Charles Lindbergh’s chief mechanic John van der Linde prepares to crank the engine of the Spirit of St. Louis in San Diego on April 28, 1927, the day Lindbergh flew the plane for the first time. (Harry T. Bishop/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

It was 90 years after Charles Lindbergh climbed for the first time into the cockpit of the Spirit of St. Louis at a San Diego airfield that a researcher at the San Diego Union-Tribune pulled an aging envelope from a forgotten box. Inside was a cache of never-before published images of that fateful morning: the moment Lucky Lindy first took the stick of the plane that would make him a hero to the world.

In a rich multi-media story this week, the Union-Tribune’s John Wilkens describes the day of April 28, 1927, when Lindbergh, then an unknown 25-year-old airmail pilot, took possession of the experimental long-range, single-wing plane that been built for him in just two months. Lindy took off from an airfield near the beach. Shooting from the edge of the dirt runway was staff photographer Harry T. Bishop, a Mississippi-born aircraft enthusiast who would become known as a pioneer in aviation photography.

For the young pilot and his plane, it was love at first flight. Lindbergh would describe the moment later: “What a beautiful machine it is, resting there on the field in front of the hangar, trim and slender, gleaming in its silver coat.”


Lindbergh in front of a Ryan Aircraft monoplane a few weeks before his first Spirit of St. Louis flight. Ryan built the Spirit of St. Louis, which Lindbergh helped design. (Stanley Andrews Jr./ The San Diego Union-Tribune).

After a few more test flights in San Diego, Lindbergh took off for New York. Then, on May 20, he lifted off from Long Island’s Roosevelt Field for his historic, 33-hour flight to Paris. When his wheels touched French soil, a crowd estimated at 100,000 erupted at the monumental achievement of the first non-stop solo air crossing of the Atlantic.

One of Bishop’s shots ran in the Union-Tribune the day after the San Diego test flight. But, to the delight of aviation scholars, the negatives were tucked away, intact but eventually forgotten. In 2016, preparing to move the expansive photo archives to the paper’s new offices, researcher  Merrie Monteagudo found an envelope marked with Bishop’s initials in a storage box. Inside were the negatives from the days surrounding Lindbergh’s introduction to his plane, many of which have never been published.

See more of the images she uncovered here.

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