Friday May 21, 2021’s Smile of the Day: First Solo Flight across the Atlantic
On this Day:
In 1927, Aviator Charles Lindbergh, in the Spirit of St Louis, landed in Paris after the first solo air crossing of the Atlantic.
Charles Augustus Lindbergh (February 4, 1902 – August 26, 1974) was an American aviator, military officer, author, inventor, and activist. At the age of 25 in 1927, he went from obscurity as a U.S. Air Mail pilot to instantaneous world fame by winning the Orteig Prize for making a nonstop flight from New York City to Paris on May 20–21. Lindbergh covered the 33+1⁄2-hour, 3,600-statute-mile (5,800 km) flight alone in a purpose-built, single-engine Ryan monoplane, the Spirit of St. Louis. Though the first non-stop transatlantic flight had been completed eight years earlier, this was the first solo transatlantic flight, the first transatlantic flight between two major city hubs, and the longest transatlantic flight by almost 2,000 miles. Thus it is widely considered a turning point in world history for the development and advancement of aviation, ushering in a new era of transportation between parts of the globe.
Lindbergh was an officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps Reserve and received the United States’ highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, for his transatlantic flight. His achievement spurred significant global interest in both commercial aviation and air mail, which revolutionized the aviation industry worldwide, and he devoted much time and effort to promoting such activity.
In March 1932, Lindbergh’s infant son, Charles Jr., was kidnapped and murdered in what the American media called the “Crime of the Century.” The case prompted the United States Congress to establish kidnapping as a federal crime if a kidnapper crosses state lines with a victim. By late 1935, the hysteria surrounding the case had driven the Lindbergh family into exile in Europe, from where they returned in 1939.
In the years before the United States entered World War II, Lindbergh’s non-interventionist stance and statements about Jews led some to suspect that he was a Nazi sympathizer, although Lindbergh never publicly stated support for Nazi Germany. He opposed not only the intervention of the United States but also the provision of aid to the United Kingdom. He supported the antiwar America First Committee and resigned his commission in the U.S. Army Air Forces in April 1941 after President Franklin Roosevelt publicly rebuked him for his views. In September 1941, Lindbergh gave a significant address, titled “Speech on Neutrality”, outlining his views and arguments against greater American involvement in the war.
Lindbergh did ultimately express public support for the U.S. war effort after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent United States declaration of war upon Germany. He flew 50 missions in the Pacific Theater of World War II as a civilian consultant, but did not take up arms, as Roosevelt refused to reinstate his Air Corps colonel’s commission. In his later years, Lindbergh became a prolific author, international explorer, inventor, and environmentalist, eventually dying of lymphoma in 1974 at age 72.
The world’s first nonstop transatlantic flight (though at 1,890 mi, or 3,040 km, far shorter than Lindbergh’s 3,600 mi, or 5,800 km, flight) was made eight years earlier by British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown, in a modified Vickers Vimy IV bomber. They left St. John’s, Newfoundland, on June 14, 1919, and arrived in Ireland the following day.
Around the same time, French-born New York hotelier Raymond Orteig was approached by Augustus Post, secretary of the Aero Club of America, and prompted to put up a $25,000 award for the first successful nonstop transatlantic flight specifically between New York City and Paris (in either direction) within five years after its establishment. When that time limit lapsed in 1924 without a serious attempt, Orteig renewed the offer for another five years, this time attracting a number of well-known, highly experienced, and well-financed contenders—none of whom was successful. On September 21, 1926, World War I French flying ace René Fonck’s Sikorsky S-35 crashed on takeoff from Roosevelt Field in New York. U.S. Naval aviators Noel Davis and Stanton H. Wooster were killed at Langley Field, Virginia, on April 26, 1927, while testing their Keystone Pathfinder. On May 8 French war heroes Charles Nungesser and François Coli departed Paris – Le Bourget Airport in the Levasseur PL 8 seaplane L’Oiseau Blanc; they disappeared somewhere in the Atlantic after last being seen crossing the west coast of Ireland.
American air racer Clarence D. Chamberlin and Arctic explorer Richard E. Byrd were also in the race.
Financing the operation of the historic flight was a challenge due to Lindbergh’s obscurity, but two St. Louis businessmen eventually obtained a $15,000 bank loan. Lindbergh contributed $2,000 ($29,036.61 in 2020) of his own money from his salary as an Air Mail pilot and another $1,000 was donated by RAC. The total of $18,000 was far less than what was available to Lindbergh’s rivals.
