83 years ago today, the Lone Eagle landed in Paris. He was greeted by over 100,000 people and instantly became a household name to millions. It was obviously risky. Six well-known aviators had recently lost their lives in pursuit of the $25,000 Orteig Prize for crossing the Atlantic. No one had ever done it and it was as fantastic as the first landing on the moon.
How risky? There were plenty of unknowns and potential hazards but Charles Lindberg willingly departed with the cards stacked against him. He took off from a rain-soaked field with a tailwind. He was using a cruise prop and had the carb heat hot wired to the on position. The plane was loaded with 451 gallons of gas rendering the Sprit of St. Louis 1,000 pounds heavier than it had ever been. The engine was running 40 rpm short of max power. Lastly he went to bed at 1:40 a.m and, unable to sleep, headed to Curtiss Field at 2:30 a.m. to prepare for take-off, knowing that he had another 33 hours of flying ahead of him. Two full days without sleep at the worst possible time. Heavily laden with fuel, the plane bounced down the muddy field, gradually became airborne and barely cleared the telephone wires at the field’s edge. It was almost a very short trip. (Excellent footage of the whole story right here, compliments of Win Perkins).
He should have postponed the trip for numerous reasons but the pressure to leave was huge. Anybody else in our viewing audience guilty of taking off when conditions exceeded personal minimums? (Your humble scribe now sheepishly raising hand). There aren’t many reasons to undertake unacceptable risk. Combat flying is one, medical evacuation is another but that’s about it. This flight was strictly for fame and fortune.
The consequences can be disastrous. This video shows an L-39 entering a loop in poor visibility. It was too much for the pilot who spun the Albatross into a fireball. He wasn’t capable of maintaining control in the clouds and this was beyond his personal “minimums”. Contrary to the news report he was never an Israeli fighter pilot (another one of those stolen valor situations). But it was an air show and the show must go on. Family, friends and an audience were there to see him fly and so he did… for a short while.
The plane and the pilot both have limitations and we exceed them at our own risk. Not everyone is as lucky as Lindy.