The Flight of the Century: Charles Lindbergh & the Rise of American Aviation

The Flight of the Century: Charles Lindbergh & the Rise of American Aviation

The Flight of the Century: Charles Lindbergh & the Rise of American Aviation

The Flight of the Century: Charles Lindbergh & the Rise of American Aviation


In late May 1927 an inexperienced and unassuming 25-year-old Air Mail pilot from rural Minnesota stunned the world by making the first non-stop transatlantic flight. A spectacular feat of individual daring and collective technological accomplishment, Charles Lindbergh's flight from New York to Paris ushered in America's age of commercial aviation.
In The Flight of the Century, Thomas Kessner takes a fresh look at one of America's greatest moments, explaining how what was essentially a publicity stunt became a turning point in history. He vividly recreates the flight itself and the euphoric reaction to it on both sides of the Atlantic, and argues that Lindbergh's amazing feat occurred just when the world--still struggling with the disillusionment of WWI--desperately needed a hero to restore a sense of optimism and innocence. Kessner also shows how new forms of mass media made Lindbergh into the most famous international celebrity of his time, casting him in the role of a humble yet dashing American hero of rural origins and traditional values. Much has been made of Lindbergh's personal integrity and his refusal to cash in on his fame. But Kessner reveals that Lindbergh was closely allied with, and managed by, a group of powerful businessmen--Harry Guggenheim, Dwight Morrow, and Henry Breckenridge chief among them--who sought to exploit aviation for mass transport and massive profits. Their efforts paid off as commercial air traffic soared from 6,000 passengers in 1926 to 173,000 passengers in 1929. Kessner's book is the first to fully explore Lindbergh's central role in promoting the airline industry--the rise of which has influenced everything from where we live to how we wage war and do business.
The Flight of the Centurysheds new light on one of America's fascinatingly enigmatic heroes and most transformative moments.

Praise for Capital City:

"In Capital City, Kessner has achieved for his subject what James McPherson accomplished for the Civil War."
--Wall Street Journal

"Graceful and lucid."
-- Mike Wallace, co-author of the Pulitzer Prize-winner Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898


Ona rainy Friday morning, May 20, 1927, Charles A. Lindbergh, a twentyfive-year-old air mail pilot from Minnesota, with limited flying experience, fired up his small single-engine monoplane and took off for Paris from New York’s Roosevelt Field on Long Island. Constructed in a mere sixty days by a little-known San Diego aircraft company, the Spirit of St. Louis was so simple in design that some referred to it as flying fuel tank. Stripped of every extra ounce, the plane carried five sandwiches, a couple of canteens of water and its six-foot-two pilot scrunched into the tiny cockpit. With his forward vision entirely blocked by a huge fuel tank, Lindbergh relied on a bank of primitive instruments and a set of home made navigation plans to take him on a journey no one had ever completed before. Half a dozen men—in the most advanced multiple-engine planes, equipped with state-of-the-art guidance and communications systems—had previously attempted this flight and perished.

He had no radio and flew alone across a thirty-six-hundred-mile course, in his modest silver vehicle of wood, cloth, and metal. Much of the flight was over uncharted ocean. Battered by sleet storms and hazards he had not even imagined, he tested the limits of human endurance, staying awake for close to sixty hours straight, the last thirty-three hours alone with his machine in the air. The sheer terror, of knowing that any let-up meant certain death kept him awake, but only barely. During the twenty-second hour of his flight, he found himself surrounded in the cabin by shapeshifting phantoms that resembled humans but had no substance. These strangely familiar forms revealed to him secrets of the heavens but none remained with him after the flight. As suddenly as they came aboard his cockpit they left, leaving him to complete his historic journey alone.

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