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Safety lessons from Charles Lindbergh

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Todd Phinney
  • 31st Fighter Wing Chief of Safety
Last month we spent time going over some safety lessons from the infamous Titanic tragedy. The Titanic went to the bottom of the North Atlantic April 14, 1912 on her maiden voyage. Poor safety design and going too fast for conditions collided when the luxury liner struck an iceberg and more than 1,500 souls perished. 

Just 15 years later, a 25-year-old named Charles Lindbergh was the first to successfully fly solo across these same waters with his New York to Paris non-stop flight.

Lindbergh accomplished what others could not. His flight across the Atlantic took more than 33 hours and he flew some 3,610 miles. When he arrived at Le Bouget Field outside of Paris, a crowd of 100,000 met him and he became a global sensation. "Lucky Lindy" became a household name. 

At first glance it might seem bizarre that the Titanic, with all of her grandeur, failed on her maiden Atlantic voyage while Lindbergh succeeded on his. The Titanic was equipped with state-of-the-art technologies of the day. Lindbergh did not have a radio on board his plane and he navigated with a single magnetic compass. 

In reality, his success is not much of a mystery. Lindbergh's safe passage was a result of good old-fashioned preparation in the form of himself as an aviator and the engineering of his aircraft. 

As a pilot, Lindbergh dedicated his adult life to becoming the best. At the age of 21, he borrowed $500 from his father and bought a surplus WWI Jenny bi-plane which he learned to fly. To further hone his skills, Lindy, as he became famously known, joined the U.S. Army and became a reserve pilot. 

As a mail carrier, Lindbergh succeeded where others failed. The route he flew, St. Louis to Chicago, claimed the lives of 31 of the first 40 pilots. Lindy earned a reputation as a dedicated, methodical pilot who would not accept unwarranted risk. 

During his historic flight, Lindy recognized dangerous icing conditions and wisely found another route. In contrast, the captain of the Titanic was warned of an ice field ahead but chose to ignore the warning. It is said that he went to the bottom of the ocean with the warning telegram in his pocket.

Lindbergh was intimately involved with the design of his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, which now hangs in the Smithsonian. 

During the plane's construction, he worked side-by-side with engineers to create a craft reliable enough and capable of crossing the Atlantic. As an example of his concern for safety, Lindbergh placed the main fuel tank in front of him so that he would be behind the heavy tank in case of a forced landing (hence the lack of a front windshield). To increase fuel efficiency and ensure he could fly the distance, all of the aircraft's excess weight was eliminated. Lindbergh even stripped the existing pilot seat and added a much lighter wicker chair.

Upon returning home after his successful flight, Lindbergh was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Medal of Honor. 

The lesson is clear. The better you prepare for a task, the safer you will be in its execution. While we might not be awarded such accolades in our own lives, applying ourselves with an eye towards safety as Lindbergh did will surely pay dividends. A warm embrace from a loved one after a safe day at work and drive home should surely be reward enough.

(Story compiled from: http:///www.charleslindbergh. com; http:///; clindgergh.html.)