The first Atlantic crossing by plane: Still amazing to think about
Jimmy Stewart's The Spirit of St. Louis is a great movie, especially thanks to the scenes of Charles Lindbergh trying to stay awake over the Atlantic Ocean.
On May 21 in 1927, Charles Lindbergh did something that had never been done before:
At 7:52 a.m. EST on May 20, The Spirit of St. Louis lifted off from Roosevelt Field, so loaded with fuel that it barely cleared the telephone wires at the end of the runway. Lindbergh traveled northeast up the coast. After only four hours, he felt tired and flew within 10 feet of the water to keep his mind clear. As night fell, the aircraft left the coast of Newfoundland and set off across the Atlantic.
At about 2 a.m. on May 21, Lindbergh passed the halfway mark, and an hour later dawn came. Soon after, The Spirit of St. Louis entered a fog, and Lindbergh struggled to stay awake, holding his eyelids open with his fingers and hallucinating that ghosts were passing through the cockpit.
After 24 hours in the air, he felt a little more awake and spotted fishing boats in the water.
At about 11 a.m. (3 p.m. local time), he saw the coast of Ireland. Despite using only rudimentary navigation, he was two hours ahead of schedule and only three miles off course. He flew past England and by 3 p.m. EST was flying over France. It was 8 p.m. in France, and night was falling.
At the Le Bourget Aerodrome in Paris, tens of thousands of Saturday night revelers had gathered to await Lindbergh’s arrival.
At 10:24 a.m. local time, his gray and white monoplane slipped out of the darkness and made a perfect landing in the air field. The crowd surged on
The Spirit of St. Louis, and Lindbergh, weary from his 33 1/2-hour, 3,600-mile journey, was cheered and lifted above their heads. He hadn’t slept for 55 hours. Two French aviators saved Lindbergh from the boisterous crowd, whisking him away in an automobile. He was an immediate international celebrity.
The best part of Lindbergh's odyssey is how incredible it was. It was a test not just of a machine, but of the human body and mind. In other words, the flight could have ended if Lindbergh had not stayed awake. He could have crashed and drowned from the lack of sleep.
Lindbergh said this about sitting in that small cabin with nothing but his eyes and good instincts to get him to his destination:
While my hand is on the stick, my feet on the rudder, and my eyes on the compass, this consciousness, like a winged messenger, goes out to visit the waves below, testing the warmth of water, the speed of wind, the thickness of intervening clouds. It goes north to the glacial coasts of Greenland, over the horizon to the edge of dawn, ahead to Ireland, England, and the continent of Europe, away through space to the moon and stars, always returning, unwillingly, to the mortal duty of seeing that the limbs and muscles have attended their routine while it was gone.
Lindbergh died in 1974. Wonder what he thought when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon five years before!
P.S. You can listen to my show (Canto Talk) and follow me on Twitter.