On May 21, 1927, aviator Charles Lindbergh made history when he completed the first non-stop solo flight from New York to Paris. On the 90th anniversary of Lindbergh’s record-breaking flight, we remember not only the history behind the event but the legacy he left behind for future aviators.
Born in 1902, Lindbergh was fascinated with mechanics from an early age. This fascination led him to enroll in flying school, where he gained experience by barnstorming, parachuting, and wing walking. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1924, where he trained as an Army Air Service Reserve pilot. He also worked as an airmail pilot, flying back and forth between Chicago and St. Louis.
In the late 1920s, a wealthy hotel owner offered a prize of $25,000 to the first pilot to make the death-defying flight from New York to Paris without stopping. While other pilots had tried this risky flight and failed, Lindbergh welcomed the challenge, and enlisted support from several St. Louis businessmen to purchase an aircraft suitable to make the flight.
Several loans helped Lindbergh secure a custom-built monoplane by the Ryan Aircraft Company. The fabric-covered, single-seat, single-engine aircraft was dubbed the Spirit of St. Louis.
Early on May 20, Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field for Paris in the Spirit, loaded with 450 gallons (1,704 liters) of fuel. The journey lasted 33 and ½ hours, with Lindbergh battling adverse flying conditions and navigating only by the stars and dead reckoning.
When the Spirit finally touched down in Paris, an enormous crowd greeted Lindbergh. He was awarded the Medal of Honor and was named the first-ever “Man of the Year” by Time magazine. Because of Lindbergh’s flight, stocks in aviation soared, enabling small airlines to emerge. Ultimately, Lindbergh’s influence encouraged the American people to have more confidence in air travel and to invest in the future of aviation.