Ryan NYP Spirit of Saint Louis

Charles Lindbergh and the "Spirit of Saint Louis"

The "Spirit of St. Louis" was designed by Donald Hall under the direct supervision of Charles Lindbergh.

It is a highly modified version of a conventional Ryan M-2 strut-braced
monoplane, powered by a reliable Wright J-5C engine. Because the fuel tanks were located ahead of the cockpit for safety in case of an accident, Lindbergh could not see directly ahead, except by using a periscope on the left side or by turning the airplane and looking out a side window. The two tubes beneath the fuselage are flare dispensers that were installed for Lindbergh's flights to Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Ryan Aircraft Corporation's Spirit of St. Louis is perhaps one of the most famous aircraft ever built. With Charles Lindbergh as pilot, it became the first aircraft to successfully fly across the Atlantic Ocean in May 1927. Its marathon 33-hour, nonstop, non-refuelled flight departed Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York and when the plane landed at LeBourget Airport in Paris, France, Lindbergh became an international hero overnight. The Spirit of St. Louis was enshrined in the Smithsonian Institution's National Air & Space Museum, alongside the Wright Brothers' aircraft. "Spirit of St. Louis" was named in honour of Lindbergh's supporters in St. Louis, Missouri, who paid for the aircraft. "NYP" is an acronym for "New York-Paris,"

Wingspan: 46 ft
Length: 27 ft 8 in
Height: 9 ft 10 in
Weight, gross: 5,135 lb
Weight, empty: 2,150 lb
Engine: Wright Whirlwind J-5C, 223hp
Manufacturer: Ryan Airlines Co., San Diego, Calif., 1927

Dividing the Old World from the New, the Atlantic Ocean has always been a barrier to trade between Europe and the Americas, and the commercial importance of an aerial link was realised long before it became a practical possibility. A flurry of activity in 1919 proved that the Atlantic could be conquered, but many years were to pass before it was tamed; the pioneer flights of Read (first crossing), Alcock and Brown (first non-stop crossing) and Scott (first crossings by airship) were a far cry from commercial operations which could offer the required degree of reliability with an economic payload.

During the 'twenties and 'thirties, many ingenious solutions were advanced to the problem of crossing 2,000 miles (3,220 km) of water, frequently in adverse wind and weather and with inadequate navigational aids. The route across the South Atlantic was a little easier than that farther north. From Dakar, in Senegal, to Natal, in Brazil, the distance was just under 1,900 miles (3,050 km), the weather was usually good and, in an emergency, the island of Fernando de Noronha, 300 miles (480 km) off the Brazilian coast, could be used for refuelling. The enterprise of French and German pioneers led to the establishment of air routes across the South Atlantic within a decade of the first Atlantic crossings-but not before the North Atlantic had witnessed another epic flight which, in public acclaim, outdid even the achievement of Alcock and Brown.

The first Atlantic crossings had, not unnaturally, been concerned with little more than getting an aeroplane and its crew across the shortest distance of water separating Europe and America. It was not long, however, before attention was turned to linking centres of population further inland, and as early as 1920 a prize of $25,000 had been offered for the first non-stop flight between Paris and New York (in either direction).

The first attempt to cross the Atlantic from east to west, against the prevailing westerly winds, was made in 1924, when three Douglas Cruisers left Brough, in Yorkshire, and two succeeded in reaching Labrador in stages, with lengthy intervening stops. Further attempts in each direction during 1927 took the lives of the Americans Davis and Wooster, the Frenchmen Nungesser and Coli, and two crew members of the Frenchman Fonck. Then, with little prior publicity, the young American Charles Lindbergh arrived in Paris on 21 May 1927, at the end of a 332-hour, 3,610-mile (5,810km) flight from New York. His was the first non-stop solo flight, and the longest trans-Atlantic flight to that date, qualifying for the 525,000 prize and resulting in a display of public adulation which today is more usually reserved for pop-stars.

Lindbergh, 25 years of age and a pilot by profession, had a natural flair for flying and above-average ability as a navigator. He needed both in good measure through the long watches of the moonless night over the Atlantic, as he battled through icing levels, unknown winds and poor visibility. His flight not only demonstrated great personal skill and courage, but also vindicated his faith in the single 237 hp Wright Whirlwind engine which powered the specially-built Ryan NYP (New York-Paris) monoplane Spirit of St Louis. Apart from the engine and rudimentary cockpit, from which the only forward view could be obtained through a periscope, the NYP was little more than a flying fuel tank, containing 450 US gallons (1,705 litres) in the fuselage and wings.

In Paris

Like most other Atlantic fliers of the period, Lindbergh made his take-off with the aeroplane loaded to a weight far above normal; the ability of the aeroplane to leave the ground at this weight in the length of runway available was unknown until the start of the flight. After a hazardous but successful take-off, Lindbergh flew north from Long Island to cross Newfoundland before setting course eastwards. His landfall, 28 hours after take-off, was only three miles (5 km) off course over the Irish coast, and the remainder of the flight, across the tip of Cornwall and on to Cherbourg and Paris, was uneventful.