The Rush City Library was packed on March 10 to hear retired teacher Arn Kind speak about Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh was the first person to successfully fly non-stop from New York to Paris.
He made his historic flight in May 1927. As we approach the 100-year anniversary of the flight, Kind reminded those who gathered just how dicey airplanes were at that time. While planes had been used successfully in World War I, they were still very new technology.
“He (Charles Lindbergh) was called a flying fool; anyone going over the ocean (in a plane) was a fool, considering what planes were like,” Kind said.
Kind showed a film clip from the 1957 movie “The Spirit of St. Louis.” Jimmy Steward played Lindbergh and the film is a retelling of Lindbergh’s book by the same name. The book was published in 1953 and won the Pulitzer Prize the following year.
In the clip it showed the plane being constructed at Ryan Airplanes in California. The frame was built of wood with fabric stretched over the tail part of the plane. There was some metal at the front, but Lindbergh worked very closely with Donald Hall of Ryan. Some suggestions Lindbergh made include putting the gas tank in front of the pilot and right behind the engine. This would keep Lindbergh from being crushed between the two in the event of a crash. Another was a simply wicker chair with no padding and refusing a parachute. He calculated everything in weight and how much more gas he could carry if he didn’t have that item. He figured a parachute was about 4 gallons.
Lindbergh was chasing the Orteig Prize. Raymond Orteig, a French business had offered $25,000 for the first successful non-stop flight from New York to Paris. This was in the years after World War I and Orteig was hoping to promote good relationships between the U.S. and France. So many men had died trying to achieve the prize that Orteig was urged to withdraw it. Shortly before Lindbergh made his flight two American men died in a test flight and two French men, World War I aces, disappeared over the Atlantic.
Lindbergh estimated the flight would take about 40 hours. He chose having extra gasoline over an extra person, so he would make the flight alone. Fatigue was his greatest enemy, but not his only: Ice on the wings, equipment failure that meant he had to navigate by the stars, and more also dogged him.
Kind said he wrote in his book that he was so fatigued that he was hallucinating. He saw ghosts and phantoms in the back of his plane that would come forward and harass him and then go back.
On May 21 he completed the flight and launched himself into the limelight. This is another story. The prize led to a media firestorm that led to personal tragedy. But history will remember the feat.