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Charles Lindbergh—New York to Paris Flight Navigation Charts
AGS Library
Reprinted with permission of AGS Library

On February 28, 1927, Charles Lindbergh placed the order for his plane, The Spirit of St. Louis, with Ryan Airlines of San Diego, California. He delivered the order in person and remained in San Diego while the plane was being built, and, in his own words,

    ... spent the greater part of the construction period working out the details of navigation and plotting the course, with its headings and variations, on the maps and charts. After working out the track on the gnomonic and Mercators charts, I checked over the entire distance from New York to Paris with the nautical tables. ... From New York to Paris I worked out a great circle, changing course every hundred miles or approximately every hour. *

Charts donated to the American Geographical Society

The charts referenced in the above account were donated to the American Geographical Society by Mr. Lindbergh in about 1939. The donated charts are as follows:
AGS Library
Reprinted with permission of AGS Library

  • Great Circle Sailing Chart of the North Atlantic Ocean, 1920. (Handwritten annotation: Used in laying out great circle course for New York to Paris flight. San Diego Calif., 1927 C.A.L.) This is the gnomonic chart alluded to above. On such a chart, a great circle route is drawn as a straight line, hence, Lindbergh drew a straight line from New York to Paris and then scaled it with hundred mile increments.

  • The Variation of the Compass for the Year 1925, 1925. (Handwritten annotation: Used in laying out route for flight from San Diego to St. Louis to New York to Paris, 1927. C.A. Lindbergh.) One of two Mercator charts to which Lindbergh’s great circle course was approximated as a series of 500 mile-long loxodromes (line segments of constant compass bearing). Unless traveling due north or south or along the equator, following a great circle is difficult because of the constantly changing compass bearing. Since straight lines on a Mercator chart are lines of constant compass bearing, such a chart is typically used for actual navigation. Using this particular chart, Lindbergh would have been able to record the direction and amount of compass declination (its deviation from true north) along his route. Since compass declination is constantly changing, he would have needed as current a chart as possible.

  • Time Zone Chart of the World, 1927. (Handwritten annotation: Used for laying out route for New York to Paris flight. San Diego California, 1927 C.A.L.) This is the second Mercator chart showing Lindbergh’s route as a series of 500 mile-long loxodromes approximating the great circle route from New York to Paris. On this chart Lindbergh numbered the hours lost as he traveled east through a total of five time zones.

  • North Atlantic Ocean, Northeastern Sheet, [undated map fragment. 43 by 10 in.] (Handwritten annotation: Unused portion of sheet for New York-Paris flight-1927 C.A.L. ) Lindbergh finally copied his course onto two larger scale charts of the North Atlantic. Presumably to make their use more convenient, Lindbergh cut away the unneeded portions of those charts. This is one of those portions.

  • Great Circle Sailing Chart of the North Pacific Ocean, 1922. (Handwritten annotation: Chart for alternate flight over Pacific, San Diego-1927 C.A.L.) A gnomonic chart of the Pacific. There were no flight lines plotted.

AGS Library
Reprinted with permission of AGS Library

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* Lindbergh, Charles A. "We," by Charles A. Lindbergh; the famous flier's own story of his life and his transatlantic flight, together with his views on the future of aviation, with a foreword by Myron T. Herrick. New York, London: G. P. Putnam's sons, 1927. p. 201-202.

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