quality posts: 16 Private Messages WootBot


Let’s have a moment of silence for one of the co-founders of modern flight: Wilbur Wright passed on to the great baggage claim in the sky exactly one hundred years ago this month. Poor Wilbur may have succumbed to typhus in 1912, but his invention, we will be reminded this month, lives on. May is also the month we commemorate paper airplanes (May 26 is National Paper Airplane Day!) and the beginning of the summer travel season (Memorial Day is the busiest flying weekend of the year so far). So come fly with Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings as he debunks some commonly held—but thoroughly untrue—beliefs about airplanes and aviation. He’ll make sure your historical facts are in the upright and locked position, and that your scientific understanding is securely stowed in the overhead bins or under the seat in front of you.

Airplane Myth #1: Charles Lindbergh Piloted the First Nonstop Transatlantic Flight.

In 1927, cartoonist Robert Ripley had the nerve to claim, in his Believe It or Not! newspaper feature, that recently crowned national hero Charles Lindbergh was not the first man to fly the Atlantic nonstop, but in fact the sixty-seventh. Ripley received, by his count, over 170,000 letters from readers outraged over the “mistake.” By the time the hubbub ended, the U.S. Post Office was even delivering Ripley complaints addressed only to “The World’s Biggest Liar.”

But Ripley was right: many, many other men had flown the Atlantic nonstop before Lindbergh. The first nonstop flight came in spring 1919, and was either a U.S. Navy seaplane flight between Newfoundland and Portugal or a Royal Air Force bomber flying between Newfoundland and Ireland (depending on whether you count Portugal’s mid-Atlantic Azores archipelago as part of Europe). Eighty-odd pilots and crew made the trip in planes and dirigibles over the following decade.

So what was so special about “Lucky Lindy”? He won the $25,000 Orteig Prize for crossing between North America and mainland Europe — previous plane flights had required stops in the British Isles or elsewhere. He also flew solo, which was not required to win the prize but certainly captured the public imagination. Without a copilot, Lindy had to stay awake for the full thirty-plus hours it took to cross the ocean, and he was so tired that he even began to hallucinate at one point. Yet he still made it all the way to Paris! I guess that’s why they called him “Lucky.”

The transatlantic flight made a celebrity out of Charles Lindbergh, but it also made Robert L. Ripley’s reputation. His fourth paperback collection of factoids became a runaway best-seller as a result of the Lindbergh kerfuffle, and William Randolph Hearst began paying Ripley $100,000 (over a million bucks in today’s money) every year to write Believe It or Not! for his papers. Also, unlike Lindbergh, Ripley didn’t turn out to be a borderline Nazi sympathizer/anti-Semite/racial purity eugenicist. Advantage: Ripley! Believe it or not.

Quick Quiz: In what city was Lindbergh based as an air mail pilot between 1925 and his amazing 1927 flight?

Ken Jennings is the author of Brainiac, Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.

Photo of Charles Lindbergh is in the public domain.



quality posts: 1 Private Messages JJH280



quality posts: 0 Private Messages Skeeter330

St. Louis


quality posts: 14 Private Messages zzzzz78759

Anglum, MO


quality posts: 33 Private Messages olcubmaster

It was either Tierra Del Fuego or the the far-flung Isles of Langerhans....or both.

Sugar 'em up and send 'em home


quality posts: 0 Private Messages highballs

It's a trick question as was the comment. One can make an argument that flying from Greenland to Iceland is Trans Atlantic. Leaving this continent and landing squarely in that continent meant you were not screwing around with technicalities anymore, hence the love affair with Lucky Lindy.

The argument can also be made that he was anti war, talking was better than killing and carrying out a British vendetta opened a vulnerability to Communism in something we didn't understand.

His war attitudes are more attune to ours currently. His questioned patriotism was more of a pro war campaign by the war administration against the strong isolationist attitudes in the U.S.

He was not allowed into the European theater, but flew more combat missions in Asia than all but a few other pilots.

Have we once again become more attune to headlines rather than facts?


quality posts: 9 Private Messages 00000100

Kenneth Jennings, you have used the word "kerfuffle". Thank you.


quality posts: 0 Private Messages mordoman

WRONGGGGGG, you are!!!! As was Ripley before you. Charles Lindbergh indeed was the first person to fly the Atlantic nonstop. The previous pilots island-hopped from Labrador (in eastern Canada), to Greenland, to Iceland, to the British Isles, (or similar). Which is the same mistake that Ripley made, by the way -- these others did not cross that freezing, churning 3,000-miles nonstop!!!

What you are charging is not only an affront to history but a slander on what the man accomplished. The previous people had it relatively easy, including good nights of sleep in between hops. Read Spirit of St. Louis if you want to see what Lindy went through.

Dozens of people died in the decade preceding his feat, lost at sea attempting the same route. Quibble with his personal foibles if you will, but give the man his due.

I have written aviation articles on the subject and flown the North Atlantic while in the U.S. Coast Guard, and I can tell you that the "Debunker" blew this one.


quality posts: 105 Private Messages inkycatz
mordoman wrote:
I have written aviation articles on the subject

Links are helpful! I'd love to read up.

I'm just hanging out, really.


quality posts: 9 Private Messages whoiskenjennings

Guest Blogger

mordoman wrote:
What you are charging is not only an affront to history but a slander on what the man accomplished.

I await your court filing. Look, the article already mentions both your objections: that Lindbergh was the first to fly (a) alone and (b) to continental Europe. That's not in dispute.

But that doesn't make his the first trans-Atlantic flight, as is popularly believed. Even the most dedicated hair-splitter wouldn't claim that a Canada-to-Ireland flight doesn't count as "trans-Atlantic." When I fly from JFK to London, I've crossed the Atlantic, even if I never made it, as Lindbergh did, to mainland Europe.

And yes, the trivia answer is St. Louis--that's why he named his plane the way he did.


quality posts: 2 Private Messages MeshColour
mordoman wrote:I have written aviation articles on the subject and flown the North Atlantic while in the U.S. Coast Guard, and I can tell you that the "Debunker" blew this one.

So how do you feel about people who can't make it to the 3rd paragraph of what you've written before jumping to conclusions and voicing their objections to it?