At 10:22 pm on May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh landed at Le Bourget airfield in Paris and entered the history books as the first man to make a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. He had taken off from Roosevelt Field near New York City 33 1/2 hours earlier. Flying northeast along the coast, he flew over Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and from there on, he relied only on his magnetic compass, his airspeed indicator, and luck to navigate toward Ireland. The flight captured the imagination of the American public like few events in history; citizens waited nervously by their radios, listening for news of the flight.
When Lindbergh was seen crossing the Irish coast, the world cheered and eagerly anticipated his arrival in Paris. A frenzied crowd of more than 150,000 people gathered to greet him. But the 3,610-mile flight tired and confused the aviator so much that when Lindbergh reached Paris, he circled the Eiffel Tower in order to get his bearings. Meanwhile, the police lines broke down in the airfield as 20,000 French people surged forward.
However, he had arrived late at night and the press was unable to photograph him in the darkness. The photo above, frequented noted in the textbooks as the moment the great aviator landed, was actually taken a week later, on May 29th at London’s Croydon Aerodrome. The photo was taken aerially from one of the planes used to escort Lindbergh. Here, too, the plane was mobbed, and literally crushed — its stabilizer was damaged — by the spectators. Lindbergh later quipped that the enthusiastic reception was the most dangerous part of the flight.
His photogenic look, boyish pluck, and modesty made him an instant hero. He was shown in some of the earliest talking newsreels. For years, the press hounded him relentlessly. The first media superstar, he was to pay dearly for his fame and wealth.
Lindbergh’s plane, The Spirit of St. Louis was named for the St. Louis businessman who financed its purchase for about $10,000. The name on the nose of the plane is hard to see in above photo, but its license number, N-X 211 is legible. The letter N was the international designation for the United States; the X meant the plane — a Ryan monoplane — was experimental. On May 31st, Lindbergh flew to Gosport on the Channel where the plan was dismantled by the Royal Air Force, crated, and loaded onto the U.S.S. Memphis, with which Lindbergh himself went home. It was reassembled at Bolling Field in Washington, D.C. and now in the National Air and Space Museum there.