'Lindbergh A Volé Sans Escale'

photomontage: sunrise for the spirit of st louis

Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis heads east - solo.

'De New York à Paris'

Paris:- Wednesday, 15. May 2002:- As dawn on Saturday, 21. May 1927 rose out of the east a dark orange blossom gradually turned the black Atlantic Ocean and the inky sky into two blurry worlds that rapidly became more distinct and increasingly endless as the sky grew brighter.

The time was about three in the morning on the United States' east coast and nine in in Paris. The lone pilot who saw the sun rise had been in the air for 20 hours, since taking off from Roosevelt Field in Nassau County, Long Island at 06:52 on Friday morning. He still had 13 hours and 22 minutes of flight time to his destination at Le Bourget airfield, just to the north of Paris.

New York hotel owner Raymond Orteig had offered a prize of $25,000 to the 'first aviator who shall cross the Atlantic in a land or water aircraft - heavier-than-air - from Paris or the shores of France to New York, or from New York to Paris or the shores of France, without stop.' This offer had been open to all comers since being made on Thursday, 22. May 1919.

These 'all comers' were men with courage and strong enough wings, but they didn't have reliable engines that could last the distance. This changed when the Wright Company introduced its lightweight 220-hp air-cooled J-5C Whirlwind engine. Commander Richard Byrd used three of these for his successful polar flights in September of 1926.

A 24-year old airmail pilot named Charles Lindbergh wondered if this engine could pull a lightweight monoplane across the ocean. He already had 2000 hours in the air, and $2000 of his own to put into the enterprise.

Lindbergh approached a group of businessmen in St. Louis and they hesitantly agreed to put up $13,000 to buy a Whirlwind engine and a suitable aircraft. Lindbergh said they didn't need two engines because they could only afford one.

Others with better financing were in the race too. French World War One ace René Fonck crashed his Sikorsky trimotor on a take-off from Roosevelt Field.

Anthony Fokker was building a trimotor for Commander Bryd and a Bellanca monoplane was being built to carry two by the Columbia Aircraft Company. Twophoto: ww1 aircraft, mus air, space navy men were testing a Keystone Pathfinder biplane with three Whirlwind engines. Charles Nungesser and François Coli were planning a flight from France to New York.

Display of original WWI aircraft in the air museum.

The most likely aircraft manufacturers were uninterested in Lindbergh's plans so he turned to the unknown Ryan Airlines company in San Diego, and they agreed to produce a plane complete with motor, for $10,580. Starting on Wednesday, 23. February 1927, it took 60 days from the drawing board to the first flight of the 'Spirit of St. Louis.'

When a mechanic dropped a crescent wrench on the motor and broke off a tiny piece of a cooling fin, Lindbergh insisted on having the whole engine changed. He said he was a 'poor swimmer.'

With tests completed on Tuesday, 10. May, Lindbergh flew the small monoplane from San Diego to St. Louis in 14 hours and 25 minutes, non-stop, setting a record at the time. Two days later, Lindbergh was in New York.

The other contenders had all met with partial or total mishaps. North Atlantic weather reports were dismal. Lindbergh spent the time getting annoyed with the tabloid press, and stripping the plane of everything he considered unessential. He opted for no radio - too heavy and too short-range - and no parachute.

On Thursday evening, 19. May, Lindbergh decided to take in a Broadway show. Despite the rain, he called the weather bureau on the way to the theatre, and got a good forecast. Instead of seeing 'Rio Rita,' he went to bed early.

In the morning things were not looking good. The runway was rain-soaked, the enginephoto: control tower, le bourget was running 30 revolutions less than optimal, the wind wasn't right, the propeller was tuned wrong, and the little plane was overloaded with fuel.

Le Bourget's tower and parked museum passenger planes.

Lindbergh decided to go anyway. The Spirit of St. Louis lumbered down the runway, staggered into the air, clearing some telephone lines by seven metres, and disappeared into the gloom on a heading of 65 degrees, to the northeast.

