My Reflections of Charles A. Lindbergh

(General Aviation in light planes didn’t change much in 30 yrs prior to WWII)

Lindbergh was born in 1902 on a farm in Minnesota – I was born 20 yrs later (i.e.: 1922) on a farm in Kansas. Both of us had two years of college when we started flying. He was a little weak in hard core engineering subjects and so was I. He soloed in 1923 in a By-Plane and I solo’d in 1943 in a By-Plane. His plane had a tail-skid…Mine had a tail wheel.

During instrument flight (…in Lindbergh’s day it was called Blind Flying) we both used the Needle, Ball, Airspeed Method. In my case, we also had the Vertical speed indicator…he did not. In both cases the Magnetic Compass was our main navigational instrument, however, in Navy advanced trainers we had a Directional Gyro. The Attitude Instrument (i.e: Artificial Horizon) had not yet been installed and was considered inaccurate.

I  too, got to land light planes – Stearman, Cubs, Porterfield and Tims in grass fields and in my Cessna-140, due to a hot engine, even on a farmer’s New Mexico gravel driveway in 1969. All of Lindbergh’s flying, except the “Spirit of Saint Louis” was in open cock-pits. My open cock-pit flying was limited to the Tim and the Stearman. All other lite plane flying, in my case, was in the enclosed cock-pit (i.e.: Cessnas, Piper Cubs and my 1941 Porterfield).

In 1927 Lindbergh flew across the United States and years later, so did I. His plane was 100 hp and my Cessna 140 was 85 hp. He had no radio, but I did. He was a good acrobatic pilot…I was just mediocre. He used old limited research charts and I got to use accurate aviation sectionals. His crossing of the U.S. was the central portion in 1927 – my crossing…2 times – more southern until Texas then to the central-San Diego, CA to Washington, D.C. in 1969 and back in 1971.

A Lindbergh quote in 1923…”No matter how much training you’ve had, your first solo is far different from all other flights. You are hopelessly beyond help, entirely responsible, and terribly alone in space. If you get lost from your field, the penalty is more severe than words of reprimand or laughter.” In 1943, I felt the same way. My first carrier landing aboard the USS Woverine, on Lake Michigan, in 1945, was also an incredible experience.

Lindbergh was not only an outstanding pilot, but also a wing waler, a parachutist and a part time mechanic. In my case, only the pilot part (Ha!)…a little mechanic ability and that was it.

In 1924, at age 22, he landed his privately owned Jenny on his father’s old closed up farm in Minnesota. In 1928 – at the age of 6 yrs – I took my first air plane ride from a hay meadow on my Grandfather’s farm in Kansas. It was on open cock-pit airplane, but I don’t remember what kind…?…Maybe…a Jenny?

Lindbergh’s experience as a U.S. Mail Plane Pilot was a day/night in all kinds of weather pilot…and…in open cock-pit planes…no radios…just a compass and charts…flying from St. Louis to Chicago and back…He once took his mom on one of these flights and she rode up front on the mail sacks. His years as a barnstormer/flying circus pilot and Army Cadet (he made Captain in the Army Air Corps Reserve) is well worth reading. However, his preparation; problems for and during the flight – non-stop across the Atlantic in May of 1927 – is a must for every pilot…although…unappreciative at the time – at age 5 – I, none the less, remember many adults talking of  his historical achievement.

After 34 hours of flying in fog, rain and rough air with no food (he had sandwiches with him but never got hungry) and mostly over water facing the unknown…flying anywhere from 20 ft to 5,000 ft and with no sleep (he fought it all the way)…he finally arrived over the southern tip of Ireland at 100 ft in favorable weather and viewed people waving.

A Quote: “Here’s a Human Welcome, I’ve never seen such beauty before…fields of green, people so alive, a village so attractive. One appreciates only after absence. For 25 yrs I’ve lived on earth, and yet not seen it until this moment. For nearly 2,000 hrs, I’ve flown over it without realizing what wonders lay below – Snow White Foam on Black Rock Shores…the Hospitality of Little Houses…the Welcoming of Waving Arms. During my entire life I’ve accepted these gifts of God to man and not known what was mine until this moment. It’s like rain after drought; Spring after a Northern Winter. I’ve been to eternity and back. I know how the dead would feel to live again.”

