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Lindbergh Comes North

Lindbergh Comes North

Charles and his wife fly circles around the North
By Francis Tessier-Burns
Sep 07
2016
From the August/September 2016 Issue

In 1931, the world’s most famous flier was stuck in Aklavik, NWT. Charles Lindbergh—the first person to cross the Atlantic Ocean solo in one hop—had embarked on a scouting trip of the Great Circle Route. This loop—from New York to China via Canada, Alaska, Siberia and Japan—was thought to be the fastest way to Asia at the time. In late July, Lindberghand his wife, co-pilot and radio operator, Anne—took off in a modified Lockheed Sirius Model 8, retrofitted with floats and a closed cockpit.

The newspapers followed their every move. (When the onboard radio malfunctioned during their Moose Factory, Ontario leg, the Associated Press sent its own plane there to confirm the couple’s safe landing.) After departing Churchill, Manitoba, newspapers reported the radio station in Baker Lake, NWT was down, leaving the Lindberghs behind a “wall of static.” No one would know for days that they’d touched down safe and sound. From Baker Lake, the couple flew 12 hours straight to Aklavik, taking advantage of the near 24-hour sunlight. And there they were stuck.

Harsh winds ground the trip to a halt for three days. When the gusts died down, their takeoff attempts failed—the plane was too heavy. Luckily, Canadian bush pilot Walter Gilbert was in Aklavik at the time and lent a hand. He taxied on the water in front of them, generating enough waves to allow the Model 8 to lift from his slipstream. It was smooth sailing there on out. Despite their brief layover in the North, the couple recognized its restorative powers. While in Baker Lake, Lindbergh was quoted as saying, “A night’s rest here is as good as a week in the south.”