Lindbergh’s Craft


With only four years of flying experience (totaling 2,000 hours in the air), 24-year-old Charles August Lindbergh managed to persuade nine St. Louis businessmen to aid him in purchasing an airplane. They did so by adding $13,000 to his $2,000. His goal: become the first to fly non-stop from New York to Paris and collect the Orteig prize, worth $25,000.

Lindbergh’s inquiries to major aircraft companies proved unfruitful. His search eventually brought him to San Diego’s relatively unknown Ryan Aeronautical Co. The wire to his St. Louis investors expressed the young aviator’s satisfaction with the firm:


“Believe Ryan capable of building plane with sufficient performance. Cost complete with whirlwind engine and standard instruments is ten thousand five hundred eighty dollars. Delivery within 60 days. Recommend closing deal--Lindbergh.”



The deal was indeed concluded and the aircraft was built within the time specified. Christening his craft the Spirit of St. Louis, Lindbergh flew it to the city of the same name to show his investors; afterwards, flying to New York’s Roosevelt Field for the trip to France.

Charles Lindbergh gained fame and the $25,000 prize with his crossing of the Atlantic, spurring aviation in the bargain. His transatlantic feat, so important to American aviation, earned the Spirit of St. Louis a position in The National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.

Suspended from the ceiling by wires, the aircraft hangs over the Apollo 11 command module.

However, the embryonic beginnings of spaceflight proceeded Lindbergh’s crossing, when Dr. Robert H. Goddard built and successfully fired the first liquid fuel rocket the previous year--March 16, 1926.

The Orteig Prize

“$25,000 . . . to the first aviator who shall cross the Atlantic in a land or water aircraft from Paris or the shores of France to New York, of from New York to Paris or the shores of France, without stop.”

--offered by New York hotel owner Raymond Orteig, May 22, 1919.

1. On May 10, 1927, Lindbergh flies from San Diego to St. Louis.

2. Arrives in St. Louis after 14 hours and 25 minutes.

3. Lands at New York’s Curtiss Field on May 11, setting a transcontinental air-speed record: 20 hours and 21 minutes. Having his aircraft towed to New York’s Roosevelt Field, Lindbergh begins his New York to Paris solo flight at 7:52 a.m. on May 20.


4. Touches down at Le Bourget Field, near Paris, May 21 at 10:21 p.m. (Paris time). Flight time: 33 hours and 30 minutes.

The Spirit of St. Louis

Wingspan: 46 ft.

Length: 27 ft. 8 in.

Weight: 5,250 lbs.

a) Engine: Wright Whirlwind air-cooled 223 h.p.

b) Oil Tank: 28-gallon capacity.

c) Fuel Tanks: Three tanks totaling a 153-gallon fuel capacity.

d) Periscope: With three fuel tanks and a large control panel blocking his front view. Lindbergh relied on a periscope to see directly ahead.

e) Magnetic Compass: Helped Lindbergh navigate by dead reckoning.

f) Earth Inductor Compass: Alerts pilot should winds push aircraft off plotted course.

g) Flares: To be dropped during emergency landings as visual aid for rescuers.

h) Fuselage: After the cellulose treatment to the plane’s cotton-fabric fuselage dried, it was given a coating of aluminum paint.



Dead Reckoning Navigation

1. Plane’s position ( fix ) is marked on map.

2. Line drawn to destination (or DR Position ).

3. Compass determines degree heading of drawn line.

4. Position is estimated by multiplying plane’s speed by time traveled.

5. Winds will cause airplane to drift off course. Once land is reached, a new landmark is sighted and found on the map. A new fix and course is then plotted.

Source: “The National Air and Space Museum,” by C.D.B. Bryan; “Lindbergh the Lone Flier,” by Raymond Briggs and Nicholas Fisk; Dr. Mary Scott and Ed Rouen, San Diego Aerospace Museum.