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Posts Tagged ‘Spirit of St. Louis’

Ryan-Spirit-of-St-Louis

“Stay awake! Stay awake!” the pilot yelled at himself.

His little plane skimmed over the ocean, mere feet from the cresting waves. Another moment of dozing might have spelled disaster for the lone aviator.

The scare pumped adrenalin through his weary system. He pulled up out of danger, then banked the plane slightly so he could see ahead through the side window. There was no window facing forward, because an over-sized gas tank blocked any possible view.

Up ahead the young pilot saw towering storm clouds. He decided to guide the plane around the thunderhead. Earlier, he had tried to fly through a large cloud, but sleet began to collect on his plane. He was forced to turn around and get back to clear air immediately.

Once clear of the cloud bank, the pilot thought, Maybe I should eat something. He pulled out one of five sandwiches stored behind his chair. Very little else was packed into the tiny cockpit—no parachute, no radio, not even the usual leather pilot’s seat. He’d opted for a wicker chair, to keep the plane as light as possible.

The young man checked his watch. He had already been awake thirty-six hours and knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep for at least another twenty. The good news: his destination was closer now than his departure point. Of course, that also meant no turning back.

The little plane hummed along, bouncing a bit on the air currents. If any plane is well-suited for this journey, it’s this one.  And the pilot smiled, remembering the camaraderie of the design team, of which he had been a part.   With creativity and engineering prowess, they sought to solve every problem that might present itself during his long solo fight.

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The body of the plane was only 9 feet, 8 inches high, and 27 feet, 8 inches long. But the wingspan was longer than usual, to handle the weight of the extra-large fuel tank. Someone quipped the plane wasn’t much more than a propeller-driven fuel tank.

Yet another cloud bank loomed ahead. The pilot checked his compass, the only instrument he had brought aboard to steer by. It wasn’t working again. Magnetic storms from the North Pole interfered with its function.

So he chose to fly over this bank, skimming the tops of the clouds at 10,000 feet. Darkness enveloped him. There wasn’t even the glimmer of a crescent moon to guide his way. Only pinpoints of stars glinted in the black sky overhead—stars to guide his course.

The tiny plane seemed like a speck, hung in that immensity of space between sea and sky—a sea whose depths were beyond man’s reach, and infinite outer space, beyond human comprehension.  Inside the tiny plane was a man, smaller still. Any moment could be his last on earth.

The pilot grabbed his inflight journal and wrote:

“It is hard to be an agnostic up here…aware of the frailty of man’s devices, a part of the universe between its earth and stars. If one dies, all this goes on existing in a plan so perfectly balanced, so wonderfully simple, so incredibly complex that it’s far beyond our comprehension—worlds and moons revolving; planets orbiting on suns; suns flung with recklessness through space. There’s the infinite magnitude of the universe; there’s the infinite detail of its matter—the outer star, the inner atom. And man conscious of it all—a worldly audience to what—if not God.”

And just as David had proclaimed in Psalm 19:1-2, the young pilot heard in that moment “the heavens declare the glory of God”—as if all the heavenly bodies thundered praise for the Lord’s wisdom, splendor and power—to create such complexities on such a grand scale. Indeed, “the skies proclaim the work of his hands”—in the countless stars of immense proportions. “Day after day…night after night they display knowledge,” as they constantly revolve in the same precise order.

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No one knows how long the young pilot contemplated God and his wonders.  We do know this:

Thirty-three hours after takeoff he landed his little aircraft, the Spirit of St. Louis. He had gone without sleep for fifty-five hours. But Charles Lindbergh had fulfilled his dream to be the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean–by plane.

The date: May 21, 1927. Eighty-eight years ago today.

“Lindbergh did it,” wrote Edwin James, for the New York Times. “Suddenly and softly there slipped out of the darkness [surrounding Paris], a gray-white airplane as 25,000 pairs of eyes strained toward it.”   Later the crowd would be estimated close to 100,000.

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When he returned to the States, Lindbergh was honored by a ticker-tape parade in New York City, attended by four million enthusiastic spectators.

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But I wonder if his most precious memory of that world-changing event was the moment when his heart filled with wonder and he recorded those inspired thoughts in his journal. That was the point he profoundly understood in new ways God’s creative genius, his precise engineering, and powerful control of immense forces in the universe. That was when Lindbergh acknowledged God is the only One capable of producing such perfection.

Sources:  www.biography.com; http://www.charleslindbergh.com; Christmas, by Charles Allen and Charles Wallis, Revell, 1977; http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com; http://www.history.com.

(Photo credits:  www.fiddlersgreen.net; http://www.charleslindbergh.com; http://www.worshipinitiative.som; iconicphotos.wordpress.com; http://www.telegraph.co.uk.)

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