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View Full Version : Charles Lindbergh's flight--how did he navigate?


chappachula
11-26-2014, 05:12 AM
Specifically, how did he account for cross-winds?

I'm reading* an entertaining history of 1927, which covers the many attempts to fly across the Atlantic, both before and after Lindbergh's famous flight. One part of Lindbergh's success is that he actually landed where he intended, in Paris. The other pilots, if they didn't die , generally missed their targets by hundreds of miles.

How did Lindbergh navigate? He had a compass, and could do simple calculations of speed/distance covered, etc. But what about the wind blowing his plane around?
If you point your nose at a certain bearing on a compass, obviously you can fly in that direction. But how do you know if you are being pushed sideways by the wind? Over land, there are visible points of reference which you can focus on, and make corrections as necessary. But over the featureless ocean, how did Lindbergh do it?





(on edit: note to mods, please move this to GQ. )

(*by Bill Bryson--"One Summer: America in 1927" . It's a fun, entertaining look back in time.)

Gus Gusterson
11-26-2014, 07:15 AM
I'm reading the same book. According to this page (http://timeandnavigation.si.edu/navigating-air/early-air-navigators/charles-lindbergh/lindberghs-calculated-risk), he had some tools for navigating but he also got lucky that "winds during his flight had caused no significant drift."

asterion
11-26-2014, 08:04 AM
The best answer is probably found by reading Lindbergh's account of the flight, "WE". Wiki mentions a combination of celestial navigation and dead reckoning.

Count Blucher
11-26-2014, 08:52 AM
*not a serious reply*

"No, Jimmy, don't cite this in your book report."
Rumor has it that as he was lost in heavy clouds he heard an unusual sound (http://bit.ly/1tj9XET), one that he had never heard before....

Son of a Rich
11-26-2014, 08:58 AM
Am I misremembering a ludicrous scene from the Jimmy Stewart movie: he circles his plane above some guy in a boat, and yells something like, "Hey! Which way is Paris!?!" Sounds totally absurd, but it was a dramatization.

carnivorousplant
11-26-2014, 09:09 AM
Am I misremembering a ludicrous scene from the Jimmy Stewart movie: he circles his plane above some guy in a boat, and yells something like, "Hey! Which way is Paris!?!" Sounds totally absurd, but it was a dramatization.

I vaguely recall that being factual.

Son of a Rich
11-26-2014, 09:24 AM
I vaguely recall that being factual.

But wouldn't he have to be flying really low, make an incredibly tight circle at that dangerously low altitude, and yell loud enough to be heard over the noise? To fly a tight circle (afaik), you have to fly faster than usual because stall speed is lower in turns. So the boat guy would be dazzled by a plane screaming around him, but conversing with the pilot would be difficult :dubious:

LawMonkey
11-26-2014, 09:26 AM
The best answer is probably found by reading Lindbergh's account of the flight, "WE". Wiki mentions a combination of celestial navigation and dead reckoning.

Which sounds about right. Sailors were navigating open seas for hundreds of years before Lindbergh's flight, and they had to account for currents pushing them around, right?

carnivorousplant
11-26-2014, 09:29 AM
You are correct (http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/lindbergh.htm):

I have carried on short conversations with people on the ground by flying low with throttled engine, and shouting a question, and receiving the answer by some signal. When I saw this fisherman I decided to try to get him to point towards land. I had no sooner made the decision than the futility of the effort became apparent. In all likelihood he could not speak English, and even if he could he would undoubtedly be far too astounded to answer. However, I circled again and closing the throttle as the plane passed within a few feet of the boat I shouted, "Which way is Ireland?" Of course the attempt was useless, and I continued on my course.

carnivorousplant
11-26-2014, 09:36 AM
Which sounds about right. Sailors were navigating open seas for hundreds of years before Lindbergh's flight, and they had to account for currents pushing them around, right?

I think one can get a rough idea of leeway from the angle of the sails and trigonometry.

carnivorousplant
11-26-2014, 09:43 AM
Double post.