In the fourth hour of the flight, buffeting squalls over Nova Scotia kept him awake. Out over the Atlantic he flew over the remains of icebergs. At the 12-hour mark he flew over St. John's, Newfoundland and that was the end of North America.

To stay awake, he cupped his hands out of the window, to scoop in blasts of icy air. He stomped his feet, he bounced in his seat - he held his eyelids up with his thumbs. Then it began to become light. The ocean did not look friendly until he saw porpoises, and then birds.

Three hours after Lindbergh passed the mid-point of the open ocean it was 11:00 on Saturday in Paris, and in the Paris editorial offices of the Chicago Tribune there was no excitement about the flight - because there was no news about it. Seasoned opinion said, "He'll never make it."

Twenty-seven hours out of Roosevelt Field Lindbergh saw some fishing boats and circled over them low enough to pretend to ask for directions to Ireland. He was on course and two hours ahead of schedule. It was 16:00 in Paris.

The American Ambassador was at Saint-Cloud, watching the French Open tennis tournament - specificallyphoto: expo, atlantic crossings, mus air, space the doubles championship between Borotra and Brugnon for France and Tilden and Hunter for the United States. The Ambassador did not stay to see the Frenchmen win.

The matches were being played about the time the first radio-news broadcasts began telling Parisians about the flight. Lindbergh was reported to be over England at 18:00.

Items of the temporary 'Traversées de l'Atlantique Nord 1919-1930' exhibition.

Parisians by the tens of thousands began to flock to Le Bourget, and soon produced Paris' first truly monumental traffic jam. The six kilometres from the edge of Paris to the airfield were clogged solid.

The police were totally unprepared and undermanned for this. Reinforcements on bicycles managed to slip by the crowds. The mass of Parisians estimated to have been at the airfield varies from a half-million to 150,000. The latter figure was reported the Sunday editions of both 'Le Matin' and 'Le Petit Journal.'

The crowd at Le Bourget heard that Lindbergh's plane had passed Cherbourg, then Louviers at 22:00. They thought they heard a motor overhead at 22:15. Then they were sure the plane was circling over the field.

The Spirit of St. Louis touched down at 22:22, exactly 33 hours and 30 minutes after leaving Roosevelt Field outside of New YorK, 5,810 flight kilometres to the west.

What few crowd barriers there were fell and 20,000 sprinters surged towards the little airplane - which Lindbergh had stopped as far from the massed Parisians as possible and shut down its motor so nobody would get turned into salami slices by the propeller.

In the total confusion, a small group of French military pilots deftly spirited Lindbergh away from his new fans, to offer him a cot waiting for him in the office of the major commanding the bombers based at the airfield.

According to legend, Lindbergh either threw his flying helmet into the crowd - or two of the French pilots did so - and it was caught by an American resembling Lindbergh, who the crowd immediately pounced on and carried off the field towards the waiting American Ambassador.

Meanwhile, Lindbergh was too excited to sleep or nap. He was worried about having entered France without a visa, which completely collapsed the French flyers into laughter. They asked him where he wanted to go.

The New York Times had reserved a room for him at the 'Ambassadeurs,' in the hopes of getting an exclusive to the story of the flight. The flyers thought he meant the American Embassy, and one of them drove him there somehow.

At the embassy, he was still too excited to sleep and agreed to meet the press about 02:00 on Sunday morning - a slim man with tired eyes, dressed in the large Ambassador's pajamas.

The anniversary of this singular event is Tuesday, 21. May.

His grandson, Erik Lindbergh didn't bother waiting for this date to come around and landed in Paris at Le Bourget recently on Thursday morning, 2. May, at 11:24, ending a solo transatlantic flight in a single-motor monoplane. He followed his grandfather's flight by slightly less than exactly 75 years.

Charles Lindbergh was not a daredevil and did not make the flight solely to pocket the $25,000 prize money. Also, he wasphoto: nieuport xi not 'lucky,' in the sense that he was an experienced pilot, had prepared his equipment as best as the times allowed and calculated the risk to be the minimum possible.

As he was fond of saying, with two engines there was 'twice as much that could go wrong.'

In the air museum, a WWI Nieuport XI fighter plane.