The group tried to buy an “off-the-peg” single or multi engine monoplane from Wright Aeronautical, then Travel Air, and finally the newly formed Columbia Aircraft Corporation, but all insisted on selecting the pilot as a condition of sale. Finally the much smaller Ryan Aircraft Company of San Diego agreed to design and build a custom monoplane for $10,580, and on February 25 a deal was formally closed. Dubbed the Spirit of St. Louis, the fabric-covered, single-seat, single-engine “Ryan NYP” high-wing monoplane (CAB registration: N-X-211) was designed jointly by Lindbergh and Ryan’s chief engineer Donald A. Hall. The Spirit flew for the first time just two months later, and after a series of test flights Lindbergh took off from San Diego on May 10. He went first to St. Louis, then on to Roosevelt Field on New York’s Long Island.
In the early morning of Friday, May 20, 1927, Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field, Long Island. His monoplane was loaded with 450 U.S. gallons (1,704 liters) of fuel that was strained repeatedly to avoid fuel line blockage. The fully loaded aircraft weighed 5,135 lb (2,329 kg), with takeoff hampered by a muddy, rain-soaked runway. Lindbergh’s monoplane was powered by a J-5C Wright Whirlwind radial engine and gained speed very slowly during its 7:52 a.m. takeoff, but cleared telephone lines at the far end of the field “by about twenty feet [six meters] with a fair reserve of flying speed”.
Over the next 33+1⁄2 hours, Lindbergh and the Spirit faced many challenges, which included skimming over storm clouds at 10,000 ft (3,000 m) and wave tops at as low as 10 ft (3.0 m). The aircraft fought icing, flew blind through fog for several hours, and Lindbergh navigated only by dead reckoning (he was not proficient at navigating by the sun and stars and he rejected radio navigation gear as heavy and unreliable). He was fortunate that the winds over the Atlantic cancelled each other out, giving him zero wind drift—and thus accurate navigation during the long flight over the featureless ocean. He landed at Le Bourget Aerodrome at 10:22 p.m. on Saturday, May 21. The airfield was not marked on his map and Lindbergh knew only that it was some seven miles northeast of the city; he initially mistook it for some large industrial complex because of the bright lights spreading out in all directions—in fact the headlights of tens of thousands of spectators’ cars caught in “the largest traffic jam in Paris history” in their attempt to be present for Lindbergh’s landing.
A crowd estimated at 150,000 stormed the field, dragged Lindbergh out of the cockpit, and carried him around above their heads for “nearly half an hour”. Some damage was done to the Spirit (especially to the fine linen, silver-painted fabric covering on the fuselage) by souvenir hunters before pilot and plane reached the safety of a nearby hangar with the aid of French military fliers, soldiers, and police. Among the crowd were two future Indian prime ministers, Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter, Indira Gandhi.
Lindbergh’s flight was certified by the National Aeronautic Association based on the readings from a sealed barograph placed in the Spirit.
Lindbergh was honored as the first Time magazine “Man of the Year” when he appeared on that magazine’s cover at age 25 January 2, 1928; he remains the youngest Man of the Year ever. The winner of the 1930 Best Woman Aviator of the Year Award, Elinor Smith Sullivan, said that before Lindbergh’s flight:
“People seemed to think we [aviators] were from outer space or something. But after Charles Lindbergh’s flight, we could do no wrong. It’s hard to describe the impact Lindbergh had on people. Even the first walk on the moon doesn’t come close. The twenties was such an innocent time, and people were still so religious—I think they felt like this man was sent by God to do this. And it changed aviation forever because all of a sudden the Wall Streeters were banging on doors looking for airplanes to invest in. We’d been standing on our heads trying to get them to notice us but after Lindbergh, suddenly everyone wanted to fly, and there weren’t enough planes to carry them.” (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
When doing his final air test, Charles Lindbergh flew directly through a rainbow. When the results came back, he had passed with flying colors.
Second, a Song:
Marion Try Slaughter (April 6, 1883 – September 14, 1948), better known by his stage name Vernon Dalhart, was an American country music singer and songwriter. His recording of the classic ballad “Wreck of the Old 97” was the first country song to sell one million copies.
Dalhart was born in Jefferson, Texas on April 6, 1883. He took his stage name from two towns, Vernon and Dalhart in Texas, between which he punched cattle as a teenager in the 1890s. Dalhart’s father, Robert Marion Slaughter, was killed by his brother-in-law, Bob Castleberry, when Vernon was age 10. When Dalhart was 12 or 13, the family moved from Jefferson to Dallas, Texas.
He sang and played harmonica and jaw harp at local community events and attended the Dallas Conservatory of Music. He married Sadie Lee Moore-Livingston in 1901 and had two children, a son and a daughter. In 1910, he moved the family to New York City, where he worked in a piano warehouse and took occasional singing jobs.
Dalhart’s education was rooted in classical music. He wanted to be an opera singer, and in 1913 he got parts in Madame Butterfly and H.M.S. Pinafore. He saw an advertisement in the local newspaper for singers and applied. He was auditioned by Thomas Alva Edison and went on to record for Edison Records. From 1916 until 1923, he made over 400 recordings of light classical music and early dance band vocals for various record labels.
