On the rainy morning of May 20, 1927, twenty-five-year-old Charles Lindbergh snapped on his helmet and climbed into a tiny one-seat plane at Roosevelt Field in Long Island, New York. Minutes later the aircraft was heading down the unpaved runway. Lindbergh was about to try what no one else had been able to do: fly nonstop from New York to Paris.
He had named his plane Spirit of St. Louis because several St. Louis businessmen had helped pay for it. To cut down on weight, he was going without a radio or parachute. Yet the plane was so loaded with fuel it barely cleared the telephone wires at the end of the runway as it headed toward the shifting airs of the northern Atlantic.
For the next 33½ hours, the young pilot bounced through rain squalls and crossed frozen deserts of ice. In the blackness of night, he flew into a cloud that threatened to encrust his wings with ice and drag him into the sea.
As the hours mounted, he battled fatigue. To stay awake, he held his eyelids open with his fingers. The sun finally rose. A few hours later, Lindbergh saw specks on the water – fishing boats. He had reached the coast of Ireland.
On he flew, over England. Another night fell as he crossed the English Channel to France. “I almost hated to see the lights of Paris,” he said, “because the night was clear and I still had gas in my tanks.”
Lindbergh’s courage and determination thrilled people the world over. Today his Spirit of St. Louis hangs in the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. It is still hard to believe he managed to cross the Atlantic alone in such a fragile craft. It may have been the most daring flight ever.