Lone Legacy: Eighty-Five Years Ago This Month, Charles Lindbergh Conquered More Than the Atlantic

Article excerpt

When Charles Lindbergh arrived at Paris' Le Bourget Airfield on the night of May 21, 1927, completing the first solo nonstop transatlantic flight in history, French police and two companies of soldiers with fixed bayonets could not restrain the 150,000 Frenchmen who had gathered to greet him. The 25-year-old pilot hoped to taxi the plane into a hangar, but stopped his propeller for fear it might harm those in the onrushing crowd, who hoisted him onto their ocean of shoulders.

The world would not be the same.

An American Boyhood

Lindbergh's father, Charles, Sr., was an attorney, and a U.S. Congressman from 1907 to 1917. He was generally regarded as the fiercest congressional opponent of both the Federal Reserve Act and U.S. entry into World War I. Well ahead of his time, he foresaw the destruction that Fed-inflated dollars and foreign interventionism meant for our Republic.

Although young Charles (born 1902) occasionally stayed with his father in Washington, most of his boyhood was spent on the family farm in Little Falls, Minnesota. The house was literally on the Mississippi's banks; Charles would awake each morning to the river's roar. He was given his first rifle at age six and became a crack shot, eventually able to shoot a duck in the head in full flight. Much of his boyhood was spent hunting, rafting, and exploring the outdoors. He loved sleeping outside, even in subfreezing temperatures.

Charles also had a penchant for things mechanical. By age 11 he had mastered driving the family's Model T, "Maria"; at 12 drove his father on his campaign trail; and at 14 drove his mother to California.

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In 1920, Lindbergh enrolled as a University of Wisconsin engineering major. He joined the university rifle team, which ranked number one nationally in his freshman year, with Lindbergh recognized as its top marksman. However, Charles found academics boring, earned mostly poor grades, and dropped out in 1922.

Emerging Pilot

By now Lindbergh dreamt of becoming an airplane pilot. He spent much of his savings on flying lessons at the Nebraska Air-craft Company, where he also learned to care for engines, but the firm soon folded. However, while there he met a barnstorming pilot, Erold Bahl. Barnstorming was then a popular new form of crowd entertainment. Bahl told Lindbergh he needed no help, but Charles made an offer he couldn't refuse--he'd help for nothing. Lindbergh proved so valuable that Bahl began paying him, then allowed him to perform stunts--"walking the wings" while waving to crowds below.

Joining other barnstormers, Lindbergh advanced to parachute stunts. On his first jump ever, he did a "double jump": Wearing two chutes, he cut the first; the crowd gasped as he plummeted toward "doom"--until he opened the second chute.

In 1923, with $500 he bought his first plane, a rickety old model called a "Jenny" He kept it running with a combination of engine and elbow grease, and toured several states, earning a living off $5 rides he offered the public.

At a St. Louis air show, Lindbergh was advised to join the Army Air Service (forerunner of the Air Force), where he could learn much more about flying. Charles took the advice. He entered the Air Service as a cadet in 1924. Taking studies far more seriously than in college, he graduated first in his class. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant, but with America in the midst of a lengthy peacetime, he exercised the option of becoming an officer in the reserves.

Airmail was in its infancy, and at 23, Lindbergh was selected as chief pilot for the first Chicago-to-St. Louis mail route. Meteorology was not advanced then either, and unanticipated storms, particularly during winter, often made airmail delivery dangerous. Pilots called airmail planes "flying coffins."

One night, not knowing that a mechanic had replaced his fuel tank with a smaller one, Lindbergh encountered a huge zone of dense fog. …