Lindbergh A Link Between Early Flight And Space Tourism | This Week In Space History
by michael shinabery
The poster heralded that Lt. Chas, of the United States Air Service, will wow the crowd when Vera May Dunlap’s Flying Circus barnstorms into in Carterville, Ill. Chas was notorious. He’d jumped from an airplane.
On May 21, 1927, Charles “Chas” Lindbergh landed his Spirit of St. Louis monoplane in Paris, the first aviator to fly non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean from New York. The 33 ½ hour trip covered “1,000 miles through snow and sleet,” The New York Times proclaimed. Other pilots had tried; some died. But Lindbergh won the $25,000 Orteig prize offered by Frenchman and New York hotelier Raymond Orteig.
Some didn’t even believe such a feat possible. “It’s a fair possibility that a one-man machine without a float and favored by wind of, say, 15 miles an hour, might succeed in setting across the Atlantic,” Orville Wright wrote in the May 1914 Illustrated World. “But such an attempt would be the height of folly.”
Ironically, after returning to the U.S., Lindbergh and Wright met on June 22, in Dayton, said Derek Webber in “The Wright Stuff” (Apogee/2010).
Whenever “Lindbergh was asked why he crossed the Atlantic, he never once answered that he wanted to win a prize,” said “Rocket Men” (Viking/2009). He explained in the November 1927 Popular Mechanics (posted on charleslindbergh.com), that achievement would garner attention and motivate industry. He also predicted that the already established mail routes were “the basis of the future great passenger lines.” Underscoring his belief, said Webber, “U.S. airline passengers increased from around 6,000 in the year before Lindbergh’s pioneering flight to over 170,000 in the year after his flight.”
Lindbergh was born in Detroit in 1902. Charleslindbergh.com said he “grew up on a farm near Little Falls, Minn.,” and “showed exceptional mechanical ability.” During his senior year in 1918 he was excused “to operate (the) family farm for (the) war effort.” He studied engineering at the University of Wisconsin, but quit after two years to barnstorm across the country. His first plane, according to the book “Lindbergh Alone” (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich/1977), was a World War I surplus Curtiss JN-4 Jenny. He bought the “creaky, tattered plane that could fly only 70 miles an hour” in 1923 for $500, from a $900 bank loan his father co-signed, charleslindbergh.com said.
In 1924, Lindbergh enlisted in the Army Air Service Reserve. On March 5, 1925, he made the emergency jump Vera May Dunlap’s Flying Circus touted. He “and another cadet on a training mission had a midair collision at about 5,000 feet,” charleslindbergh.com said. He bailed out a second time on June 2, when he could not pull his plane from a deadly spin.
The Army graduated Lindbergh first in his class, and “the Robertson Aircraft Corporation of St. Louis hired him to fly the mail between St. Louis and Chicago,” the website said. During mail runs he made two more lifesaving jumps. The first was Sept. 16, 1926, after flying lost “in a blinding snow and rain storm” for two hours. He was unaware mechanics had replaced his 110-gallon fuel tank for an 85-gallon tank. On Nov. 3 he parachuted onto “a barbed wire fence but his heavy flying suit prevented injury.”
Before Lindbergh flew to Paris, the multi-millionaire philanthropist Harry Guggenheim paid a visit.
“ ‘When you get back from your flight, look me up,’ ” charleslindbergh.com quoted Guggenheim, who “later admitted he didn’t think there was much chance Lindbergh would survive the trip.” Harry funded Lucky Lindy to fly cross-country for three months “to encourage aviation-related research.” Their resultant friendship had “a profound impact on the development of aviation.”
In the fall of 1929, Dr. Robert Goddard wrote in his diary (published in “The Papers of Robert H. Goddard”), of meeting Lindbergh.
“The purpose of his visit,” Goddard said, “was to learn to what extent rockets could be employed on airplanes … so that they could assist in taking off, in an emergency landing, and in airplanes for warfare.”
In November 1929, Lindbergh arranged a meeting with the Du Pont family in New York, to discuss funding Goddard’s liquid-fuel rocket research.
“I realized soon that the object of (the Du Ponts’) questioning was … to find every last detail of the rocket I have developed, and after I saw this I evaded further questions,” Goddard wrote in his diary. “Nothing was said about … supporting any of my work.”
One Du Pont assistant, Goddard said, even “let drop the remark that a knowledge of what I had done would ‘save them a lot of grief.’ ”
Lindbergh flew Goddard home, which Goddard wrote proved “a good test of my nerve” as the aviator ascended “to 8000 feet, and down to within 50 feet of the tops of the pine trees.” The flight was Goddard’s first.
Not long after, Lindbergh convinced the Guggenheims to endow Goddard, said “The Space Program Quiz & Fact Book” (Harper & Row/1985). Goddard wrote that the Guggenheims granted him “$50,000 for two years’ work,” with another $50,000 promised. He left his physics professorship at Clark University and moved to Roswell.
Lindbergh and Goddard frequently corresponded. On Jan. 19, 1938, Lindbergh urged Goddard to undertake high altitude flights that, when “officially verified … would be universally accepted … and make it much easier to arrange for carrying out your experiments.”
On June 19, 1940, after meeting with military officials, Goddard wrote in a letter: “I cannot help feeling that with rockets as a possible factor in light artillery equipment, and jet propulsion as an almost certain factor in future high-speed aircraft, it would be extremely desirable for the Government to back this work.”
Lindbergh responded: “I hope that the sudden awakening this country is going through in regard to our military backwardness will create a new attitude toward the research you have been carrying on.”
In 2004, Burt Rutan and Paul Allen won the $10 million Ansari X-Prize as the first non-governmental entity to fly to space, land, and re-launch within two weeks. The competition was based on the Orteig concept. Lindbergh, Webber said, “was a link between those earliest times of flight and space tourism today.”
michael shinabery is an education specialist and humanities scholar with the new mexico museum of space history.