After World War I, daredevil pilots flew planes to their limits, setting records and then breaking them. A man named Raymond Orteig offered $25,000 to the first person to fly solo from Paris to New York.
The trip was very dangerous. The pilot’s engine could fail, a sudden weather change could slam his or her plane into the ocean, or he or she could fall asleep at the controls and crash. Two Frenchmen had attempted the flight in 1927 and disappeared over the Atlantic. Despite the odds, Charles Lindbergh, a shy, soft-spoken pilot from the Midwest, decided to try.
Lindbergh secured financing from some St. Louis businessmen, who insisted that he name his plane after their city. He agreed, calling the plane Spirit of St. Louis.
Lindbergh’s plane was more of a flying gas tank than anything else. He had modified a passenger plane by cramming all the extra space with fuel tanks. When Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field, New York, on May 20, 1927, he steered by peeking through a periscope. For the next 33 hours, Lindbergh flew his tiny plane over the lonely Atlantic.
When he began to doze, he pinched himself or opened the side window and scooped icy air into the cabin. After flying more than 22 hours, he scanned the ocean and spotted some fishing boats before continuing on, exhausted.
Finally, he glimpsed the brilliant green coast of Ireland. He had made it! As he flew south over England, Lindbergh’s plane was spotted and news spread across the continent. When he landed in Paris, Lindbergh was greeted by roaring crowds.
By flying 3,614 miles, he had broken the solo distance record. A worldwide hero, Lindbergh used his influence to help develop aviation in the United States.