"Slim" Lindbergh in his "Spirit of St. Louis" startled the world in his "lone-eagle" flight from New York to Paris. Since then—in matters of aviation—his counsel is sought at the highest levels, his schedule crowded with appointments, conferences, trips, his interest in current affairs never livelier, his circle of friends never broader.
This famous man seeks no notice now—as evidenced by the following statements by Jules Loh:
"He attends very few public functions."
"His telephone is unlisted."
"His business associates refuse to divulge his whereabouts."
"Yet he chats with his neighbors."
"He doesn't wear dark glasses or whiskers."
"Only a handful of photographs of Lindbergh have appeared in the last twenty years. He studiously avoids photographers."
"He has developed the knack of being inconspicuous into a fine art. He's better at it than any detective."
"So the man once known on sight by thousands, today, at sixty, can stroll the streets a stranger."
A stranger—yet he explored the first air routes from North America to Europe.
A stranger—yet he helped Pan-Am develop its first transoceanic Clipper.
A stranger—yet he is still a consultant for the Defense Department, helped select the site of the Air Academy, and, according to a Pentagon spokesman, "has made major contributions to the ballistic missile program," and is aviation consultant for the Library of Congress.
Go back a bit to 1927—and think of his heroic flight. It was drizzling over Long Island at 7:52 a.m., May 20, 1927, but the weather ahead looked favorable enough. Lindbergh slid into the narrow cockpit and listened to the 220-horsepower engine. "She sounds good to me," said the mechanic. "Well, then, I might as well go."
The monoplane, heavy with fuel, lumbered down Roosevelt Field's soggy runway, lifted slightly into the air, down again with a muddy splash, then laboriously into the haze and out of sight. Another stunt by a foolhardy kid, some said. Didn't he once wear the nickname "Daredevil Lindbergh" for all his barnstorming, wing-walking and parachute antics? To Lindbergh the flight was no stunt.
Each step along the 3,640-miIe route was carefully measured at 100-mile intervals against clock and compass; each drop of the 462-gallon fuel supply carefully calculated against each of the 5,000 pounds of gross weight. He took no parachute (20 minutes extra fuel was a better precaution); wore lightweight boots of his own design, scissored unneeded areas from his charts. "No detail is too small to be considered," he said. So precise were his calculations that a bit of Roosevelt Field mud clinging to the wing irritated him throughout the 33 1/2 hours. He had five sandwiches, five quarts of water. "If I get to Paris, I won't need any more, and if I don't get to Paris, I won't need any more either." In his pocket he carried probably the most useless excess baggage in aviation history—letters of introduction.
I wonder if, looking back across the years, we have made strangers of those who digged wells from which we drink, kindled fires at which we warm ourselves, and made roofs under which we find shelter.