Science Sunday 08-26-17

A Brief History of Flight – Part 2

Lucky Lindy

No other pilot of the 1920s is better known than the American  Charles Lindbergh, who flew his Ryan Monoplane, the Spirit of St. Louis, from Long Island, NY, to Paris, France, in May of 1927.

Lindbergh was the first person to fly a fixed wing aircraft from the United States to continental Europe, but not the first person to fly a fixed wing aircraft from North America  to Europe.  That honor goes to the team of Alcock and Brown, who flew from Newfoundland to County Galway, Ireland in a mere 16 hours, traversing about 1900 miles at an average speed of 115 mph.

Lindbergh learned how to fly the “old fashioned” way, first as a post World War I barnstormer, then as a flying ace in the US Army Air Service, and finally as a US airmail pilot.

Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight was long and arduous, flying a little more than 33 hours and 3600 miles through icy storms and fog, and without a front window, landing finally at Le Bourget Field just outside Paris, to the acclaim of 150,000 witnesses.  For Lindbergh’s efforts, he won the Orteig Prize of $25,000 (in today’s money, $342,000), and received two medals, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and The Medal of Honor, from President Calvin Coolidge.

The remainder of Lindbergh’s life was no less exciting.  His first son and namesake was kidnapped and murdered, to much notoriety.  Lindbergh was an avowed isolationist prior to World War II, only seeing the error of his ways after Pearl Harbor.

During World War II, Lindbergh flew 50 combat missions in the Pacific theater, as a private consultant.

Lindbergh died in Maui, Hawaii, in 1974.

Le Bourget Airport is no longer used for commercial flights, but is home to the world famous yearly Paris Air Show.


Amelia Earhart

Perhaps the best know female pilot of all time is the aviatrix Amelia Earhart.

Earhart only lived 40 years, but in that time she accomplished many aerial feats, including being the first woman to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic, flying from Newfoundland to Derry, Northern Ireland, in May of 1932, in a single engine Lockheed Vega 5B.  For this feat, she received the Distinguished Flying Cross from President Herbert Hoover.

Married to promoter and publicist G. P. Putnam, Earhart bounced from one record flight to another, until in 1937 she decided to aerially circumnavigate the globe.  Her first attempt, from east to west failed, when she accidentally damaged her plane in Hawaii.

Her second attempt, flying from west to east was initially more successful.  She had travelled an astounding 22,000 miles when she and her navigator Fred Noonan departed Lae, New Guinea, on July 2, 1937, destination the American territory of Howland Island situated on the Equator and the International Date Line.

The date of their departure was no coincidence: they intended to be back in the states in time for the Fourth of July.  But that was not to be, because Earhart and Noonan disappeared somewhere between Lae and Howland Island.

There continues to be controversy as to whether Earhart and Noonan perished at sea, or whether they ended up on some other island, possibly even a Japanese possession.  No one knows for sure what happened to them.

We should remember Earhart not only for her aerial derrings-dos, but also for her service as a nurse’s aide in Toronto helping returning World War I veterans, and her work teaching English to impoverished children.


Aircraft of World War II

Many innovations in aircraft design happened in the run up to (and during) World War II, but I thought it would suffice in this brief history to talk about one plane that probably won the war for the Allies.

I speak of the B17, the flying fortress.  Originally designed by Boeing Corporation, during the war the plane was manufactured by Douglas and Lockheed as well.

The bomber had the deserved reputation of taking a terrible beating while still being able to limp back home to England.

More than 12,000 B17s were made during the period of 1935 to 1945 inclusive.  At the end of production, the bomber had four 1200 hp engines, 13 machine guns, could drop from 8,000 to 17,500 lbs. of ordnance, and sported a 10 man crew.

For a truly moving recollection of what it was to fly bombing raids over Germany in 1943 without a fighter escort, read Half a Wing, Three Engines and a Prayer.

For a review of the “25 planes that won World War II”, see this fascinating article.

Author: Bob Mahoney

Physics teacher

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