Working on the Museum’s Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall gave us a unique opportunity to take a close look at many of the objects that have been on display since the gallery opened in 1976. Artifacts were cleaned, closely inspected, and their condition was documented. The renovation of the gallery also allowed our photographers a rare opportunity to capture some very unique views of our aircraft, inside and out. This close inspection helped us uncover and rediscover interesting stories and facts.
This is true of the Spirit of St. Louis, the aircraft that Charles Lindbergh famously piloted across the Atlantic in 1927.
This image shows the inside of the Spirit of St. Louis. The photo was taken from the rear of the aircraft with the camera pointed toward the cockpit. Look toward the bottom of the photo and you can see two black tubes in the floor of the aircraft (here they are from the exterior). These tubes, under the fuselage of the aircraft, are not original to the aircraft. They were added during Lindbergh’s tour of Latin America. During late-night landings, the pilot would use the tubes to drop flares and light his landing.
The metal tube and fabric construction of the aircraft is also highlighted in this image. While fabric may seem an odd choice to us today, most aircraft prior to 1927 were covered in fabric. Airplane dope, a paint that when dry helped to tighten the fabric, created a water and wind resistant vehicle
While the majority of the aircraft is constructed of cotton fabric—take a closer look at the wings and tail—the fuselage is covered in French linen, along with a few patches throughout the aircraft. Upon arriving in Paris, following a more than 33-hour flight across the Atlantic, Lindbergh was greeted by a crowd of 150,000 exuberant well-wishers. Before airport officials and members of the French Air Force could rope off the aircraft, souvenir hunters had torn off pieces of fabric from the aircraft. Curator F. Robert Van der Linden shares the story in this previous post.
This image shows some of the pencil notations located in the cockpit of the Spirit of St. Louis. These marks were made by Charles Lindbergh and helped him record how much fuel was being used in each of his multiple fuel tanks. Lindbergh strategically drew from his fuel tanks to help keep the aircraft balanced.
The aircraft is covered in signatures. While the plane was on its tour of Europe, Latin America, and America in 1927 it was constantly under the watch of guards and mechanics. These “guardians” often left reminders that they were there. Signatures written in pencil or etched with a penknife can be found all over the cowling, but a number of signatures can also be found behind the propeller blade.
Take a closer look at Lindbergh’s periscope, on the left side of the fuselage. Prior to Lindbergh’s famous trip, a worker at Ryan became concerned that the pilot would be unable to see straight ahead. Lindbergh was initially worried that the addition of a periscope would create excessive drag, but eventually agreed. The periscope became a critical tool during his take off and helped him avoid chimneys and tall buildings.