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The Spirit in San Diego

April 30, 2009

This post is taken from the Museum’s May Newsletter. You can read the rest of the newsletter here. If you do not receive the Museum newsletter, sign up for it here.

Considered one of the most famous airplanes in history, the Ryan NYP (New York Paris) Spirit of St. Louis was flown by Charles Augustus Lindbergh.

Spirit of St. Louis

Built essentially along the lines of the Ryan M-1, the NYP was bigger. It had longer wings which had fuel tanks inside (152 gallons), as well as a longer fuselage, again to hold more fuel. It did not have a windshield and Lindbergh’s view forward was blocked by a huge fuel tank in front (88 gallons). Instead, a retractable periscope was installed which gave him a view forward for landing, giving up nothing to aerodynamic drag. Also, Lindbergh was very tall and could easily lean over and look out the window if needed. The designed total gasoline capacity was 425 gallons. The airplane had a very small tail group, specifically designed that way by Lindbergh, so that the airplane would be unstable in order to keep his attention over the long expanse of the Atlantic. 

The original “Spirit” was built in sixty days at a cost of about $12,000 in 1927 dollars. After 24 test flights in the San Diego area, Lindbergh took off for New York via St. Louis. He landed at Curtiss Field in New York on May 12, 1927, and after six more test flights he made the momentous flight from New York to Paris on May 20-21 landing with enough fuel to fly more than 1,000 additional miles!

Fifty-two years to the day after Lindbergh’s first flight, the Museum’s exact duplicate built to the original Don Hall plans, which sits in our rotunda, was flown by Ryan test pilot Ray Cote. After two hours and forty two minutes of airtime over San Diego it was retired to the then new Aerospace Museum in June 1979. It replaced a reproduction built by the late Frank Tallman who flew it in the 1967 Paris Air Show, then sold it to the Museum and later was lost in the fire that destroyed the original Museum in 1978. There are other aircraft which resemble the original “Spirit” but none are exact duplicates or “replicas” as the term is defined by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (where the original hangs). Replica means “constructed by the original builders” and ours was, built by Ed Morrow, T. Claude Ryan and John Van Der Linde all from the original Ryan Mahoney factory. They were not the only builders of course; there were 34 other volunteers also.

Other look alikes are converted Ryan B-5 Broughams, of which one is at the Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. This was one of three built for the movie “The Spirit of St. Louis” with Jimmy Stewart who donated it to that museum. These are reproductions.

Our “Spirit” last flew for the seventy fifth anniversary of the naming of Lindbergh Field on August 16, 2003.

It was then restored and put on display in our rotunda, preserved until the next planned flight, the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of Lindbergh’s flight to Paris in 2027.

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