The story of the first solo air crossing from New York to Paris in thirty-three-and-a-half hours is a fascinating one. Charles Lindbergh was an obscure 25-year-old mail pilot from St. Louis at the time. The thought of attempting the crossing came to him late one moonlit night as he was flying to Chicago in his open-cockpit DeHavilland biplane in 1926. He faced an uphill climb. Aviation companies and plane manufacturers did not know him. He had very little money and no experience navigating oceans. And yet, he was able to convince local businessmen in St. Louis to finance his project, was able to find a company in San Diego to build him a plane and taught himself everything he needed to know to fly by compass and dead reckoning alone across the ocean.
Others had died attempting the crossing before him, but Lindbergh worked out his plan and stuck with it, even as others criticized him for it. Many people, for example, believed a multi-engine plane was necessary for a trans-Atlantic crossing; but Lindbergh, a former barnstormer who was keenly aware of engine reliability in the 1920s, felt the more engines on an aircraft, the more chances of failure. He instead placed his confidence in a single Wright Whirlwind engine and focused on adding fuel capacity to his plane. Trusting his abilities to stay alert for long periods of time and on his painstaking navigational calculations, he limited himself to loading the plane only with fuel and the most basic emergency gear, some drinking water and four sandwiches. Saving weight and improving fuel efficiency was his ticket to survival.
"Spirit of St. Louis," the book
I'm reading all about this in Lindbergh's own words, as he set them down in his 1953 book which carries the same title as the name of his plane.
It's one of the best books I've picked up in years (thanks, Quentin Payette). Many accounts of historical exploits tend to reflect the terminology of the day and appear archaic, even musty. Not so with Lindbergh's story. It sounds like he's recording a podcast or posting a weblog. His writing has a very modern quality to it. He seems the type of person who could easily switch centuries and appear before us as a jet pilot or an engineer with a laptop. Comfortable and confident in his own skin, his Midwestern humility and down-to-earth sensibilities helped him achieve history in the skies. He wrote the book in the present tense, so we feel we're taking the journey with him, moment-by-moment. The book is a surprising page-turner. And it won the 1954 Pulizter Prize for biography .
For more information on the record-breaking flight see this page from the site devoted exclusively to Lindbergh.
The man: Charles Lindbergh
The book: Link to on-line supplier Chapters.Indigo.ca