Son of a Rich
11-26-2014, 10:29 AM
nm

Freddy the Pig
11-26-2014, 10:43 AM
Over land, Lindbergh followed the highway and railroad networks, using (duh) highway and railroad maps. When near coastline of course he could also follow the contour of the coast.

Over water he had a compass and a speedometer. As noted he was at the mercy of wind drift, but he didn't take off until he had decent weather at least as far as Canada. And, he got lucky and didn't drift much.

As he approached Europe of course he would again pick up the coast, and could ask people in boats, albeit as discussed above with poor results.

Cicero
11-26-2014, 11:42 AM
Adcock and Brown landed not far from their intended destination seven years earlier and by the time Lindbergh had made his flight about 80 people had already flown the Atlantic (some as passengers of course)

What Lindbergh did it by himself is pretty remarkable but there were quite a few around the time doing similar long haul flights in pretty horrible aircraft by today's standards - Ramon Franco, Charles Kingsford Smith and Bert Hinkler are a few.

ftg
11-26-2014, 11:58 AM
He also would go low at times to check on wave direction: that would tell him lower level wind direction. But that didn't work too well at night, of course.

A lot of seat-of-his-pants stuff went on.

As long as he didn't run out of fuel, have an engine or other failure, and didn't fall asleep, he was going to make it. So at least 2/3 of his "luck" was having a fine airplane.

jtur88
11-26-2014, 12:44 PM
Lindbergh fitted the plane with an earth inductor compass, which was not part of the original navigation equipment.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth_inductor_compass

Pleonast
11-26-2014, 01:34 PM
I think one can get a rough idea of leeway from the angle of the sails and trigonometry.
Sails don't work that way.

carnivorousplant
11-26-2014, 01:45 PM
Sails don't work that way.

The angle of the sail has nothing to do with your true course? Googling I see that one uses a compass and the wake and trig.

Pleonast
11-26-2014, 02:01 PM
The angle of the sail has nothing to do with your true course? Googling I see that one uses a compass and the wake and trig.
It's complicated and you'll have to ask for a sailor for better details, but basically: no. The sail is what moves the boat. The direction is determined by the keel.

And measurements with respect to the wind or water can't determine the true course, because they are moving too. Only measurements of celestial bodies can determine true course.

Robot Arm
11-26-2014, 04:30 PM
It's complicated and you'll have to ask for a sailor for better details, but basically: no. The sail is what moves the boat. The direction is determined by the keel.The keel helps keep the boat on course, but you also need to adjust the boat's rigging so the sails will react to the wind in a way that moves the boat forward. If a competent sailor saw a sailboat, saw its motion through the water, and saw how the sails were set, he could make a reasonable approximation of the wind direction. I don't know if Lindbergh had the knowledge to do that.


I could do it for most sailboats, but for something like those catamarans that they used in the America's Cup I wouldn't have a clue. Those things sail downwind faster than the wind itself; how do they even do that?

njtt
11-26-2014, 04:38 PM
His own explanation was "Alcock and Brown showed me the way! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transatlantic_flight_of_Alcock_and_Brown#Other_crossings)".

Colibri
11-26-2014, 05:54 PM
(on edit: note to mods, please move this to GQ. )

Done.

DingoelGringo
11-26-2014, 06:00 PM
His own explanation was "Alcock and Brown showed me the way! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transatlantic_flight_of_Alcock_and_Brown#Other_crossings)".

Alcohol and what?

njtt
11-26-2014, 07:40 PM
Alcohol and what?

So, you're an American, huh.

carnivorousplant
11-26-2014, 08:55 PM
So, you're an American, huh.

So was Lindbergh. :)

md2000
11-26-2014, 10:12 PM
He was bound to hit land sooner or later. Dead reckoning would work. He aimed in the general direction of Ireland, follow a compass heading, and based on air/land speed, it was what he reached. If he'd been deflected further south he would not have made landfall so soon. The western coastlines of Ireland, Land's End England, and Brittany are pretty easy to tell apart. Once you have a rough Idea where you are, follow the coast.

Between the compass and the shape of the coastline, and then the towns you encounter, you can follow where you are. I imagine once you establish, for example, that you are following the south coast of Ireland, finding Paris is a trivial exercise with maps and compass and rough speed guide. (If it's not too cloudy). You time your traversal of a known distance on the map, and that gives you airspeed vs. land speed, and direction you travel on the map vs. compass heading tells you what angle the crosswind is deflecting you (and therefore what angle to compensate).

Worst case, he'd be blown too far north and after a while realize he should turn south hoping he's not actually too far south, in which case he'd make landfall at Bordeaux instead of Cork or Galway. But stellar navigation would give a rough latitude, and north of Ireland to Basque country is about 12 degrees difference in latitude. "If I'm at 52 degrees and travelled at least the distance to Ireland, I should hit land any time or the headwind is seriously stronger than I thought."

Ranger Jeff
11-28-2014, 01:28 AM
Were there radios then? I know during the Pearl Harbor attack, the Luftwaffe pilots homed in on commercial radio broadcasts from Hawaii.

Over? Did you say "Over"? Nothing is "over" until WE decide it is!

bob++
11-28-2014, 03:35 AM
And don't forget Twinkletoes and Lucky Jim. The first cats to cross the atlantic by air.

Jim's Son
11-28-2014, 07:56 AM
Were there radios then? I know during the Pearl Harbor attack, the Luftwaffe pilots homed in on commercial radio broadcasts from Hawaii.

Over? Did you say "Over"? Nothing is "over" until WE decide it is!

The "Spirit of St Louis" did not have a radio as Lindbergh wanted to save weight so he could carry more fuel.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirit_of_St._Louis

md2000
11-28-2014, 10:02 AM
Were there radios then? I know during the Pearl Harbor attack, the Luftwaffe pilots homed in on commercial radio broadcasts from Hawaii.


No wonder they couldn't hit anything with precision in London, then, if they were using Hawaii radio.

bob++
11-28-2014, 10:15 AM
Luftwaffe pilots just loved the steel guitar.

LSLGuy
11-28-2014, 10:30 AM
Were there radios then? I know during the Pearl Harbor attack, the Luftwaffe pilots homed in on commercial radio broadcasts from Hawaii.

Over? Did you say "Over"? Nothing is "over" until WE decide it is!I'm not a WWII expert, but I'm willing to go out on a limb here and say the Luftwaffe was kinda rare over Pearl Harbor. Imperial Japanese Naval Aviation, not so much.

dropzone
11-28-2014, 11:18 AM
I'm not a WWII expert, but I'm willing to go out on a limb here and say the Luftwaffe was kinda rare over Pearl Harbor. Imperial Japanese Naval Aviation, not so much.A Wright Whirlwind, even throttled down, sounds more like a hardware store being shaken by Godzilla than a whoosh, so the sailors probably couldn't hear or understand Lindbergh.

hajario
11-28-2014, 11:49 AM
I'm not a WWII expert, but I'm willing to go out on a limb here and say the Luftwaffe was kinda rare over Pearl Harbor. Imperial Japanese Naval Aviation, not so much.

Forget it. He's rolling.

carnivorousplant
11-28-2014, 01:08 PM
The British or the Germans had two radio beams for their aircraft to navigate. The other side attempted to jam or fake them.

bob++
11-28-2014, 01:17 PM
British planes had RADAR quite early in the war although it was successfully kept secret. Much development was done in the US from the original work which was passed to them on Churchill's orders.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tizard_Mission

Pilots on a slow aeroplane could easily use celestial navigation to fix their position so long as they could fly above any cloud cover.

carnivorousplant
11-28-2014, 01:59 PM
Pilots on a slow aeroplane could easily use celestial navigation to fix their position so long as they could fly above any cloud cover.

WWII bombers had small windows for the navigator to view stars.

