2, was slightly modified. The alterations concerned, mainly, the flight range – a hefty tank was placed in front, excluding the forward view, except through the periscope. Well, in order to take more fuel, the crew was reduced from two to one.

However, Lindbergh was not afraid of the prospect of flying alone across the Atlantic.

Lindbergh Plane – Spirit of St. Louis

International hero

Lindbergh took off on May 20, 1927. After 33 and a half hours, he sat down in Paris. This was not an easy task. With the exception of fighting the ever-creeping sleep, Lindbergh was fighting fog, winds, icing and the need to plot a course on his own. Successful landing at the desired point, despite the fact that he flew alone, is the merit of his considerable experience, seasoned with a bit of luck.

Immediately after landing, Lindbergh could forget about any personal life for the next few years. Of course, he made a lot of money – Charles’s career took off after his famous flight. But the price paid was the persistent attention of the public and reporters. The latter sought to catch Lindbergh everywhere – even in the bathroom, in order to capture how he brushes his teeth.

Flight of Lindbergh. Front page of the newspaper


A few years later, the excitement, of course, weakened, and Charles could breathe easy – now he has become the most famous pilot in America for many years to come. But at the same time he could live “for himself” – a series of tours, journalists and jubilant crowds finally came to an end.

Life after

Ahead was the “aviation” work – but already of a higher rank than the delivery of letters. Lindbergh laid air routes for international airlines. He was also actively interested in science and took part in a number of experiments.

In 1932, Lindbergh again attracted the attention of journalists – a child was kidnapped and brutally killed from him. The killer was found. True, modern researchers never came to a consensus whether the suspect was guilty – already too much in his case was not entirely clear. Be that as it may, Charles and his wife temporarily moved to Europe – and so grief in the family, and then there are annoying journalists.

There he communicated a lot with the Germans and was filled with sympathy for the Nazis. He, on the contrary, did not like the Soviet Union extremely, despite the official reception in 1938 – Lindbergh was invited to see the achievements of the red aviation. But Charles was not impressed.

With the outbreak of World War II, Lindbergh actively promoted the position of the isolationists, who believed that America should not interfere in the European war. True, his opinion changed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Charles was eager to enter the Pacific Ocean, but he was not allowed – partly because of his heroic status (captured – it will turn out ugly), partly because of his past sympathy for Germany, the strongest Axis power.

But in 1944, he still got to the front as a technical advisor and spent 6 months there. The status of a noncombatant of America’s most famous pilot did not bother at all: in addition to introducing technical innovations, he actively flew the P-38 and managed to shoot down a Japanese Ki-51 reconnaissance aircraft.

And after the war he actively traveled and advised many departments and firms – from the US Air Force to major airlines. In a word, he lived a rather interesting and pleasant life.

Lindbergh lived 72 years, died in 1974.

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