Daniel F. Harrington
Daniel F. Harrington ([email protected]), monthly contributor, lives in Warwick.
In the month before the humble airmail pilot Captain Charles Lindbergh attempted to become the first man to cross the Atlantic Ocean, 13 other men lost their lives in pursuit of the impossible feat, including two aviators from the United States Navy and two aces from the First World War. who disappeared off the coast of Ireland.
So when “The Flying Fool” Lindbergh and his villainous Saint Louis Spirit took off from Roosevelt Field in Long Island, New York at 7:52 am on Friday, May 20, 1927, everyone expected him to become. the next victim of the great madness of flight.
Lindbergh thought otherwise; and in doing so, would change the world forever – in just 33 hours.
His pedigree was strange. The son of a bankrupt congressman, Lindbergh failed out of the University of Wisconsin before landing at Lincoln Flight School in Nebraska, where he studied the discipline of piloting as well as engineering. It would serve him well.
Lindbergh’s approach to transatlantic flight has challenged contemporary wisdom. Instead of using two pilots, Lindbergh insisted on going alone to gain weight. His precision aircraft was radical, using a large wing instead of the traditional biplane design. To achieve better weight distribution, he placed a large fuel tank at the front of the cockpit, leaving it with no vision forward. Instead, he relied on an underwater periscope to see his way forward.
Incredibly, Lindbergh would only use two rudimentary compasses and a store-bought map to guide him across the Atlantic. Never a technician, he would fight boredom and fatigue by drawing up a rigorous picture of his progress along the way.
At 9:05 a.m., Spirit of St. Louis passed through Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island and Lindbergh recalls being sobered up thinking his fate, the mighty Atlantic Ocean, was only an hour away.
And there, death would pursue him.
In his long, dark night over the Atlantic, Lindy was shaking his head violently to avoid sleep as he searched dangerously for lower elevations to melt the ice forming on his wings. Later, waves of thick fog caused fatal episodes of disorientation. He saw mirages, heard voices and hallucinated.
The former wing walker even resorted to aerial acrobatics and sudden dives to stay awake.
Meanwhile, America was holding its breath. During a boxing match at Yankee Stadium, the ring announcer asked the noisy crowd to join him in a prayer for Lindbergh’s safe passage to France. The New York Times reported that “40,000 people stood up as one and stood with their heads bare.”
When dawn finally broke, Lindbergh found himself closer and closer to Europe. Revitalized, he piloted his ship in a playful way a few meters above the wild Atlantic and salted his skin with the spray of the waves.
When he finally reached the Irish coast, Lindbergh realized he was only 25 miles from his route, an astonishing sailing feat even by today’s standards.
Approaching Paris at 10 p.m., Lindbergh thought no one would be waiting for him. Instead, more than 100,000 Parisians greeted the aviator when he landed and nearly crashed his beloved plane before he was rescued by police. Her 3,610 mile flight was over.
Lindbergh would receive the Congressional Medal of Honor and become Time Magazine’s first “man of the year”.
But fame would almost destroy him.
In 1932, her 20 month old son, Charlie, was kidnapped and murdered. Two years later, after daring to criticize President Franklin Roosevelt for his massive dismissal of airmail pilots, Lindbergh would see the Washington establishment turn against him.
Fortunately, later in life, as if emerging from the fog, Lindbergh would return to the vaunted status of America’s favorite son and will be forever remembered as the man who overcame the impossible with courage, the intellect and courage.