The Spirit of St. Louis

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Poised on the threshold of any bold endeavor, one invariably faces the moment when his abilities, skills, and beliefs become directly pitted against the event.  Despite all prior preparation and conviction, doubts invariably filter through, shackling confidence and reason, and they must be counteracted with a retracing of the steps which had led to the present decision.  During the apprehensive, restless night prior to his solo transatlantic crossing, Charles Lindbergh experienced just such a phenomenon. 

Rehearsing his past to rebuild temporarily lost confidence, he reasoned his way through the events which had prepared him for his undertaking.  Having braved a blinding, stinging snowstorm enroute to Chicago during his mail-carrying days in an open-cockpit biplane and suffering engine loss, he had parachuted to an icy field as the aircraft patterned into a spin and crashed.  Ultimately covering the remaining distance by train, he determined that a transatlantic crossing would dispel such a reputation of unreliability and demonstrate commercial aviation’s full potential.  With its technological infancy now having been outgrown, it had entered its adolescent, maturity-seeking phase—if the world could only be made aware of this fact. 

Although Lindbergh’s investors saw his solo pilotage in a single-propeller design devoid of navigator and sextant as dangerous and dependent upon 40 hours of vigilance and control, his ultimate intent was to sublimate the inherent weight reduction to increased range. 

Ryan Airlines, Inc., of San Diego, produced the specified design with a 4,000-mile range during a 63-day period, utilizing round-the-clock manufacturing schedules in order to beat Europe-emanating competition.  The fact that the aircraft was a streamlined, high-wing monoplane indicated that Lindbergh’s ideals were already being realized.  The actual flight would certainly seal the fate of this fact. 

Following its almost symbolic roll-out into the fog-shrouded dawn prior to departure on May 20, 1927, the silver Ryan monoplane was plunged into the darkness, doubt, and obscurity of consensus belief concerning the attempt, yet the tiny orange glow piercing the sky on the horizon somehow reflected promise and hope—a target for which to aim.  From the present standpoint, however, France was just as infinitesimal in size. 

The precarious, mud- and water-impeding take off, which barely cleared the tree line at the perimeter of Long Island’s Roosevelt Field, led to a course paved with lack of visibility, black of night, icing conditions, insecurity, sleep deprivation, self-doubt, and much soul-searching. 

But Lindbergh ultimately triumphed—with God and perhaps his former student priest pilot’s prayer carrying him the last hundred yards to the ground.  Charles Lindbergh, through his 3,610-mile struggle, in the process parented commercial aviation into maturity.

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