Thursday, February 16, 2012

Charles Lindbergh, Early Motorcyclist and True Hero

Charles Lindbergh was an icon in his day on at least the same scale as our present day Hollywood heros who haven’t really done anything but act.  You have to remember that in the 1920’s there was no television and that people were admired for what they actually accomplished.  This was the time period when aviation was just developing.  The Wright Brothers had flown for the first time in 1903 and all the great aviation pioneers like Alberto Santos-Dumont, Henri Farman and Glenn Curtiss  were just getting their wings so to speak.

As a boy, Charles Lindbergh had a keen fascination for the mechanical workings of machines generally and for internal combustion engines in particular. When he was in high school, he ordered a twin-cylinder 1920 model Excelsior “X” motorcycle through the local hardware store. Lindbergh was a shy and quiet young man, but he rode his bike fast, hard, and, as his classmates remembered it, rather recklessly. “I loved its power and speed,” he admitted. On the way to town, Lindbergh would tear through a path that ran past a power plant, through a thicket of bushes, and along the steep banks of the Mississippi River. As an observer remembered,
“it seemed like he wanted to see how close to
the edge he could get without plunging in.”
The owner of the plant became so concerned that he closed off the trail. But the future pilot was as cool on that bike as he was behind the controls of a plane; he never had an accident.

Later when Lindbergh started training as a pilot, flying was still rather primitive.  He worked as a traveling stuntman with an airshow where he wing walked and did other stunts.  Later he flew air mail across the country and it was on one of these flights that he first considered the possibility that HE could fly across the Atlantic.

Designated to be awarded to the pilot of the first successful nonstop flight made in either direction between  York City and Paris within five years after its establishment, the $25,000 Orteig Prize was first offered by the French-born New York hotelier (Lafayette Hotel) Raymond Orteig on May 19, 1919. Although that initial time limit lapsed without a serious challenger, the state of aviation technology had advanced sufficiently by 1924 to prompt Orteig to extend his offer for another five years, and this time it began to attract an impressive grouping of well known, highly experienced, and well financed contenders. Ironically, the one exception among these competitors was the still boyish Charles Lindbergh, a 25-year-old relative latecomer to the race, who, in relation to the others, was virtually anonymous to the public as an aviation figure, who had considerably less overall flying experience, and was being primarily financed by just a $15,000 bank loan and his own modest savings.

If you want to read an interesting book, read “The Spirit of Saint Louis”.  The book tells about what he went through to develop a plane that could make the journey and then tells about how he flew solo across the Atlantic and landed in Paris.  Remember he did this in 1927.  The obstacles were huge but he overcame them and earned his fame.  Sadly enough he experienced great tragedy later in his life because of his fame.

To understand these early pioneers is to understand the Cannonball Race, it is not required that we do such a thing as ride across the country on motorcycles most people would consider unridable relics. 

It is the DOING of the thing that makes it so cool.  Turn off the TV and Do something.