by Marsha Brandsdorfer
While working as an airmail pilot, 24-year-old Charles A. Lindbergh decided to participate in a $25,000 contest offered by businessman Raymond Orteig to be awarded to the first flight that could fly successfully from New York to Paris. Lindbergh, who loved to fly, wanted to prove the limitless possibilities in aviation, and prove that a nonstop transatlantic flight could be accomplished.
The estimated forty hour flight would need financing. Lindbergh had to find sponsors and convince them that they weren’t sending him to his death. When Lindbergh finally had enough financing, he asked the Ryan Airlines Factory in San Diego to build him his plane. To keep the plane light of excess weight, he decided to have it built with just one engine. Deciding that a parachute would be too heavy, instead, he would bring a ten-pound rubber raft, should he need to land in the ocean. He also prepared to take with him a pump for the raft, flares, canteens, and Army rations. 425 gallons of gasoline were needed for the nonstop flight, allowing for access in case he needed to detour from bad weather. His plane was built with one cockpit, in the rear of the gas tank, and he had only windows on each side of the plane to look out. Lindbergh named his new plane, the “Spirit of St. Louis.” Only weeks later after the plane was built, after testing it, he was ready to proceed.
He flew his plane from San Diego for an overnight stay in St. Louis, and then Lindberg left for New York the following morning. In New York, he waited a few days for the bad weather to subside, and then on May 20, 1927, Lindbergh began his journey to Paris. He traveled an average of 100 miles per hour. Sitting in the small cockpit, he would feel cramps in his legs and dull aches in his back and shoulders. Lack of sleep became a huge problem and his struggle with fatigue was difficult.
Lindbergh did not eat his first meal, a packed sandwich until he was flying over Europe, his second night of flight. His excitement that he was closer to his journey’s end rejuvenated him. To his great surprise, when he landed at Le Bourget Airport, after his total journey of 33-1/2 hours, he was greeted by tens of thousands of people breaking down fences and running past guards. Lindbergh’s undeniable achievement would help in the advancement of aviation and in the progression of air mail.
The 1927 C10 ten cents commemorative airmail stamp was issued on June 18, 1927, as a tribute to Charles A. Lindbergh and his transatlantic flight, the first U.S. Stamp to honor a living person. Today, the Spirit of St. Louis is displayed at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
(Material in this article was researched from Charles A. Lindbergh’s detailed 1953 memoir, The Spirit of St. Louis.)