During two days in May of 1927, Charles Augustus Lindbergh stepped from obscurity into history. His 3,600-mile transatlantic flight from New York to Paris is legendary. Flying solo for 33.5 hours, he became known as the “Lone Eagle.” Seven months after that fateful flight, the young aviator met someone who would become his partner as he explored new air routes, flying with him for uncharted miles. She was Anne Morrow, daughter of Dwight Whitney Morrow, the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.
Birds of a Feather
After the transatlantic flight, Charles Lindbergh was sent on goodwill trips around the world. On a trip to Mexico City, he was entertained by the ambassador and his daughter Anne, a student at Smith College, who was visiting her parents when the young aviator came to call. Charles and Anne were engaged after just four dates. They married on May 27, 1929 and shortly thereafter they took to the air. Charles taught Anne to fly in a Brunner-Winkle Bird BK biplane.
They might have seemed an unlikely couple: He was the tall, lanky adventurer, reserved and independent, while she was small, shy, and studious. Though she probably never had envisioned herself as an aviator, she took to flying quickly and became a very competent pilot and radio operator. In 1930, while pregnant with their first child, she broke the transcontinental speed record by three hours, flying as co-pilot and navigator with Charles in a Lockheed Sirius low-wing monoplane. She would go on to win the National Geographic’s Hubbard Medal—the same medal Charles won for his 1927 transatlantic flight.
The Great Circle Route
In 1931, Pan-American Airlines wanted to chart a commercial air route from New York to Tokyo. Anne and Charles were engaged to embark on a 7,000-mile journey in a custom-made Lockheed Sirius with a dual-controlled tandem cockpit. The plane was equipped with pontoons for water landings, not an unlikely necessity in that day. They dubbed their trip the “Great Circle Route,” setting a course north. From New York, they landed at North Haven, Maine, before setting off through Canada. The Lindberghs landed in multiple cities in Canada and Alaska before setting out across the Bering Strait and crossing the International Date Line—literally “flying into tomorrow.”
Their first stop in Asia was at Karaginsky Island, off of the coast of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. The sparsely inhabited mountainous island required a water landing. The couple then began island-hopping towards Japan. As they approached the city of Nemuro, on Hokkaido, they flew into a typhoon. This northernmost island of Japan was notorious for bad weather, and Anne and Charles struggled to land. In Charles’s autobiography he described it, “My young wife and I lay braced against the fuselage walls while waves broke across our pontoons and wind howled through the cowlings.”
Throughout the night the surf pounded mercilessly, pulling at their anchor rope and threatening to dash their plane on sharp rocks nearby. The Lindberghs slept fitfully for a few hours, but lay awake most of the night waiting for dawn. Their sleeping accommodations were spartan—in the luggage compartment atop their parachute packs. Thankfully, the Japanese navy had been monitoring the couple’s progress and sent the ship Shinshiru Maru to their rescue. The ship sailed into the storm and found the plane. The crew roused the couple by tapping on the plane with an oar. After towing Anne and Charles to safety, the sailors handed the Lindberghs an envelope with this formal message: “The Japanese people eagerly welcome you to Japan and await your safe arrival.”
On Aug. 25, after traveling 7,132 miles in 28 days, the Lindberghs landed on Kasumigaura Bay at the Kasumigaura Naval Airport. They rode a train into Tokyo and stayed until Sept. 13. Charles remarked, “I do not know what effect aircraft will eventually have on the world, but I have great confidence in its future. You must not, however, expect too much in one generation.”
After the tragic and much publicized death of their first child, the Lindberghs had five more children. Charles died in 1974, and Anne lived to be 94. She passed away in 2001, having lived to see the worldwide commercial air travel she helped pioneer become an everyday reality.