Charles A. Lindbergh & the Spirit of St. Louis (NYP)

Eighty years ago, on May 20, 1927 a 25 year old air mail pilot named Charles A. Lindbergh departed Roosevelt field in New York and flew a modified Ryan monoplane solo to Paris, France. The flight lasted only 33 hours, but Lindbergh had enough fuel to fly over 40 hours if he drifted off course and found himself anywhere from Norway to North Africa.

The plane was named “The Spirit of St. Louis” after a group of St. Louis businessmen who financed the venture. The Orteig Prize of $25,000 was established several years earlier for the first pilot to fly nonstop between New York and Paris.

The carnage of accidents was accumulating with two famous French WWI pilots Nungesser and Coli already overdue from Paris to New York when Lindbergh actually launched for Paris.

The “Spirit” was built in San Diego after Ryan Aircraft returned a telegram to Charles Lindbergh advising that they could build (in less than 90 days) a single engine airplane capable of flying across the Atlantic Ocean for $15,000. The fuselage was extended to carry three quarters of the 450 gallons of fuel in front of the pilot to increase stability. There was no windshield, but there also was not much air traffic over the Atlantic in 1927!

A periscope was added to minimize looking out the side window in the cold slipstream.

Major design modifications were made to the Ryan Brougham by Donald Hall, the chief engineer of Ryan Aircraft. The wings were extended to provide more surface area and the landing gear strengthened for the extra weight.

Lindbergh stayed in an apartment that still exists in San Diego a few miles from the Ryan factory to supervise the construction. The Spirit had a gross weight of 5100 pound with full fuel. The engine was a state of the art Wright J-5 Whirlwind 225 HP Radial that had a special gold plate inspection. The Spirit was completed in 60 days, and Lindbergh set a speed record flying to New York with a stop in St. Louis to thank his supporters.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014