Eighty years ago, on May 20, 1927 a 25 year old air mail pilot named Charles A. Lindbergh departed Roosevelt field in New York and flew a modified Ryan monoplane solo to Paris, France. The flight lasted only 33 hours, but Lindbergh had enough fuel to fly over 40 hours if he drifted off course and found himself anywhere from Norway to North Africa.
The plane was named “The Spirit of St. Louis” after a group of St. Louis businessmen who financed the venture. The Orteig Prize of $25,000 was established several years earlier for the first pilot to fly nonstop between New York and Paris. The number of accidents was accumulating with two famous French WWI pilots Nungesser and Coli already overdue from Paris to New York when Lindbergh actually launched for Paris.
The “Spirit” was built in San Diego after Ryan Aircraft returned a telegram to Charles Lindbergh advising that they could build (in less than 90 days) a single engine airplane capable of flying across the Atlantic Ocean for $15,000. Major design modifications were made to the Ryan Brougham by Donald Hall, the chief engineer of Ryan Aircraft. The wings were extended to provide more surface area and the landing gear strengthened for the extra weight. The fuselage was extended to carry three quarters of the 450 gallons of fuel in front of the pilot to increase stability. A periscope was added to minimize looking out the side window in the cold slipstream. There was no windshield, but there also was not much air traffic over the Atlantic in 1927.