After flying solo across the Atlantic Ocean, Charles Lindbergh wrote this exclusive account for his hometown newspaper. Written 90 years ago, the essay is being republished as part of the Star Tribune's 150th anniversary celebration.
PARIS, May 22, 1927 — Well, here I am in the hands of American Ambassador Herrick. From what I have seen of it, I am sure I am going to like Paris.
It isn't part of my plans to fly my plane back to the United States, although that doesn't mean I have finished my flying career. If I thought that was going to be the result of my flight across the Atlantic, you may be sure I would never have undertaken it. Indeed, I hope that I will be able to do some flying over here in Europe—that is, if the souvenir hunters left enough of my plane last night.
Was dangerous peception
Incidentally, that reception I got was the most dangerous part of the whole flight. If wind and storm had handled me as vigorously as that Reception Committee of Fifty Thousand I would never have reached Paris and wouldn't be eating a 3‐o'clock‐in‐the‐afternoon breakfast here in Uncle Sam's Embassy.
There's one thing I wish to get straight about this flight. They call me “Lucky,” but luck isn't enough. As a matter of fact, I had what I regarded and still regard as the best existing plane to make the flight from New York to Paris. I had what I regard as the best engine, and I was equipped with what were in the circumstances the best possible instruments for making such efforts. I hope I made good use of what I had.
Once was tempted to turn back
That I landed with considerable gasoline left means that I had recalled the fact that so many flights had failed because of lack of fuel, and that was one mistake I tried to avoid.
All in all, I couldn't complain of the weather. It wasn't what was predicted. It was worse in some places and better in others. In fact, it was so bad once that for a moment there came over me the temptation to turn back. But then I figured it was probably just as bad behind me as in front of me, so I kept on toward Paris.
As you know, we (that's my ship and I) took off rather suddenly. We had a report somewhere around 4 o'clock in the afternoon before that the weather would be fine, so we thought we would try it.
Struck fog and rain
We had been told we might expect good weather mostly during the whole of the way. But we struck fog and rain over the coast not far from the start. Actually, it was comparatively easy to get to Newfoundland, but real bad weather began just about dark, after leaving Newfoundland, and continued until about four hours after daybreak. We hadn't expected that at all, and it sort of took us by surprise, morally and physically. That was when I began to think about turning back.
Then sleet began, and, as all aviators know, in a sleet storm one may be forced down in a very few minutes. It got worse and worse. There, above and below me, and on both sides, was that driving storm. I made several detours trying to get out of it, but in vain. I flew as low as ten feet above the water and then mounted up to ten thousand feet. Along toward morning the storm eased off, and I came down to a comparatively low level.
Saw ship in mist
I had seen one ship just before losing sight of Newfoundland, and I saw the glow of several others afterward through the mist and storm. During the day I saw no ships until near Ireland. I had, as I said, no trouble before I hit the storm I referred to. We had taken off at 7:55 in the morning. The field was slightly damp and soft, so the take‐off was longer than it would have been otherwise.
I had no trouble getting over the houses and trees. I kept out of the way of every obstacle and was careful not to take any unnecessary chances. As soon as I cleared everything, the motor was throttled down to three‐fourths and kept there during the whole flight, except when I tried to climb over the storm.
Motor acting perfectly
Soon after starting I was out of sight of land for 300 miles, from Cape Cod over the sea to Nova Scotia. The motor was acting perfectly and was carrying well the huge load of 451 gallons of gasoline and 20 gallons of oil, which gave my ship the greatest cruising radius of any plane of its type.
I passed over St. John's, N.F., purposely going out of my way a few miles to check up. I went right through the narrow pass, going down so low that it could be definitely established where I was at that hour. That was the last place I saw before taking to the open sea.
I had made preparations before I started for a forced landing if it became necessary, but after I started I never thought much about the possibility of such a landing. I was ready for it, but I saw no use thinking about it, inasmuch as one place would have been about as good or as bad as another.
No trouble with periscope
Despite the talk about my periscope, I had no trouble in regard to visibility. The view I had on both sides was quite good enough for navigating the ocean, and the purpose of the periscope was only to enable me to see any obstacle directly in front of me. The periscope was useful in starting from New York and landing in Paris. Other than that I used it very little. I kept a map in front of me and an instrument showing practically where I was all of the time.
Shortly after leaving Newfoundland I began to see icebergs. There was a low fog and even through it I could make out bergs clearly. It began to get very cold, but I was well prepared for cold. I had on ordinary flying clothing, but I was down in the cockpit, which protected me, and I never suffered from the weather.
Within an hour after leaving the coast it became dark. Then I struck clouds and decided to try to get over them. For a while I succeeded, at a height of 10,000 feet. I flew at this height until early morning. The engine was working beautifully and I was not sleepy at all. I felt just as if I was driving a motorcar over a smooth road, only it was easier.
Sleet clings to plane
Then it began to get light and the clouds got higher. I went under some and over others. There was sleet in all of those clouds and the sleet began to cling to the plane. That worried me a great deal and I debated whether I should keep on or go back. I decided I must not think any more about going back. I realized that it was henceforth only a question of getting there. It was too far to turn back.
The engine was working perfectly and that cheered me. I was going along a hundred miles an hour and I knew that if the motor kept on turning I would get there. After that I thought only about navigating, and then I thought that I wasn't so badly off after all.
Dangerous at night
It was true that the flight was thirty-four hours long, and that at almost any moment in it a forced landing might be what you might call “rather interesting,” but I remembered that the flying boys I knew back home spent some hours almost every week in bad flying when a forced landing would have been just as bad for them as a forced landing would have been for me. Those boys don't get credit for it, that's all, and without doubt in a few years many people will be taking just as many chances as I took.
The only real danger I had was at night. In the daytime I knew where I was going, but in the evening and at night it was largely a matter of guesswork. However, my instruments were so good that I never could get more than 200 miles off my course, and that was easy to correct, and I had enough extra gasoline to take care of a number of such deviations. All in all, the trip over the Atlantic, especially the latter half, was much better than I expected.
Laymen have made a great deal of the fact that I sailed without a navigator and without the ordinary stock of navigation instruments, but my real director was my earth inductor compass. I also had a magnetic compass, but it was the inductor compass which guided me so faithfully that I hit the Irish coast only three miles from the theoretic point that I might have hit if I had had a navigator. I replaced a navigator's weight by the inductor compass. This compass behaved so admirably that I am ashamed to hear any one talk about my luck. Maybe I am lucky, but all the same I knew at every moment where I was going.
The inductor compass is based on the principle of the relation between the earth's magnetic field and the magnetic field generated in the airplane. When the course has been set so that the needle registered zero on this compass, any deviation, from any cause, would cause the needle to swing away from zero in the direction of the error. By flying the plane with the needle at an equal distance on the other side of zero and for about the same time the error had been committed, the plane would be back on her course again. This inductor compass was so accurate that I really needed no other guide.
Fairly early in the afternoon I saw a fleet of fishing boats. On some of them I could see no one, but on one of them I saw some men and flew down, almost touching the craft and yelled at them, asking if I was on the right road to Ireland. They just stared. Maybe they didn't hear me. Or maybe they thought I was just a crazy fool.
An hour later I saw land. I have forgotten just what time it was. It must have been shortly before 4 o'clock. It was rocky land and all my study told me it was Ireland. And it was Ireland!
I slowed down and flew low enough to study the land and be sure of where I was and, believe me, it was a beautiful sight. It was the most wonderful looking piece of natural scenery I have ever beheld.
After I had made up my mind that it was Ireland, the right place for me to strike rather than Spain or some other country, the rest was child's play. I had my course all marked out carefully from approximately the place where I hit the coast, and you know it is quite easy to fly over strange territory if you have good maps and your course prepared.
Flew over England
I flew quite low enough over Ireland to be seen, but apparently no great attention was paid to me. I also flew low over England, mounted a little over the Channel and then came down close to land when I passed a little west of Cherbourg. From Cherbourg I headed for the Seine and followed it upstream.
I noticed it gets dark much later over here than in New York and I was thankful for that. What especially pleased me was the ease with which I followed my course after hitting the coast of Ireland. When I was about half an hour away from Paris I began to see rockets and Very lights sent up from the air field, and I knew I was all right.
Sees Eiffel Tower
I saw an immense vertical electric sign, which I made out to be the Eiffel Tower. I circled Paris once and immediately saw Le Bourget [the aviation field], although I didn't know at first what it was. I saw a lot of lights, but in the dark I couldn't make out any hangars. I sent Morse signals as I flew over the field, but no one appears to have seen them. The only mistake in all my calculations was that I thought Le Bourget was northeast rather than east of Paris.
Fearing for a moment that the field I had seen—remember I couldn't see the crowd—was some other airfield than Le Bourget, I flew back over Paris to the northwest, looking for Le Bourget.
I was slightly confused by the fact that whereas in America when a ship is to land, beacons are put out when floodlights are turned on, at Le Bourget both beacons and floodlights were going at the same time.
Meets human sea
I was anxious to land where I was being awaited. So when I didn't find another airfield, I flew back toward the first lights I had seen, and flying low I saw the lights of numberless automobiles.
I decided that was the right place, and I landed. I appreciated the reception which had been prepared for me, and had intended taxiing up to the front of the hangars; but no sooner had my plane touched ground than a human sea swept toward it, I saw there was danger of killing people with my propeller, and I quickly came to a stop.
That reception was the most dangerous part of the trip. Never in my life have I seen anything like that human sea. It isn't clear to me yet just what happened. Before I knew it I had been hoisted out of the cockpit, and one moment was on the shoulders of some men and the next moment on the ground. It seemed to be even more dangerous for my plane than for me. I saw one man tear away the switch and another took something out of the cockpit. Then, when they started cutting pieces of cloth from the wings, I struggled to get back to the plane, but it was impossible.
Tries to clear way
A brave man with good intentions tried to clear a way for me with a club. Swinging the club back, he caught me on the back of the head.
It isn't true that I was exhausted. I was tired, but I wasn't exhausted.
Several French officers asked me to come away with them and I went, casting anxious glances at my ship. I haven't seen it since, but I am afraid it suffered. I would regret that very much because I want to use it again. But I must remember that crowd did welcome me.
Good Lord! There must have been a million of them. Other men will fly the Atlantic as I did, but I think it safe to guess that none of them will get any warmer reception than I got.
Finally I got here to Ambassador Herrick's house and I have certainly been all right since then.
Likes looks of Paris
I don't know how long I will stay in Paris. It looks like a good place. I have been asked if I intend to fly back to New York. I don't think I shall try that. But I certainly hope to get to do a little flying over here. Flying is my job and because I did this job successfully it doesn't mean I'm through.
I look forward to the day when transatlantic flying will be a regular thing. It is a question largely of money. If people can be found willing to spend enough to make proper preparations, there is no reason why it can't be made very practical. Of course, there are many things to be studied, one of the important points being whether the single motor or multimotor ship is best. I understand there is soon to be a transatlantic flight made with a trimotor plane.
I didn't bring any extra clothes with me. I am wearing a borrowed suit now. It was a case of clothes or gasoline and I took the gasoline. I have a check on a Paris bank and am going to cash it tomorrow morning, buy shirts, socks, and other things. I expect to have a good time in Paris.
But I do want to do a little flying over here.