What is the Importance of the Spirit of Saint Louis Aircraft?
All the air and space craft on display at the Museum have their stories and place in history. One of the most fascinating of all the aircraft, without question, is the Spirit of Saint Louis. The single engine plane was built in 1927 and designed for the sole purpose of flying non-stop from New York to Paris, which until that time had never been done. Charles Lindbergh was a highly skilled pilot and was determined to be the first to make the flight. Lindbergh was very clear about what he thought the plane needed in order to make the historic flight, and perhaps even more important, he was very clear about what it DID NOT need.
The plane would need to carry a significant amount of fuel for the 3,600 mile flight and to compensate for the heavy load of fuel it would need to do without many essential components to reduce the overall weight of the plane. Some of these components that Lindbergh would do without included a radio, parachute, fuel gauges and navigation lights. The plane was also designed with an extended wingspan to improve its aerodynamic efficiency with the heavy fuel load but, apart from that, the plane was actually very small. So small in fact that when you look at it as it hangs from the rafters in the National Air and Space Museum it seems similar in size to the small model planes that most young boys hung from the ceilings of their bedrooms.
The large quantity of fuel would need to be held in various tanks throughout the plane in order to distribute the weight. But the bulk of the fuel would be placed in a large tank and placed directly in front of where Lindbergh would sit throughout the flight. Lindbergh believed this was necessary in order to maintain a good center of gravity and, therefore, led to the creation of, in my option, the most amazing feature of the plane.
With the large fuel tank placed directly in front of where Lindbergh would sit, and to maintain the best possible aerodynamic profile of the plane, Lindbergh decided that he didn't need a front windscreen to be able to see forward. The plane would only have small windows to see out the sides and he would occasionally veer the plane from side to side to get a quick view of where he was headed. But what would Lindbergh do when he would eventually have to land the plane?
There would only be one logical idea and that would be to install a periscope (how to make a periscope: for a science project) on one side of the plane that would allow Lindbergh to see forward and enable him to land, hopefully safely in Paris.
To me, the periscope is the most amazing and most important feature on the spirit of Saint Louis.
The technology on the plane was surely very advanced for its time. It is evident that Lindbergh and the plane's designers had to make tremendous compromises in order to increase the possibility of reaching Paris with the amount of fuel as maximum that can be handled inside the aircraft. But once over Paris, Lindbergh would need to be able to see forward in order to safely navigate the plane to a safe landing.
The simple installation of the periscope permitted for all the other crucial design features to be included in the building of the plane and allowed Lindbergh to safely land the Spirit of Saint Louis at Le Bourget Field in Paris on May 20, 1927 from New York after 33.5 hours of flight.
Written By: Monte Field, Sta. Eulalia del Rio, Ibiza, Spain
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Edited by: Rajesh Bihani ( Find me on Google+ )