From Ireland to Paris…across England and the English Channel…now just 4 hrs away – the Arrival – 2 hrs ahead of schedule, was on May 21st at 2152 hrs. Le Bourget Field was not on the map, but he was told, before leaving St. Louis, it was NE of the city.

Over the Eiffel Tower, he flew NE and found a dark spot with hundreds of lights on the sides. He circled several times using every ounce of information available, plus instinct, and finally landed safely.

Note: He could not see forward on take off…during flight or landing…because of the big gas tank in the front – his view was head-out-the-side-window looking forward (I did the same thing when instructing in the tail-wheeled SNJ 1946 and Citabra 1986). Souvenir hunters took a few plane and engine parts before it could be hangared and stored under guard. Two french aviators took Lindbergh away quickly before the crowd could smother him with affection.

In 1944, the U.S. Marine Corps Headquarters gave permission to a Marine Corsair fighter Squadron C.O. to allow Lindbergh (age 42) to check out and fly a combat mission in the F4U Corsair. The C.O. said that Lindbergh “Took to it right away” and flew as well, if not better, than some of their most seasoned pilots. As I recall, this was from Bouganville, the largest island in the Solomons.  Just 10 yrs later (1954), when I was 32, I too, got to fly the Corsair… i.e.: we called it the Hose Nose and/or The Bent Wing!

Lindbergh was never addressed as Charles or Charley…merely Captain or Slim by associates. However, to the Media and Public, he was called The Flying FoolLucky Lindy or Daredevil.

“What a guy he was…unfortunately for me, I never met him”. He is buried at Maui, a 728 sq mile island, in Hawaii.

Note: Aircraft design was primitive when the RYAN Company OF SAN DIEGO, CA  built the” Spirit of St Louis” in just two months; Research on Max Gross, CG LIMITS ETC WAS EXPERIMENTAL..and had not been  a part of aircraft design in those days…. Lindbergh did all the flight testing himself, with  various loads at Camp Kearney in San Diego  before his flight non-stop  to St. Louis – Then later with a heavy load he flew from  St .Louis to Curtiss Field ,Long Island for final preparations.. Aircraft was  then  towed (due to weather) to Roosevelt field- topped off with 400 gallons of fuel and waited for   favorable weather-which did not come—On take off at Roosevelt field in Long Island-(GROSSED OUT AT 5,000 LBS -HALF THIS WT WAS FUEL) wheels were sunk into the damp turf about 1 inch- he had a light quartering tail wind and visibility was about ¾ of a mile(Haze/fog  and a dark morning.). He walked the distance first, then made his decision to take off, clearing the wires at the runway’s end by about 20 ft.

He hadn’t slept 24 hrs before the flight and adding that to his 38 hrs .  we come up with 62 hrs with no sleep.., He had no personal baggage, no parachute . not even wing and tail lights on the plane.(No one else flying  this route anyway)   Weight reduction was the name of the game., critical for take-off and flight until some fuel was used up..There were no” how-goes-it charts “and so everything was a LINDBERGH estimate.

One big reason he beat others who were competing for this $25,000 prize, was that others were getting inputs from financial backers who had little knowledge of aviation telling the pilots what they should do or should not do.   His financial backers let every detail of the flight up to him, proving that – too many oars in the water is detrimental to success. Incidentally, we still have that problem (i.e.: People who are not pilots making rules for the FAA).

Thanks – Captain Floyd H. Brown, USN (Ret)

I just passed my 87th birthday and have been blessed beyond belief!” – 2/2010

                                                           Born, Redfield, KS, 1922 – U.S. Navy 1941

XO of  VS-24, May ’64 – Feb.’65, C.O. Feb ’65 to April ’66.

Became CAG-60 and then XO of  USS Lexington CVS-16.

Served in Tonkin Gulf  as OPS to ASW Group 3 aboard USS Bennington then to the Pentagon as Air Advisory to VADM Caldwell in Op-95.

Retired in 1970 and moved to Pensacola in 1972.

10,000 hours of flight experience landing on 17 different carriers including the Royal Navy.

Qualified as a Naval Aviator on the USS Wolverine, a Great Lakes Cruise Ship converted into a training carrier for the US Navy on Lake Michigan in 1942.

While aboard the USS Intrepid, entertained the GT-3 Astronauts, Gus Grissom and John Young with an original “Unsinkable Molly Brown” song and piloted John Young back to Cape Canaveral in a squadron ‘Stoof’.

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  1. Great website. thank you for the info. cheers!


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