Musicat
11-28-2014, 02:43 PM
But wouldn't he have to be flying really low, make an incredibly tight circle at that dangerously low altitude, and yell loud enough to be heard over the noise? To fly a tight circle (afaik), you have to fly faster than usual because stall speed is lower in turns. So the boat guy would be dazzled by a plane screaming around him, but conversing with the pilot would be difficult :dubious:I had something like that happen to me once. A large boat was going by and someone on the boat had a bullhorn. The boat was too big to get close to shore, so the pilot yelled thru the bullhorn, "Ahoy on shore! Anybody! Which way is the canal?"

I ran down to the shore, and realized he would never hear me, so I just pointed south. I guess it worked, as he took off in that direction.

Obviously that was before GPS.

carnivorousplant
11-28-2014, 02:53 PM
Did you search the paper the next day for shipwrecks? :)
That is a pretty cool story.

Leo Bloom
11-28-2014, 05:37 PM
It's cool that Charles Lindbergh posts here.

ElvisL1ves
11-28-2014, 05:45 PM
Lindbergh also had a drift sight - a tube pointing down at the waves with a reticle on it. Twist the tube until the reticle aligns with the waves, and it indicates the relative direction of the wind to the aircraft bearing. So, even if the crosswind hadn't been negligible, he still could have done the math - it was fortunate he wasn't even more fatigued, then.

An excerpt (http://books.google.com/books?id=lIld6SrHeW4C&pg=PA401&lpg=PA401&dq=drift+sight+spirit+of+st+louis&source=bl&ots=3Gd91qF0FG&sig=Zam3y9lw_-08qHbau7twQnup898&hl=en&sa=X&ei=3Qd5VIGuHMSrgwTV04DADg&ved=0CB4Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=drift%20sight%20spirit%20of%20st%20louis&f=false)from his quickie autobiography Spirit of St. Louis, penned on the ship back to the US, describes it.

md2000
11-29-2014, 07:30 AM
I remember a presentation about motivation and success, where the presenter mentioned Lindbergh and said "nobody remembers the second person to fly across the Atlantic solo".

So I looked it up.

CableCutter
11-29-2014, 05:40 PM
I could do it for most sailboats, but for something like those catamarans that they used in the America's Cup I wouldn't have a clue. Those things sail downwind faster than the wind itself; how do they even do that?

Check out this explanation:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63hvQABLOaE

LSLGuy
11-29-2014, 05:57 PM
I remember a presentation about motivation and success, where the presenter mentioned Lindbergh and said "nobody remembers the second person to fly across the Atlantic solo".

So I looked it up.And it was?

JRDelirious
11-29-2014, 06:57 PM
WWII bombers had small windows for the navigator to view stars.

Heck, airliners as late as the first-series 747 (1969) had sextant ports (in currently flying planes, instrument removed, fitting repurposed as an emergency smoke/fumes purge vent).

carnivorousplant
11-29-2014, 09:00 PM
Heck, airliners as late as the first-series 747 (1969) had sextant ports (in currently flying planes, instrument removed, fitting repurposed as an emergency smoke/fumes purge vent).

You amaze me, Sir. :)

JRDelirious
11-29-2014, 09:11 PM
Ah, it's nothin', one of those bits o' trivia that occupies brain storage that would otherwise record stuff I need like where I left my other set of keys.

Urbanredneck
11-30-2014, 05:47 AM
Now I heard that the US Navy stationed ships every 100 miles to help keep him on course.

md2000
11-30-2014, 09:02 PM
And it was?

I wonder if anyone found the answer...

.

.

.


.

Amelia Earhart.

Certainly by no means "unknown". Apparently after Lindbergh, there was no great attraction for a solo crossing, especially as aircraft became bigger and more reliable enough to take the sense of wonder out of it. Amelia did it as part of a solo around the world attempt 5 years later.

Giles
12-01-2014, 02:09 AM
Amelia Earhart.
It depends on what you mean by the Atlantic Ocean. If it includes the South Atlantic, between South America and Africa, then the second solo flight was by Bert Hinkler.

DrDeth
12-01-2014, 12:06 PM
So, you're an American, huh.

Well, you do know Alcott and Brown weren't the first either- it was Lt. Commander Read, Walter Hinton, Elmer Fowler Stone, James L. Breese, Eugene Rhodes, and Herbert C Rodd,all Americans. And about a month before Alcott and Brown.

But yeah- it's us Americans who are the only ones who push their own achievements into the limelight. :rolleyes::rolleyes::rolleyes:

Saint Cad
12-01-2014, 09:19 PM
Well, you do know Alcott and Brown weren't the first either- it was Lt. Commander Read, Walter Hinton, Elmer Fowler Stone, James L. Breese, Eugene Rhodes, and Herbert C Rodd,all Americans. And about a month before Alcott and Brown.


A&B were the first to do it non-stop.

Siam Sam
12-01-2014, 09:26 PM
A&B were the first to do it non-stop.

But not solo.

Again, I've never, ever heard anyone claim Lindbergh was the first to cross the Atlantic nonstop. Just solo. The "first nonstop" part seems to be some fantasy passed around from Brit to Aussie to Kiwi in various pubs so they can have one more reason to pile on the Americans and never mind that it's not true.

DrDeth
12-02-2014, 10:47 AM
A&B were the first to do it non-stop.

And Lindberg the first to do it solo. Not to mention the first to go nonstop New York City- Paris.

So, there's several "firsts":

American Crew of NC4- Lt. Commander Read, Walter Hinton, Elmer Fowler Stone, James L. Breese, Eugene Rhodes, and Herbert C Rodd: First to fly across the Atlantic. (New York to Lisbon)
Alcott and Brown: First to do it non-stop. (Flew Newfoundland to Ireland)
Lindbergh: first to do it solo, first to fly nonstop New York City- Paris.

So, it's hardly American jingoism to say that Americans flew across the Atlantic first. Not to denigrate Alcott and Brown's accomplishments. All of these men were pioneering heroes of aviation.

Colibri
12-02-2014, 12:06 PM
But not solo.

Again, I've never, ever heard anyone claim Lindbergh was the first to cross the Atlantic nonstop. Just solo. The "first nonstop" part seems to be some fantasy passed around from Brit to Aussie to Kiwi in various pubs so they can have one more reason to pile on the Americans and never mind that it's not true.

The "solo" part, however, was not a requirement for the Orteig Prize, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orteig_Prize) which is what Lingbergh was competing for. The only requirement was a non-stop flight from New York to Paris in either direction. Other competing teams included multiple pilots. Lindbergh initially became famous mainly for winning this prize.

1927 saw a number of aviation first and new records. The record for longest time in the air, longest flight distance, and longest overwater flight would be set and all would exceed Lindbergh's effort. However, no flyer gained the fame that Lindbergh did for winning the Orteig Prize.

Freddy the Pig
12-02-2014, 01:02 PM
The "solo" part, however, was not a requirement for the Orteig Prize, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orteig_Prize) which is what Lingbergh was competing for. The only requirement was a non-stop flight from New York to Paris in either direction. Other competing teams included multiple pilots. Lindbergh initially became famous mainly for winning this prize.It wasn't a requirement for the prize, but the fact that Lindbergh flew alone was a big reason that he became more famous than other aviators, both at the time and afterward.

It made too good of a story--famous aviators (Admiral Byrd and various European WWI air aces) were competing for the prize, as teams, with well-heeled backers. And here out of nowhere came this American that nobody had heard of, in his twenties and looking even younger, a frigging airmail pilot, backed only by a handful of St. Louis businessmen, flying alone and in a tiny airplane and carrying off the prize.

The fact that Lindbergh was young, handsome, and single didn't hurt.

And lest we forget, it wasn't just Americans who were smitten--Europe went apeshit over Lindbergh.

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