Even without the Daily Mail and Raymond Orteig, the allure of being the first pilot to cross the vast blue Atlantic was obvious: fame, glory, immortality, wonderful whatnot. But in 1913, London's Daily Mail newspaper sweetened the pot further with a reward of £10,000 for any pilot who could cross the Atlantic nonstop. Six years later Orteig, a French-born New York City hotelier, offered $25,000 to any pilot who could fly nonstop between New York and Paris. A U.S. admiral named Albert Cushing Read made the first transatlantic flight in 1919, but it wasn't anywhere near nonstop. Between Long Island and Plymouth, England, Read touched down in Cape Cod, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, the Azores, and a few other places, hopping and skipping his way across the big drink – 4,526 miles – in just under 54 hours. One month later, however, two British pilots, John Alcock and Arthur Whitten-Brown, flew into history by piloting a twin-engine bomber from Newfoundland to Ireland. It was the world's first nonstop transatlantic flight, and, man, was it a doozy. Alcock and Whitten-Brown battled fog, a flaming engine, a snowed-in flight cabin, and a dead radio before crash-landing in a bog on Ireland's west coast. Whitten-Brown was continually forced to crawl out onto the wings during the 16-and-a-half-hour flight to scrape ice off the engine's air intakes with a knife. Inspired by these successes, Orteig posted his fat reward the same year, but it wasn't until 1927 that a pilot claimed the prize: Charles Lindbergh, a stunt and airmail pilot who flew his single-engine plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, from New York to Paris in 33 and a half hours. The plane was designed to carry the pilot, a lot of gas, and not much else. To accommodate the extra fuel, the radio, navigation lights, brakes, and a parachute were left behind. Lindbergh navigated by magnetic compass. He was a hero but also, as his nickname "Lucky Lindy" suggested, quite fortunate. Twelve days before his flight, two experienced French aviators, Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli, took off from Paris in hope of claiming Orteig's prize. They were never seen again.
Credit: Getty Images
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