This is the cockpit in which Charles Lindbergh sat while piloting the first aircraft to make a solo non-stop transatlantic flight, the Spirit of Saint Louis, in May of 1927. Note the periscope used instead of a forward window. The Spirit was designed and built in San Diego to compete for the $25,000 Orteig Prize, which was offered by New York hotel owner Raymond Orteig to the first aviator to cross the Atlantic non-stop, either from New York to Paris or vice versa.

Lindbergh, a U.S. Air Mail pilot, believed that a single-engine, single-seat, high-wing monoplane would provide him with the best chance of success. Under his close supervision, the Spirit was designed and constructed in just 60 days.

To enhance the center of gravity and minimize the risk of being crushed in case of a crash, Lindbergh had the large main and forward fuel tanks placed in the front section of the fuselage, ahead of the pilot, with the oil tank acting as a firewall. As a result of this design choice, there was no front windshield, and forward visibility was limited to the side windows. However, this arrangement didn’t bother Lindbergh, as he was accustomed to flying in the rear cockpit of mail planes with mail bags in the front. When he needed to see forward, he would simply look out the sides.

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To address the need for some forward vision, Lindbergh enlisted the help of a former submarine serviceman to design and install a periscope. Inside the cramped cockpit, measuring 94 cm wide, 81 cm long, and 130 cm high, Lindbergh couldn’t even stretch his legs.

Today, the Spirit of St. Louis is on display at the #smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.”

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