This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

First, Second & First

Lindbergh-EarhartMay 20, 1927:  Aboard the “Spitit of St. Louis”…

monoplane, Charles Lindbergh takes off from Roosevelt Field in New York on his historic first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. He will arrive in France 33.5 hours later.

May 20, 1932:  Amelia Earhart Takes Off…

from Newfoundland   Five years to the day after Charles Lindbergh took off on his historic first solo flight across the Atlantic, Amelia Earhart takes off from Newfoundland. While her original destination was France, weather and mechanical problems force her to land in Ireland nearly 15 hours after she took off.  She become the first woman and second person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.


The first nonstop transatlantic flight was made by the British aviators Alcock and Brown in June of 1919 in a modified WWI bomber.  It was a truly groundbreaking flight for its day, on the cutting edge of what equipment and men were capable of. Per Wikipedia:

The flight nearly ended in disaster several times owing to engine trouble, fog, snow and ice. It was only saved by Brown’s continual climbing out on the wings to remove ice from the engine air intakes and by Alcock’s excellent piloting despite extremely poor visibility at times and even snow filling the open cockpit.

That’s crazy. He climbed out onto the wings during the flight to chip ice off of the air intakes while flying over the North Atlantic! Here is a picture of their plane on takeoff:


In 1919, hotel businessman Raymond Orteig offered a reward of $25,000 to anyone able to make a nonstop flight from New York to Paris—and in the intervening years, several unsuccessful attempts were made, some of them fatal.

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In 1926, Charles Lindbergh, an up-an-coming aviation talent, rose to the challenge.  The following year in a custom-built airplane dubbed The Spirit of St. Louis, he took off from Curtiss Field on Long Island, New York and, combating less-than-stellar weather conditions and sleep deprivation, Lindbergh traveled 3,610 miles in 33.5 hours, landing at Le Bourget Field in Paris, France.  This famous flight indicated to people that air travel was a safe and reliable means of transportation.  Interest in aviation skyrocketed. He became an international celebrity and remained a prominent figure in American popular culture throughout the late 1920s and early 1930s.

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Lindbergh’s solo flight was a far longer route of 3,600 miles compared to Alcock and Brown’s flight of 1,890 miles.

The now famous Spirit of St Louis was custom built for its purpose. As is typical with truly ground breaking feats, the machine he used sacrificed ordinary features in order to allow the pilot to achieve the extraordinary. Per Wikipedia:

The large main fuel tank was placed in the forward section of the fuselage, in front of the pilot, which improved the center of gravity. While locating fuel tanks at the front reduced the risk of the pilot’s being crushed to death in the event of a crash, this design decision also meant that there could be no front windshield, and that forward visibility would be limited to side windows only. A periscope was installed to provide a forward view, as a precaution against hitting ship masts, trees, or structures while flying at low altitude; however, it is unclear whether the periscope was used during the flight. Lindbergh also used special navigation instruments such as the Earth Inductor Compass as its main instrument, allowing Lindbergh to navigate while taking account of the magnetic declination of the earth. Lindbergh sat in a cramped cockpit which was 94 cm wide, 81 cm long and 130 cm high (36 in × 32 in × 51 in). The cockpit was so small, Lindbergh could not stretch his legs.

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Landing in Paris

Landing in Croydon, England

Surrounded by Fans in Paris

Surrounded by Fans in Paris



Amelia Earhart made her first Atlantic crossing in 1928; however, she wasn’t in the pilot’s seat. Nevertheless, she was the first female to make the journey by air and the distinction brought her great acclaim—even if Earhart felt it was undeserved. “Stultz did all the flying — had to. I was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes,” she said of her trip. “Maybe someday I’ll try it alone.”


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And she did. On May 20, 1932 she climbed into her bright red Lockheed Vega and made the trip, traveling 2,447 miles from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland to Culmore, Londonderry, Ireland, making her the first woman and the second person in the world to make the journey by air.


Earhart flight Per Wikipedia:

At the age of 34, on the morning of May 20, 1932, Earhart set off from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland with the latest copy of a local newspaper (the dated copy was intended to confirm the date of the flight). She intended to fly to Paris in her single engine Lockheed Vega 5b to emulate Charles Lindbergh‘s solo flight.  Her technical advisor for the flight was famed Norwegian American aviator Bernt Balchen who helped prepare her aircraft. He also played the role of “decoy” for the press as he was ostensibly preparing Earhart’s Vega for his own Arctic flight.  After a flight lasting 14 hours, 56 minutes during which she contended with strong northerly winds, icy conditions and mechanical problems, Earhart landed in a pasture at Culmore, north of Derry, Northern Ireland. The landing was witnessed by Cecil King and T. Sawyer.  When a farm hand asked, “Have you flown far?” Earhart replied, “From America.” The site now is the home of a small museum, the Amelia Earhart Centre.

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And thus, a mere 5 years after Lindbergh’s ground breaking flight from Long Island to Paris, Earhart followed in his footsteps by completing her flight from Harbor Grace to Culmore, Londonderry.


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2 thoughts on “First, Second & First

  1. Nemo Sum on said:

    The photo that’s labeled as Lindbergh landing in Paris is actually Lindbergh landing in Croydon, England. Lindbergh landed in Paris at 10:22 PM, in the dark.

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