In the 1920s and 1930s, he sang on more than 5000 singles (78s) for many labels, employing more than 100 pseudonyms, such as Al Craver, Vernon Dale, Frank Evans, Hugh Lattimer, Sid Turner, George White (with original Memphis Five) and Bob White. On Grey Gull Records, he often used the name “Vel Veteran”, which was also used by other singers, including Arthur Fields. He was already an established singer when he made his first country music recordings.
Dalhart had a hit single with his 1924 recording of “The Wreck of the Old 97”, a classic American ballad about the derailment of Fast Mail train No. 97 near Danville, Virginia in 1903. Recorded for the Victor Talking Machine Company, the song alerted the national record companies to the existence of a sizable market for country-music vocals. It became the first Southern song to become a national success. With “The Prisoner’s Song” as the b-side, the single eventually sold as many as seven million copies, a huge number for recording in the 1920s. It was awarded a gold disc by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and was the biggest-selling, non-holiday record in the first 70 years of recorded music. Joel Whitburn, a statistician for Billboard magazine, determined that “The Prisoner’s Song” was No. 1 hit for twelve weeks in 1925–26.
One of the recordings most associated with Vernon Dalhart, especially in the United Kingdom is his 1925: “The Runaway Train” (Talking Machine Co., Camden, New Jersey, Victor 19685-A, Shellac). This was played on BBC Radio’s ‘Children’s Favourites’ between 1954-1982 and even now almost every compilation of children’s records in the UK includes this timeless favourite.
Wanting to repeat the success of the single, the Victor Company sent Ralph Peer to the southern mountains in 1927 to facilitate the Bristol Sessions. These sessions led to the discovery of singer Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, after which Peer’s royalty model would become the standard of the music industry.
Blue Amberol Records was the trademark name for cylinder records manufactured by Thomas A. Edison, Inc. in the US from 1912 to 1929. They replaced the 4-minute black wax Amberol cylinders introduced in 1908, which had replaced the 2-minute wax cylinders that had been the standard format since the late 1880s. Blue Amberols can play for as long as 4 minutes and 45 seconds and have a surface layer of the “indestructible” plastic celluloid, which Edison tinted a trademark blue color. Edison brand phonographs designed to play Amberol cylinders were named Amberolas.
By 1912, the shortcomings of the wax Amberol were obvious. Edison, who did not want to pay royalties to Thomas B. Lambert for his celluloid cylinder patent, eventually bought it and changed production over to a thin but tough blue-tinted celluloid reinforced with a plaster of Paris core. The introduction of these “Blue Amberols” helped to hike cylinder sales. The early Blue Amberol releases offered excellent audio quality for their era — better, in fact, than later issues, because from January 1915 onward Thomas A. Edison, Inc., which had been concentrating its efforts on improving the quality of Diamond Disc phonograph records, began to release cylinders which were acoustically dubbed from Diamond Discs. The dubbing technique used was non-electronic (the disc phonograph horn played into the cylinder recording horn) until December 1927, when electronic dubbing was introduced. This resulted in a somewhat hollow “dead” sound on the cylinders compared to the original discs. On many dubbed cylinders, when the cylinder’s own 160 rpm surface noise is low enough, 80 rpm disc surface noise can be heard starting up shortly before the music begins.
Beyond the main popular and sacred music series, which began with record number 1501 in 1912 and ended with record number 5719 in 1929, Edison offered a special line of prestigious Concert Blue Amberols of opera arias, light classical pieces, and other “cultured” music performed by “name” artists, later supplanted by the distinctively tinted Royal Purple Amberol cylinders. A set of special wax Amberols or Blue Amberols identified by the letters A through H, rather than the more usual numbers, were given away with 4-minute conversion kits sold for updating some earlier 2-minute phonographs. There were Blue Amberol instructional records to accompany the Edison School Phonograph, ICS language courses, Blue Amberols for Morse code training, Blue Amberols for the French and German markets, special 2-minute Blue Amberols for the rural Mexican market, and 6-inch-long (15 cm) dictation instruction cylinders for the Ediphone that were essentially long Blue Amberols and remained in production for many years after the demise of the cylinder format as an entertainment medium.
“Lindbergh (The Eagle of the U.S.A.)” was a popular song written by famous Tin Pan Alley songwriters, Howard Johnson and Al Sherman in 1927. It chronicles Charles Lindbergh’s famous pioneer solo-flight across the Atlantic Ocean in the Spirit of St. Louis. The song was an overnight hit being released immediately on the heels of Lindbergh’s safe landing (per Wikipedia).
Here is “Lindbergh – The Eagle of the U.S.A.” performed by Vernon Dalhart on an Edison Blue Amberol cylinder record 5362. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“To be absolutely alone for the first time in the cockpit of a plane hundreds of feet above the ground is an experience never to be forgotten.” – Charles Lindbergh
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky