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Ralph Oppenheim—Eyewitness to History

Link - Posted by David on March 8, 2022 @ 6:00 am in

WHEN the first issue of War Birds hit the stands in February 1928, it not only contained an exciting tale of Ralph Oppenheim’s inseparable trio The Three Mosquitoes, but it also had a rare factual piece by Mr. Oppenheim. Ralph and his younger brother Garrett had taken a trip to Europe the previous year and just happened to be there at the right time to be able to get to Paris and be there at Le Bourget Field on the 21st of May when Charles Lindbergh successfully ended his trans-Atlantic flight!

The editor of WAR BIRDS considers it an outstanding honor to be able to give you this little sketch. Mr. Oppenheim, besides being the most brilliant flying story writer in America, had the priceless privilege of being an eyewitness of one of the most historic moments of modern times—when the great Lindbergh landed the “Spirit of St. Louis” on Le Bourget Field that memorable night in Paris.


Lindbergh uses the lights of Paris to guide him around the Eiffel Tower to Le Bourget Field. (image © lookandlearn.com)

Author’s Note—The following is taken, for the most part, from notes written at Le Bourget Field before and after Lindbergh’s arrival. We (“we” in this case meaning my brother and myself) had come early in the afternoon and had thus secured a wonderful position, on the flat roof of a cafe which was right at the edge of the big field. After a long windy, raining afternoon, during which the crowd grew to a size of about 100,000, the hour when the American should arrive began to draw closer.

 

 

When “Lindy” Dropped on Paris

MAY 21st, 1927. 9 to 9:20 P.M. What a mob of people! The roof here is packed behind us, and we are being pushed so hard against our concrete wall (which comes up to our necks) what we’re afraid that either the wall will give or we’ll be crushed into a “shapeless mass.” At our right, in the corner, are three newsreel men, getting movie cameras set. Somewhere in back a Frog newsboy is croaking shrilly: “L’Americain Volant! L’Americain Volant!” A former senator from Missouri says that means that Lindbergh is now over the English Channel. . . . Down below, along the edge of the field, is the real mob—the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen. They are kept from the field itself by a big, strong iron fence. Out on the field, in front of this fence, about two hundred gendarmes are forming a long string to check the crowd if it should attempt to get over that fence. There are no more planes landing or taking off on the field now. The big air-liners which have been coming and going regularly all afternoon, discharging slightly dismal looking passengers and taking on happy, eager ones, are no longer to be seen. They have cleared the field. They have floodlights to illuminate the ground, but they only turn them on every now and then. Economical, these French. Also there are parachute flares. These are shot up like sky-rockets, and the blazing phosphorous comes floating down on a little parachute. Only trouble is these frogs have rotten aim. Some of those damn flares are falling right into the crowd. Each time it happens there’s an excited, panicky shriek. And the idea that one of those flares might fall on our roof is enough to keep us in good suspense. But we don’t need anything to keep us in suspense now. As the moment when the brave American should arrive draws closer and closer, the excitement rises to the highest pitch. Everybody is yelling, shouting, and it seems that everybody has suddenly become a great authority on the subject of aviation. Gosh, these French certainly know how to get excited! There goes that newsboy again: “L’Americain Volant! L’Americain Volant!” And a school-ma’m from Iowa says that means the poor boy’s been lost at sea.

9:20 to 9:30—They are cheering! It seems they hear a plane overhead. We listen. Does sound like a drone up there. More flares—and more suspense. They have the floodlights on again. The cheers are increasing. The gendarmes on the field look worried as the iron fence begins to shake ominously under the pressure of the surging mob behind it.

9:30 to 10:15—Look! Look! Voila! Nom de nom! Everyone is screaming at the top of his or her lungs. We can all hear the drone now. Off to the left it is. We stare in an effort to pierce through the murk. Nothing yet, nothing yet. Then—

The earth shakes with a mighty reverberating cheer. In the darkness up there appears a floating, whitish shape. It is coming down, gliding for the field! It is Lindbergh! God Almighty!

Now we can clearly distinguish the graceful silver monoplane. The crowd is going crazy. The plane is landing. The great pilot, cool and collected, carefully keeps away from all signs of the crowd. He brings his ship down way across the field, just opposite our roof. It is a wonderful and an astonishingly quick landing—the best we’ve seen on this field. And there was something incongruous about the way that plane, having just come way from New York, simply dropped out of the sky and landed.

Before the Spirit of St. Louis rolls to a stop hell breaks loose at Le Bourget. With a mighty shove, the people surge right through that iron fence like a tremendous tidal wave. The gendarmes? Drowned, swallowed in that flood. It is a sight indeed, that mob rushing out towards the plane. It makes you feel insignificant to see all those people. All over flashlights are popping, cameras clicking, and men and women shouting like mad. The cameramen tackle the mob like football players in their efforts to get to the plane. The people on our roof are—well, they’re raising the roof. Some Frog is using my back as a step-ladder, and another is trying to make a foot-stool out of my neck. Tables collapse as people try to stand on them to get a look. One or two crazy fools actually jump off the roof, onto the shed below. A fifteen foot drop! The plane out there is surrounded now. And it seems almost that the mob is lifting that big monoplane on its shoulders and carrying it around. They’re bringing the great Lindbergh in. Cheers! “Vive l’Americain! Vive Londberje (as the Frogs pronounced it)!” Where is he? We think we catch a glimpse of him in the midst of a little circle, around which the crowd is thickest. How they bring him in is a mystery, but they get him to the building right next to ours, and hold the crowd out. The crowd storms outside, yelling in a mighty chorus: “Let us see! Let us see!” From our roof we can see the lighted, curtained window of the room where they have him. We see lots of people in there, and often we think we get glimpses of the American—but we will never know if we really did, though we saw him twice on future occasions (both in Paris and on the day of his arrival in New York).

Now the French windows are opened over in that building, and a man steps out on the balcony. It is the American ambassador. He makes a speech, which nobody hears. But nobody has to hear, because all realize that an epoch-making event has just occurred, and that Charles A. Lindbergh, later to be known as “Plucky Lindy” and “The Lone Eagle” and “Slim,” has succeeded in making the first non-stop flight from New York to Paris.

For a sense of the scene at the time you can check out some newsreels from the whole journey—AP (British Pathé)—or just the day—British Pathé and Periscope Film. And the USA Today actually has a decent article with some good photos from the 90th anniversary of the historic flight.

“Lindbergh—the Lone Eagle” by C.B. Mayshark

Link - Posted by David on May 25, 2020 @ 6:00 am in

THIS May we are once again celebrating the genius that is C.B. Mayshark! Mayshark took over the covers duties for Sky Birds with the July 1934 and would paint all the remaining covers until it’s last issue in December 1935. At the start of his run, Sky Birds started featuring a different combat maneuver of the war-time pilots. Mayshaerk changed things up for the final four covers. Sky Birds last four covers each featured a different aviation legend. “The Lone Eagle” himself was the subject of the penultimate issue of Sky Birds—Charles Lindbergh!

Lindbergh—the Lone Eagle
The Story Behind This Month’s Cover

th_SB_3509A MAN who enjoys the admiration of a hundred and twenty million countrymen; a man whose name has filled the headlines from hemisphere to hemisphere for eight years; a man whose amazing feats of daring have thrilled a world which has long been used to thrills; a man whose unassuming modesty and genuine simplicity have caused his name to be written into the history of the world’s progress; and, most of all, a man who is unalterably a man in every sense of the word—that is Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh.

Lindbergh was born in 1902 without, of course, the slightest inkling of what fate had in store for him. But somehow, from the beginning, his career seemed to be guided by the unseen hand of destiny, and bit by bit the experience that was to be invaluable on that history-making day in May, 1927, was accumulated.

Lindbergh made his debut in aviation in February, 1922, when he enrolled in a flying school at Lincoln, Neb. After learning to fly and being unequivocally bitten by the aviation bug, which was pretty much on the rampage around that time, he purchased a U.S. Government Jenny for $500, and his fondest dream was a reality at last.

It seems that this modest young man had ideas in the back of his head and designs in his imagination of such ambitious scope that they needed prestige and a record to lead them along their difficult path. So Lindbergh became a military man by enrolling as a cadet in tho United States Air Service Reserve. He was afterwards commissioned a captain. A short time later, he joined the Missouri National Guard with the rank of first lieutenant, and he was eventually promoted to the rank of colonel.

Lindbergh was in aviation for a serious purpose, and so was not content to drift along, picking up odd jobs here and there and engaging himself in barnstorming trips, as so many other aviators were doing at that time. He wanted to do something which required skill, experience and a sense of responsibility. He made his first flight as an air mail pilot in April, 1926. The air mail service in those days was a pretty risky proposition, and any man who went in for it had to have courage—and plenty of it.

It was during this period that Lindbergh conceived the idea of making a solo trans-Atlantic flight. In the winter of 1927, he persuaded the Ryan Company to build him a ship—the now famous Spirit of St. Louis, and in April of that year, he made a record-breaking transcontinental run from California to New York.

On May 20th, Lindbergh took off on the flight that was to be one of mankind’s greatest accomplishments. Very few people realize the skill and courage and physical condition that were essential to the success of that flight, but whatever it took, Lindbergh had in abundance, and the most amazing part of the whole thing was that his modesty wouldn’t permit him to believe that he had done something which warranted all the congratulations and back-slapping that were showered upon him from the far corners of the earth. Regardless of what his realizations were, he came home in glory to the resounding acclaim of not only America, but of the whole world.

Upon landing in this country, he made arrangements to make a tour of America under the auspices of the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the promotion of aviation, and it is estimated that he visited seventy-five cities.

Lindbergh is the ranking member of the mythical Caterpillar Club, having upon four occasions resorted to the parachute to save his life. One of these is depicted on the cover, along with a scene from his famous transatlantic flight.

Lindbergh’s decorations include the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, Chevalier of the Legion of honor (France), Order of Leopold (Belgium), and several others.

The Story of The Cover
“Lindbergh—the Lone Eagle” by C.B. Mayshark
Sky Birds, September 1935

“Flying with Lindbergh” by Donald E. Keyhoe

Link - Posted by David on July 20, 2017 @ 6:00 am in

IN MAY 1927, ninety years ago, a little known U.S. Air Mail pilot became the first person to fly non-stop across the atlantic from Long Island, New York to Paris, France. Two months later, that aviator, Charles Lindbergh, embarked on a three month Good Will Tour of America that would see Lindbergh visit 82 cities in all 48 states and deliver 147 speeches and ride in countless parades. It’s estimated he was seen by more than 30 million American—one quarter of the nation’s population at the time.

The Tour’s purpose was the promotion of Aeronautics and to raise interest in commercial aviation. Lindbergh flew in the famed Spirit of St. Louis and was accompanied by a crew of three that flew along separately arriving a half an hour ahead of Colonel Lindbergh at all stops. Heading up the crew was Capt. Donald E. Keyhoe of the aeronautics branch, US Department of Commerce who is acting as Colonel Lindbergh’s aide and business manager of the tour; piloting Capt. Keyhoe’s plane was Philip R. Love, inspector, aeronautics branch, US Depatment of Commerce; the third member of the crew—arguably the most important—is Theordore Sorensen, expert mechanic of the Wright Aeronautical Corporation, Paterson, NJ, who’s job it is to keep the Wright Whirlwind, nine-cylinder motor of The Spirit of St Louis in shape for the 13,000 mile grind.


The tour’s participants (left to right): Donald E. Keyhoe, Philip Love, Charles Lindbergh,
with C. C. Maidment, and Milburn Kusterer.

Heralded everywhere they went, the Tour was a great success. Lindbergh followed it up with a Good Will Tour of sixteen Latin America countries between December 1927 and February 1928.

Captain Donald E. Keyhoe wrote a book about his experiences flying with Lindbergh on the Good Will Tour. It was published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 1928. As promotion for the book—simply titled “Flying with Lindbergh”—Keyhoe himself went on a bit of a promotional tour speaking at various schools across the country.

Below is a recounting of Captain Keyhoe’s talk to the packed crowd at the high school in Belvidere, Illinois.

 

PAL OF LINDY TALKS TO BIG SCHOOL CROWD

Belvidere Daily Republican, Belvidere, IL • Tuesday, November 27, 1928

LIEUTENANT DONALD KEYHOE TELLS OF ODD SENCE OF HUMOR OF THE “FLYING COLONEL” AND RELATES SWIFT PROGRESS OF AVIATION IN THIS COUNTRY—ADDRESS MUCH ENJOYED

By far the most enjoyable and instructive of the attractions yet offered during the progress of the high school lyceum program was the appearance and address given Monday afternoon by Lieut. Donald Keyhoe, who accompanied Col. Charles Lindbergh on his goodwill trip over the United States following his epochal solo flight to France.

Lieut. Keyhoe, who has been publicity director of the U.S. bureau of aviation of the department of commerce, appeared before the crowd that entirely filled the high school auditorium attired in a marine uniform.

He punctuated his highly informative and interesting talk with interesting experiences he has had in the flying game and while all were much enjoyed especially so were those with Col. Lindbergh. “Lindy” he described as a man without a nerve in his body and utterly without fear. He said he detests hero worship and will frequently quit hotels by riding down on a freight elevator at the rear rather than encounter crowds waiting for him in front.

The colonel, he said, has an odd sense of humor and told of how he and another flyer had shaved off one half of the speaker’s mustache, forcing him to remove the other half. Keyhoe also recounted an incident wherein Lindbergh had sewed up his clothing while he slept and also stitched tightly in his pocket his billfold. Lindbergh remarked to the hotel clerk while Keyhoe was endeavoring to get it out that it merely showed his Scotch training and that he sewed it in his pocket that way every night.

The desire to fly, Keyhoe said, started back in the stone age but the first real attempt was not made until 1783 when the first smoke balloon made a successful flight with animal passengers in the basket. “There are no dull moments in the flying of balloons,” he said pointing out that they are left to the whims of the elements.

There has been some criticism of the U.S. government, he said. over the building of dirigibles but pointed out that the two now being constructed for the navy overcome all objections.

The greatest advance in flying has been in airships. He traced the steady progress of aviation since the first Wright plane had been sent aloft and said it received its biggest boost during the late war. Rapid strides have been made since the coming of peace until today there are airplanes from coast to coast with airports and beacon lights to assist flyers.

“Your training days will be the happiest of your education,” he told the big crowd of students.

Commercial aviation got its big boost from Col. Lindbergh’s goodwill flight and since that time there has been a steady and rapid increase in air mall, air mindedness, etc.

The speaker said that flying is becoming more and more safe and that much unfavorable newspaper publicity concerning accidents has been a retarding factor. Government regulations, he pointed out. tend to discourage stunt flying.

He painted a picture of the future of aviation and said that it will be but a short time until practically everybody “will be tacking to the air.” Although
there are still some doubters concerning aviation he prescribed as a cure a ride with a trusty pilot.

Plenty of thrills may be had 
from flying he said without resorting to ddoing “stunts” in the air.

Lieut. Keyhoe was introduced by Supt. R.E. Garrett and given a rousing welcome by the students.


The aviation committee of the Chamber of Commerce was present and held a short conference with him following his address.

If you’d like to read of Keyhoe’s experiences flying with Lindbergh, here’s a copy of Keyhoe’s book sourced a few years ago from archive.org:

“Lives of the Aces in Pictures – Part 7: René Fonck” by Eugene Frandzen

Link - Posted by David on February 3, 2016 @ 6:00 am in

Starting in the May 1932 issue of Flying Aces and running almost 4 years, Eugene Frandzen’s “Lives of the Aces in Pictures” was a staple of the magazine. Each month Frandzen would feature a different Ace that rose to fame during the Great War. This time around we have France’s Ace of Aces—Lt. René Fonck!

Lt. René Fonck is recognized as one of the greatest French air fighters since Captain Guynemer and is credited with bringing down no less than 75 enemy planes, out of a claimed 142—bringing down six in one day (twice)! As his fame grew, sadly, so did his ego and he never really gained the admiration and popularity of Guynemer.

After the war, Fonck returned to civilian life, but kept his hand in aviation even trying to win the Orteig prize by being the first person to fly across the atlantic—he unfortunately crashed on take-off, killing two of his three crew members. Charles Lindbergh would win the prize seven months later.

He return to military aviation and from 1937-39 he acted as Inspector of fighter aviation within the French Air Force. However his later record of working with the Vichy government following the fall of France in June 1940 later besmirched his reputation. A French police inquiry about his supposed collaboration with the Vichy regime completely cleared Fonck after the war. The conclusion was that his loyalty was proved by his close contacts with recognised resistance leaders such as Alfred Heurtaux during the war—and he was awarded the Certificate of Resistance in 1948.

Just five years later Fonck suffered a fatal stroke and died in 1953 at the age of 59.

(Editor’s Note: These early installments of Frandzen’s “Lives of the Aces in Pictures” that were published in the pulp-sized issues have been reformatted from a two page spread into a one page feature.)