provenance: unknown

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The New York Times devotes the brunt of this lengthy feature on Charles Lindbergh's 33-hour, nonstop flight from New York City to Paris to the plane itself. But the following two seemingly innocuous paragraphs speak best to the magnitude of the feat:

In testing the plane, Lindbergh and the engineers realized that it would be slightly unstable in flight. The pilot would never be able to relax his grip on the control stick for more than a moment, or the plane would drift off course and descend.

When the engineers said they could fix it, Lindbergh told them to leave it alone — the extra attention required to fly a slightly unstable plane should keep him awake and alert. He was right. Several times over the Atlantic, the plane's sudden lurch brought the dozing pilot's hand back to the stick.

The successful flight required innovative engineering, but even greater piloting. Lindbergh's own book, The Spirit of St. Louis, conveys this compellingly: No preparation for the flight was half as remarkable as the actual flying itself — one man, sealed in a cramp, chilled compartment, navigating in the dark and willing himself, for more than 33 hours straight, across the ocean and into a scarcely imaginable future. It was a human miracle, not a mechanical one.

May 22, 2002 5:56 PM

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