While we all know the story of Charles Lindbergh’s solo Atlantic crossing in the Spirit of St. Louis, did you know that he had to make four emergency bailouts during his lifetime? Before his famous Atlantic crossing in May 1927, “Lucky Lindy,” as he was called, had to parachute to safety not once but four times. The first time was as an army student pilot, followed by a stint where he was a test pilot, and then twice while contracted with the US Air Mail Service.
Long before the days of delivering mail for the post office Lindbergh had been a stunt pilot and wing walker putting on shows across the country that often involved parachuting. Because of his daring lifestyle, many in the press called the young pilot the “flying fool.” Lindbergh resented this as he made preparations for every eventuality before each flight.
Lindbergh learned to fly in Nebraska
The first time young Charles Lindbergh saw his first plane was in 1912 near the nation’s capital. It is funny that it took him another ten years before he touched a plane. After enrolling to study aeronautics at the University of Wisconsin following his second year, Lindbergh decided he wanted to become a pilot and enrolled at the Nebraska Aircraft Corporation.
On April 9, 1922, Lindbergh experienced his first flight as a passenger aboard a Lincoln Standard aircraft. A few days later, he began learning to fly on the same plane. Six weeks later, his instructor decided that the young aviator was ready to solo, but Lindbergh did not have the $500 bond required by the school in case the plane was damaged during his solo.
Lindbergh became a barnstormer
The plane Lindbergh learned to fly in was sold, leaving Lindbergh to strike a deal with the new owner by promising to work for free as a mechanic and helper. The new owner accepted and took Lindbergh with him on a barnstorming tour of southeast Nebraska. During the tour, Lindbergh learned wing walking and improved his skills as a pilot.
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After contemplating what he would do if the plane he was flying had mechanical problems, and he had to bail out, Lindbergh decided to learn parachuting. Lindbergh approached experienced parachutist Charlie Hardin and, under his tutelage, made his first jump in June 1922. During the following winter, Lindbergh returned home to Minnesota and got his father to co-sign for a $900 loan to purchase a 90-horsepower Curtiss “Jenny” biplane.
Lindbergh joins the army
In 1923 Lindbergh traveled to Lambert Field in St Louis, Missouri, to attend the international air races. After witnessing the high-performance aircraft at the races, Lindbergh enrolled in the army as a cadet pilot. While undergoing flight training in 1925, Lindbergh made his first emergency parachute jump from the cockpit of a SE-5 scout biplane near San Antonio, Texas. The reason for the bailout was that he had collided with another aircraft while supposedly engaging an enemy bomber.
Bailout number two
Three months later, Lindbergh was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Service Reserve Corps. Lindbergh then landed a job with the Robertson Aircraft Corporation as a chief pilot, which led to his second emergency bailout. While performing aerobatic maneuvers, the aircraft became unresponsive and started plummeting toward the ground. Lindbergh climbed out of the cockpit and jumped at what he judged to be about 350 feet above the ground. Lindbergh needed medical treatment but was flying again several hours after the crash.
Bailout number three
In November 1925, Lindbergh joined the 110th Observation Squadron, 35th Division, Missouri National Guard. During the following winter, he worked as an instructor pilot for Robertson getting pilots ready for the St. Louis Chicago mail router that the post office had awarded the company. While on a mail run at night on September 16, 1926, Lindbergh had gotten lost in a storm and ran out of fuel. Unable to fly any longer, Lindbergh jumped. Later, when the plane’s wreckage was examined, it was noticed that an 85-gallon tank had replaced a 115-gallon fuel tank without anyone being told.
Bailout number four
Almost a replica of bailout number three on November 3, 1926, Lindbergh was delivering mail cross-country when he got lost in a storm. With no idea where he was and no markers on the ground to guide him, Lindbergh decided to jump from the plane rather than try and make an emergency landing. Again Lindbergh survived and went on to become the first man to solo across the Atlantic Ocean.