The man who flew in The Spirit of Saint Louis
Charles Augustus Lindbergh (February 4, 1902 – August 26, 1974) was an American aviator, military officer, author, inventor, and activist. At the age of 25 in 1927, he went from obscurity as a U.S. Air Mail pilot to instantaneous world fame by winning the Orteig Prize for making a nonstop flight from New York City to Paris on May 20–21. Lindbergh covered the 33+1⁄2-hour, 3,600-statute-mile (5,800 km) flight alone in a purpose-built, single-engine Ryan monoplane, the Spirit of St. Louis. Though the first non-stop transatlantic flight had been completed eight years earlier, this was the first solo transatlantic flight, the first transatlantic flight between two major city hubs, and the longest transatlantic flight by almost 2,000 miles. Thus it is widely considered a turning point in world history for the development and advancement of aviation, ushering in a new era of transportation between parts of the globe.
The man who flew in The Spirit of Saint Louis
When I flew alone and without stopping across the Atlantic Ocean, I became one of the most famous people in the world. But my life after that wasn’t always a happy one.
I was born in Detroit, in the USA, on 4th February 1902. My father was politician – he was a member of the American government. My mother was a schoolteacher. From an early age I was interested in flying.
After I left high school, I studied at an engineering college. However, I really wanted to be a pilot, so after two years, I left the college. I trained to be a pilot in Lincoln, Nebraska. My father lent me some money to buy my first aircraft. It was called ‘Curtiss Jenny’ and I was able to practice flying in it. I was also able to use it to earn some money – I took people for pleasure-flights in it. I did some stunt flying as well – I did dangerous tricks in the air while crowds of people watched from the ground.
In 1924, I joined the American Army Reserve, and completed some more training with them. Then late the next year, I started work at the Robertson Aircraft Company. My job was to fly mail between cities.
Being a mail pilot was dangerous work. One night, in a storm, my aircraft ran out of fuel and I had to jump out of it before it crashed. Fortunately, my parachute saved my life. But that was the kind of risk that all pilots took in those days.
I was one pilot among many until I decided to compete for the Orteig Prize. That was the most important decision of my early life. A rich businessman called Raymond Orteig had offered a prize of 25,000 dollars. The prize was for the first person to fly alone – and non-stop – between New York City and Paris, France. Orteig first offered the prize in 1919. By 1926, when I became interested in competing, no one had been able to win the money. Several people had tried, and some of them had died as a result. I promised myself that I was going to succeed.
I wasn’t the first person to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, 81 people had done it before I did. But no one had done it non-stop and alone. Of course, crossing that huge ocean was dangerous even with a co-pilot. But with another pilot in the machine, the risk of falling asleep and crashing was not a big problem. However, I wanted to make the attempt, and I borrowed some money to pay for it. I had an aircraft built specially by the Ryan Aircraft Company. It was a monoplane, and I called it ‘The Spirit of Saint Louis’.
On 20th May 1927, I took off from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York City, and soon I was over the ocean. My aircraft had 1,704 litres of fuel. Apart from that, there were four sandwiches and two large bottles of water for my meals.
The flight lasted for more than 33 hours. Below me, nearly all the time, I could see the Atlantic Ocean. And several times I had to fly through storms. Sometimes there was fog in the air and it was necessary to fly very close to the waves. At other times, I could see icebergs floating silently below me in the ocean.
During the night, it was very cold in the cockpit of ‘The Spirit of Saint Louis’. I kept the windows open because the cold air helped me to stay awake. The noise of my engine was the only sound that I could hear. But while I could hear my engine, I knew that I was safe.
At last, I landed at Le Bourget airport, near Paris. More than 150,000 people came to watch my arrival. The French President gave me a medal, and of course I had won the Orteig Prize. After much celebration in France, I returned to the USA and on 13th June 1927, the people of New York City welcomed me home. The American President gave me some medals too. A few weeks before this, I had been an unknown mail pilot. Now suddenly, I was very famous – I was a celebrity.
Soon, I started on a tour of the USA. In three months, ‘The Spirit of Saint Louis’ took me to 92 cities. In each place I made speeches, and there were many articles about me in newspapers. I also published a book about flying. Suddenly, more people wanted to invest money in aviation, and that was good for the aircraft builders.
Navigation in the air was a subject that I thought about a lot at that time. I was especially interested in mapping the route over the North Pole. Flying that route became my next big adventure. Again, it was a solo flight, so I had to be my own navigator. I spent many hours preparing for the trip. Fortunately, that flight was successful too.
One day, while I was in Mexico making speeches for the American Government, I met a young lady called Anne Morrow. We fell in love, and on 27th May 1929, we were married. Anne wanted to become a pilot herself. I taught her to fly, and she soon became my aviation partner. We mapped several new routes together. One of them was the route across the North Pacific Ocean to China.
In 1930, my first son – Charles Augustus Lindbergh the Third – was born. Anne and I were very happy with our little boy, and we enjoyed seeing him grow. But on 1st March 1932, he was kidnapped from our home in New Jersey. Suddenly our happiness disappeared. For ten weeks, we searched for him, and helped the police with their search. But, on 12th May, the police gave us the news that we’d feared. Little Charles was dead. Someone had killed him.
Time passed, and we had a second son, called John. ‘Will someone try to kidnap him too?’ we asked ourselves. We realized that we were frightened and unhappy in the USA. So at the end of 1935, we went to live in Britain. Our plans were secret, and we left America quietly to start a new life in Europe. I no longer wanted to be famous. I just wanted to enjoy my family. Over the next years, Anne and I had four more children.
Anne and I travelled a lot. We visited India and we travelled in various European countries. We wanted to find out what life was like for the people there. Then in 1938, the American army asked me to report on aviation in Germany. I told them that the German Air Force was very strong.
When I returned to Britain, I found that political views there were very mixed. Some people thought that Britain couldn’t avoid fighting Germany. Others thought that Britain could avoid a war. But everyone agreed that the army in the UK wasn’t prepared for a war. I told the American government that the German army could easily invade other countries. And I said that Britain and France could not stop them.
When the Second World War started in 1939, I took my family back to the USA. I made speeches about the need for a strong American Army. But I was against helping Britain fight the Germans. I said that Europeans needed to solve their own problems. I wasn’t a popular person in my own country when I said this. But when Japan attacked the USA at Pearl Harbor in 1941, I changed my views. America entered the war and I began to advise the government about aviation. I also worked as a pilot.
After the war, I continued to advise the American Air Force. I advised the airline Pan Am as well. And in 1953, I wrote a book called ‘The Spirit of Saint Louis’. It told the story of my solo flight across the Atlantic. Many thousands of copies were sold, and the following year it won the Pulitzer Prize.
The later years of my life were spent on the island of Maui, in Hawaii. While I was there, I wrote my last book, ‘Autobiography of Values’. In that book I wrote about conservation ideas. I was especially interested in protecting whales. My last days were peaceful and I died in Maui on 26th August 1974.