You’ve probably heard of the Spirit of St Louis, but what do you know about its pilot, Charles Lindbergh? A key name in aviation history, this exciting character is best known for making the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic. But there’s much more to learn about him.
Born in 1902, Charles Lindbergh grew up on a farm near Little Falls, Minnesota. His father was a notable figure, serving as a Congressman for the state between 1907 and 1917.
As a young boy, Lindbergh demonstrated a keen interest and ability in mechanics and engineering, showing particular intrigue in the family car. It was no surprise, therefore, when he went on to study engineering at the University of Wisconsin.
However, by this point, Lindbergh had already begun to develop a taste for aviation, and the lure to fly grew too strong. Within two years, he’d dropped out of school and was enjoying life as a barnstormer – performing wild tricks for excited crowds below.
Taking to the skies
As well as barnstorming, Lindbergh could also be seen entertaining with wing-walking and parachuting exploits. And the whole time, he was saving his earnings to pay for further flight instruction, which would enable him to fly solo.
This finally happened in 1923. Lindbergh bought himself a former WWI Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” biplane, and after 30 minutes in the air with another pilot, he decided to take himself back up the skies on his own!
Lindbergh was clearly confident in his ability. He spent some time over the following week practicing (earning himself just 5 hours PIC time), before making his first solo cross-country flight to Montgomery, Alabama – about 140 miles away!
Despite continuing to build his experience as a barnstormer (flying solo this time), Lindbergh decided to enlist in the US Army so he could train as an Army Air Service Reserve Pilot. This he did in 1924, graduating the following year at the top of his class. However, at the time, the Army wasn’t in need of Reserve Pilots, so Lindbergh found himself a job as an Air Mail pilot.
Winning the Orteig Prize
He may have found a stable career flying mail across the country, but Charles Lindbergh wasn’t ready to stop yet. For years, he’d been intrigued by the Orteig Prize – a $25,000 reward from businessman Raymond Orteig for the first person to fly non-stop from New York to Paris.
Despite creating the prize in 1919, nobody had yet managed Orteig’s challenge – but a number had died trying. Lindbergh wasn’t deterred though. In 1927, he decided he would attempt to make the prize his – but he needed the right plane.
It wouldn’t come cheap, so Lindbergh needed financial support. He approached some wealthy businessmen in St Louis, who agreed to finance $15,000 towards Lindbergh’s aircraft. And so the Spirit of St Louis earned her name.
After a practice flight (from San Diego to New York in a record-breaking 20 hours 21 minutes), he was ready to attempt the record.
On the morning of May 20, 1927, Lindbergh took off from an airfield just outside New York City. He flew 3000 miles in 33.5 hours, before landing at an airfield just outside Paris. Charles Lindbergh had done it – he’d won the Orteig Prize!
An international hero
Charles Lindbergh was an overnight sensation. After flying a goodwill tour across the US and Mexico, he donated The Spirit of St Louis to the Smithsonian Institution (and you can still see her today at the National Air and Space Museum).
Lindbergh’s life continued to be one of twists and turns. On his goodwill tour, he’d met Anne Spencer Morrow – daughter of the American ambassador in Mexico – and went on to marry her in 1929. Together, the pair flew around the world and charted new routes across the globe for airlines.
Would you believe Charles Lindbergh also invented an artificial heart? This incredible invention was used by surgeon Alexis Carrel to keep organs alive while outside the body.
However, in 1932, a tragedy hit the Lindberghs. Charles Augustus Jr, their son of 20 months, was kidnapped from the family home and found ten weeks later having been murdered. Although the perpetrator was arrested, convicted, and executed, the press kept hounding the Lindberghs, and so the family moved to Europe three years later for privacy.
The war years and beyond
Charles Lindbergh attracted controversy at the beginning of World War II when he declared America should stay out of the conflict. However, when Pearl Harbour was attacked, his views changed, and he went on to fly as a civilian contractor on dozens of missions.
Later in life, Lindbergh became an outspoken environmentalist, campaigning to save plants and creatures which were being negatively affected by modern technology. Throughout the ‘60s, he fought for a range of conservation organizations, helping to raise awareness of the plight of many species, including blue whales, eagles, and tortoises.
Towards the end of his life, Charles Lindbergh moved to Hawaii. After developing cancer, he passed away in 1974 aged 72 and was buried in Maui.
Lindbergh’s life was legendary – and all because he pursued his passion for aviation. So if you love the idea of taking to the skies, where could your passion take you? Find out today by getting started at CTI Professional Flight Training.