Saturday, January 7, 2012

Lindbergh's first choice ...

Before Charles Lindbergh in 1927 became the first person to fly an airplane nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean, he sought, with funds offered by a group of St. Louis businessmen, an appropriate airplane. He approached several companies, but focused on a new, highly efficient model designed by Giuseppe Bellanca. At first, Lindbergh found that Bellanca’s design was tied up with a company that didn’t seem to think highly of Lindbergh’s endeavor. But that changed when Bellanca went into business with a different company, Columbia Aircraft.

“Willing to make attractive proposition on the Bellanca airplane for Paris flight,” Bellanca telegraphed Lindbergh after the change, writes A. Scott Berg in his 1998 biography Lindbergh. So the soon-to-be-famous pilot met with Columbia officials to close the deal in February 1927.  His enthusiasm was in for a rough welcome, though.

Berg writes of Lindbergh’s reception:  “‘We will sell our plane,’ [Columbia President Chairman Charles Levine] said, ‘but of course we reserve the right to select the crew that flies it.’ For a moment Lindbergh was dumbstruck. When he finally found the words, he suggested there must have been some misunderstanding, that this point was non-negotiable. Levine countered that his company could not possibly release its plane without selecting its crew but that he was willing to let the St. Louis group paint the name of their city on the fuselage. …. Before Lindbergh could leave the office, Levine asked him to call the next day,” however, so Lindbergh reluctantly spent another $3 for a night in a hotel.

Berg continues:  “At the appointed hour [the next day] Lindbergh telephoned. ‘Well,’ Levine said, ‘have you changed your mind?’ Too angered by the question to speak, Lindbergh simply hung up the phone.”
Lindbergh then turned his attention to tiny Ryan Aeronautical Company in California, which over recent months had responded favorably to his questions about the possibility of building a special plan for a non-steop transatlantic flight. And that's the company that build the plane widely known today as Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis.

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