May 20

This Day in History

General Interest

May 20, 1927:

Spirit of St. Louis departs

At 7:52 a.m., American aviator Charles A. Lindbergh takes off from Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York, on the world's first solo, nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean and the first ever nonstop flight between New York to Paris.

Lindbergh, a daring young airmail pilot, was a dark horse when he entered a competition with a $25,000 payoff to fly nonstop from New York to Paris. He ordered a small monoplane, configured it to his own design, and christened it the Spirit of St. Louis in tribute to his sponsor--the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce.

On May 20, 1927, a rainy morning, he took off from Roosevelt Field, but his monoplane was so loaded down with fuel that it barely cleared the telephone wires at the end of the runway. He flew northeast up the East Coast and as night fell left Newfoundland and headed across the North Atlantic. His greatest challenge was staying awake; he had to hold his eyelids open with his fingers and hallucinated ghosts passing through the cockpit. The next afternoon, after flying 3,610 miles in 33 1/2 hours, Lindbergh landed at Le Bourget field in Paris, becoming the first pilot to accomplish the solo, nonstop transatlantic crossing. Lindbergh's achievement made him an international celebrity and won widespread public acceptance of the airplane and commercial aviation.

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