And as another podcast comes to a close, we once again celebrate the anniversaries of great moments in technology history. This week, we’re going to enter the Wayback machine and emerge on…
May 21, 1927. That’s the day Charles Lindbergh lands in Paris after the first solo flight across the Atlantic.
Now, almost 90 years later, a model named Jazz Eggers set a record (now, imagine me making air quotes around the word “record”) for accepting 5,400 dates on Tinder. Lindbergh’s record was not that kind of record – something that nobody achieved before because doing so is pointless and sort of sad.
Lindbergh was competing for a prize that had been set up to encourage research and development into aviation. It was called the Orteig Prize. It was named after a New York City hotelier who offered the challenge in 1920 to fly non-stop from New York to Paris – or vice versa.
The first transatlantic flight had already occurred, in 1919. British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown had flown from Newfoundland to Ireland – a distance of roughly 2,000 miles. By the way, in 1901 Guglielmo Marconi achieved the first transatlantic wireless transmission going from Newfoundland to Cornwall in England. Canada to the United Kingdom was a conveniently shorter hop across the Atlantic for just about everybody.
Now back to Raymond Orteig in 1920, who put up a $25,000 prize purse for the first Paris-to-New York flight. And then we jump ahead again, this time to 1925, because during the intervening five years, nobody was able to build a plane that could go the 3,600 miles from New York to Paris. Orteig’s challenge elapsed in 1925. So he renewed it.
In 1926, the French Great War flying ace Rene Fonck, with the backing of helicopter pioneer Igor Sikorsky, made the first attempt to gain the prize. Fonck failed.
By 1927, there were several crews preparing to compete for the Orteig Prize, including one involving polar explorer Richard Byrd, who was backed by Dutch aircraft manufacturer Anthony Fokker, and another led by a hotshot barnstormer named Clarence Chamberlin who. the month before, had set an aviation endurance record with co-pilot Bert Acosta. Lindbergh was an unknown airmail pilot backed by financiers in St. Louis. Hence the name of his craft. He was a late entrant vying for the prize.
All the other competitors used tri-motors and flew with more than one person aboard. One team after another crashed. Yet another team was lost over the ocean.
Lindbergh decided to fly a plane with a single motor and do it solo. He took off from Roosevelt Field on May 20th, and arrived in Paris 33 hours later. The engine sounds you hear are from an accurate replica of the Spirit of St. Louis that was built only a few years ago.
Interestingly, the next solo flight across the Atlantic was accomplished five years to the day later. On May 20 in 1932, Amelia Earhardt took off from Newfoundland, and arrived in Ireland the next day.
That’s it for this week. As they say: Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana.