Today, we think about flying across the Atlantic.
The University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make
our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.
Dozens of people had flown
the Atlantic ocean by the time Lindbergh made his
historical non-stop flight from New York to Paris
in 1927. The first flight was made in May 1919 from
New York to Plymouth, England, in a six-man,
four-engine navy flying boat. But it stopped in the
Azores and Lisbon on the way. That same month,
Raymond Orteig of New York City offered a $25,000
prize for the first non-stop airplane flight from
New York to Paris. Just one month later, Alcock and
Brown flew a two-engine airplane non-stop from St.
John's, Newfoundland, to Clifden, Ireland.
In July 1919 a British dirigible flew from England
to New Jersey and back. And in 1922 two Portuguese
aviators, Cabral and Coutinho, flew a single-engine
British seaplane from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro.
That's a longer flight than Lindbergh's, but
there's a catch. The flight didn't only involve a
stop -- they actually changed airplanes on a small
More New York-to-England flights followed in 1924.
And in 1924 a Zeppelin dirigible flew from
Friedrichshaven to Lakehurst, New Jersey. Finally,
in 1927, seven transatlantic heavier-than-air
flights were made, of which Lindbergh's was the
That might lead you to wonder what was so special
about Lindbergh's accomplishment. Well, it was the
longest non-stop, heavier-than-air transatlantic
flight, and the first solo crossing. That's how he
picked up the nickname, "The Lone Eagle." And, of
course, his flight finally fulfilled the conditions
of the Orteig prize, which had, by then, been open
for over eight years.
Prevailing headwinds made it a lot harder to fly
from Europe to America. The first solo
heavier-than-air flight from east to west wasn't
made until 1932. The pilot's name was James
Mollison, and he flew only from Ireland to New
And commercial transatlantic flights? Well, they
had to wait until the late 1930s -- about 20 years
after the first transatlantic crossing, and 35
years after the Wright brothers.
Still, Lindbergh's flight was the one that riveted
the public awareness; and it's worth saying
something about his airplane. Lindbergh was a
determined airmail pilot who finally found a
like-minded designer at the tiny Ryan airplane
company. Ryan specially built the Spirit of
St. Louis in just two months' time for
Lindbergh. They've called him "Lucky Lindy." Maybe
he was lucky for having found the right engineer at
the right time.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds