· Sheriff Fay F. Brown’s Badge:
Aviator Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr.
It’s May 20, 1927. Fay and Cora Brown, married, are talking about aviator Charles A. Lindbergh who is enroute to Paris from New York City in his single-seater, single engine, monoplane, the Spirit of St. Louis.
According to the news,” said Fay Brown, “the weather finally improved on Long Island, New York City, and in the northern Atlantic. Charles Lindbergh hopped-off from Roosevelt Field on his solo trip across the ocean a few minutes before 8 o’clock this morning.”
“Do you think he’ll make it?” asked Cora, his wife. “There’s been at least six aviators who have perished during their attempts. And none of them were going it alone.”
“From what I’ve read,” said Fay, “it sounds foolish, but this Lindbergh is used to doing things on his own. After all, just a week ago he completed his cross-country trip from San Diego to New York with only one scheduled stop, in St. Louis.”
“His experience as an airmail pilot will be invaluable,” said Cora, “since he’s flown through all kinds of weather.”
“Didn’t the newspaper say Lindbergh had to make nighttime parachute jumps from his airmail plane on two occasions when he got lost in heavy fog?” asked Fay.
“Yes, and one jump during his Army Air Service training when he was in a mid-air collision, and another as a test pilot,” agreed Cora. “No wonder he’s known as ‘Lucky Lindy,’ but a parachute won’t do him much good in the middle of the ocean.”
“He’s smart,” said Fay. “I know the reporters like to call him ‘the Flying Fool,’ but he objects to that. He claims to be a meticulous planner who hasn’t rushed into this contest. He was actually the co-designer of his Ryan Airlines manufactured plane, the Spirit of St. Louis. The oddest thing is, the monoplane doesn’t have a windshield. Instead, he’s used the space for an additional gas tank.”
“That’s peculiar,” agreed Cora. “It would be a shame for him to fly into another plane or not be able to see properly during his landing.”
“Lindbergh said he can see out the side-windows and he’s got a periscope to see in front,” said Fay.
“The Orteig prize of $25,000 is a fortune,” said Cora. “I hope Lindbergh wins it. He estimates the flight from New York to Paris will be about 3,600 miles and take about 35 or 36 hours. You’ve stayed awake that long before, haven’t you Fay?”
“Yeah, a couple of times,” said Fay, “but I wasn’t belted into a cramped cockpit the whole time, unable to straighten my legs. Imagine trying to stay awake in the dark with the steady humming of an engine and no one to talk to.”
He’s twenty-five, single, and obsessed with flying,” said Cora. “Plus, his bashful smile is endearing.”
“Lindbergh reminds me of John Bixler. Remember him?” asked Fay.
“Sure,” replied Cora. “He was the first person in Kansas to earn an international license as a sky pilot; lived right here in Hutchinson. Back in 1913, when I was starting out as a telephone operator, everyone was talking about him. Many of us wondered how a family man with four children could risk his life like that. It may not be fair, but I remember his crashes more than his safe landings, like the time at the state fairgrounds when he hit a fence.”
“When I worked for him at Bixler’s Grocery Store on south main, before he sold out to Dillon Mercantile, I used to talk to John about flying,” said Fay. “Hopefully, Lindbergh will be remembered for his success of being the first person to fly solo from New York to Paris, not for disappearing from the sky.”
“I want him to make it,” said Cora. “Like you, he’s courageous, and his mother traveled by air from St. Louis to say goodbye to him.”
“Lindbergh got the flying bug at an early age,” said Fay. “TJ Bixler, the soft-drink bottler, John’s brother, did some early flying. He’s told me about Lindbergh. At age twenty, he was a barnstormer. He did some acrobatic stunt work because he couldn’t afford the money to pay the bond to fly solo.
“According to TJ, it was around 1922 or 1923 that Lindbergh barnstormed in the mid-west,” continued Fay. “TJ said Lindbergh lived in Bird City in Cheyenne County, Kansas, for one summer while he did his aerial stunts—wing-walking and exhibition parachuting. Before long, Lindbergh was advertising himself as a daredevil and had his own World War surplus plane.”
“It sounds like he’s going to make it,” said Cora. She and Fay continued listening to the radio, learning that the Spirit of St. Louis had been spotted over the coast of Ireland hours earlier, then the coast of France, and most recently approaching Paris. ‘Lucky Lindy’, known as ‘Slim’ to his friends, had been in the air nearly 33½ hours. The radio announcer estimated a hundred thousand people had overwhelmed LeBourget airport, awaiting Lindbergh’s arrival.
It was clear that Lindbergh, once he landed, wouldn’t have time to check his list of things to do upon arriving in the capital city. Lindbergh had planned on finding a place to eat and a hotel so he could rent a room for the night.
“I wonder what John Bixler’s doing today?” asked Cora.
“Last I heard he had quit the air,” said Fay. “John and his family were living in southern California. He was engaged in scenery painting for motion picture concerns. Like us, John’s got to be glued to his seat.”
Cora concluded, “I just hope that without a windshield and with a crowd of one hundred thousand excited viewers, he has a smooth landing.”
Until next time, happy writing and reading.