Charles Lindbergh's flight ushered in the era of long-distance routes, ones that span the world today. Ones that seem almost routine, as we sit in the back of an air-conditioned Boeing or an Airbus.

If you think about it, who are we to grumble about long check-in times or whine about the choice of in-flight movies? While we fly so high we may never see the Atlantic's cold and grey waves, if we are sitting in the right seats we sometimes get to see the sun rise from behind Europe, from an altitude of 10,000 metres.

And if we can afford it, we can fly higher and faster - on the Concorde, which made its initial flights almost 30 years ago.

This might seem like the place to close this, but there are still two unresolved questions. The first is, how many ham sandwiches were required by Charles Lindbergh to keep from starving during the flight?

Secondly, if the 'Spirit of St. Louis' was equipped with a toilet, did this facility have a working smoke detector?

In his first account of the flight - entitled 'We' - Lindbergh wrote about the reception Le Bourget, "Everybody had the best of intentions but no one seemed to know what they were."

The Anniversary In Paris

Although the anniversary of the date of the first solo non-stop transatlantic from New York to Paris is Tuesday, 21. May, the event will be celebrated at Le Bourget on Friday, 28. June.

The public is invited for this occasion, beginning at 19:00. After visiting the Air and Space museum and the special exhibition called 'Traversées de l'Atlantique Nord 1919-1930,' there will be an overflight by a patrol of Mirage 2000s, followed by a 50-minute light and sound show ending with a landing by a replica of the 'Spirit of St. Louis.' Fireworks come next and a jazz band playing hits from the 1920s will round the evening off.

Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace

Le Bourget began as a WWI airbase - a 'champ d'aviation' - in 1914 and in 1927 the field was half military and half 'aéropostal.' In 1937 its commercial flight terminal was opened and this continued to operate until Roissy's openingphoto: ariane rocket, le bourget in 1973. Beginning in 1953 the airport became the location of the International Aviation Salon, held every other year.

The runways at Le Bourget still handle freight and business flights. The aviation museum, which had been crammed into buildings in Meudon, gradually moved into the terminal buildings at Le Bourget as they were progressively emptied in favor of the Charles-de-Gaulle airport.

Arianespace freighters are made in the Paris region.

The museum's collection was begun in 1919, and therefore has many original flying machines and early aircraft on display, as well as later commercial and civilian aircraft, WWII and postwar fighters as well as an impressive space age collection.

There are high-level catwalks in the older airplane section, so it is possible to see the suspended aircraft from a variety of angles. There are also a great number of interesting smaller displays, so a two-hour visit to this one section alone would not be long.

In a large hanger of its own, is the Concorde 001, which was the test 'mule' for the small fleet of Concordes that were eventually built and put into service. You can climb a fair set of stairs andphoto: concorde 001 take a look around its somewhat cramped interior. On my visit today, museum guards urge me to see it even though it is ten minutes to closing time.

Concorde 001 with its snoot undrooped.

The temporary exhibition called 'Traversées de l'Atlantique Nord 1919-1930' is in a room of its own that is not too well sign-posted. It alone is worth a 45 minute visit, and I would say no less than four or five hours are necessary for the whole museum - including walking around the various aircraft and Ariane space rockets parked outside. The museum has a planetarium, a boutique, a documentation centre, guided visits and a simple, airfield-like cafeteria.

Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace - at Le Bourget airport, on the Route National 17. It can be reached via the Autoroute A1, but also with the bus 350 from Gare du Nord or the bus 152 from the Porte de la Villette. InfoTel.: 01 49 92 71 99 and InfoFax.: 01 49 92 70 95.

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

This is the home, in Washington, DC, of Charles Lindbergh's original 'Spirit of St. Louis' Ryan NYP aircraft.

This began as a conventional Ryan M-2 strut-braced monoplane, but was modified to Lindbergh's specifications by Ryan Aircraft's Donald Hall. Because of the gas tanks in front, Lindbergh could only look forward through a periscope mounted on the left side, or turn the plane sideways. 'NYP' is an acronym for 'New York-Paris.'

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