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It was 84 years ago today, that Charles Lindbergh took his first flight in the Spirit of St. LouisLindbergh with Ryan Reps.  "This morning I'm going to test the Spirit of St. Louis," Lindbergh wrote in his book The Spirit of St. Louis.  "It's the 28th day of April ... What a beautiful machine it is, resting there on the field in front of the hangar, trim and slender, gleaming in its silver coat!  All our ideas, all our calculations, all our hopes lie there before me, waiting to undergo the acid test of flight.  For me, it seems to contain the whole future of aviation.  When such planes can be built, there's no limitation to the air."

The Spirit was built by 35 employees of Ryan Airlines, Inc., in San Diego, California.  It took just 60 days.


This was a question on the minds of Mrs. Stamper’s 8th grade class from Hanover, Mass.  The class had read a non-fiction excerpt called "Flying" by Reeve Lindbergh.  As a follow-up, Mrs. Stamper showed the film "Spirit of St. Louis" with Jimmy Stewart.  The students wanted to know:


Charles Lindbergh in Helmet“...if Charles Lindbergh did wear cotton balls in his ears for his true solo flight. "  Mrs. Stamper explained that the students "noticed it immediately and questioned it because in the excerpt by Reeve she notes that her father discouraged the use of cotton balls as it took away from the "true" experience.”

 

Initially, I was inclined to agree with the 8th graders, but upon referring to the biography, “Lindbergh” written by A. Scott Berg (pg. 115 paperback), he states, “At 7:51 a.m., Lindbergh buckled his safety belt, stuffed each ear with a wad of cotton, strapped on his wool-lined helmet, and pulled his goggles down over his eyes.”  However, Lindbergh does not mention the cotton in his book “The Spirit of St. Louis” (pg. 175 paperback).  He writes: “I buckle my safety belt, pull goggles down over my eyes, turn to the men at the blocks, and nod.”

 

So, I asked Lindbergh’s youngest daughter, Reeve, (who is the honorary chairman of the Lindbergh Foundation, by the way) what she thought about this question.  Here’s what she said:

 

I think Scott Berg is probably right, because he researched the book (his biography of my father)  meticulously for eight years before he wrote it. If he says that my father put cotton balls in his ears for the *Spirit* flight, I strongly suspect that he (Scott) found a reliable source for that information.

Gee, I wish I'd known this when I was flying with my father! He *definitely* did not like us to use cotton balls when we were flying with him. (Probably because we couldn't hear his instructions from the front cockpit). But I also know that the *Spirit* was much, much noisier than any airplane I ever flew in with him when I was a child, because I've flown in the *Spirit* replica. Yikes!
Maybe my father felt that modern (1950's era) small planes were so much less noisy than the ones he flew in the early days that cotton balls were unnecessary, even though he had used them himself in the pioneering aviation era.
That's my best guess.


Reeve

 


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