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Orteig Prize

The Orteig Prize was a $25,000 reward offered on May 19, 1919, by New York hotel owner Raymond Orteig to the first allied aviator(s) to fly non-stop from New York City to Paris or vice-versa. On offer for five years, it attracted no competitors. Orteig renewed the offer for another five years in 1924 when the state of aviation technology had advanced to the point that numerous competitors vied for the prize.

Several famous aviators made unsuccessful attempts at transatlantic flights before relatively-unknown Charles Lindbergh won the prize in 1927 in his aircraft Spirit of St. Louis. Lindbergh chose to fly solo, although this was not a requirement of the prize and required him to be at the controls for more than 30 hours. Lindbergh was both the first solo pilot and the first American to cross the Atlantic non-stop in a fixed-wing aircraft (rather than an airship), and he promptly became a national hero. His flight was followed by the "Lindbergh boom", as public interest in air travel bloomed and aviation stocks skyrocketed.

Lindbergh pursued a risky strategy for the competition, depending on a single engined plane, instead of the tri-motors most other groups favored. He also developed a plan to fly the plane solo which allowed him to avoid the personality conflicts that helped delay at least one group. To save weight which had contributed to the crashes of other contributors, Lindbergh also dispensed with non-essential equipment like radios, sextant and parachute (although he brought an inflatable raft). The final key to his success was his decision to fly into weather conditions that were clearing but not clear enough for others to consider safe. Lindbergh was quoted as saying "What kind of man would live where there is no danger? I don't believe in taking foolish chances. But nothing can be accomplished by not taking a chance at all.

Although advancing public interest and aviation technology, the Prize occasioned expenses many times the value of the prize and cost 6 men their lives in three separate crashes. Another three men were injured in a fourth crash. During the spring and summer of 1927, 40 pilots would attempt various long-distance over-ocean flights, leading to 21 deaths. In August 1927 alone, the Orteig Prize-inspired $25,000 Dole Air Race to fly from San Francisco to Hawaii would cost ten lives before it was over.

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.

The Orteig Prize inspired the $10 million Ansari X Prize for repeated suborbital commercial spaceflights.

Timeline

1926

  • April - Ludwik Idzikowski arrives in Paris to investigate aircraft for the Polish airforce. He will also begin planning a trans-Atlantic flight.
  • September 21 - Attempting a New York to Paris flight, Frenchman René Fonck with co-pilot Lt. Lawrence Curtin of the US Navy, crashed their $100,000 Sikorsky S.35 on takeoff, killing radio operator, Charles Clavier, and mechanic Jacob Islamoff.
  • Late October - Richard E. Byrd announces that he is entering competition.

1927

  • February - Igor Sikorsky was reported to be building a new plane for Fonck.
  • April 16 - A test flight of Byrd's $100,000 Fokker C-2 monoplane, America results in a nose-over crash, resulting in Byrd suffering a broken wrist, pilot Floyd Bennett breaking his collarbone and leg, and flight engineer George O. Noville requiring surgery for a blood clot.
  • April 25 - Clarence Chamberlin and Bert Acosta in the $25,000 Bellanca WB-2 monoplane, Columbia, set the world endurance record for aircraft, staying aloft circling New York City for 51 hours, 11 minutes, and 25 seconds and covering 4,100 miles, more than the 3,600 mile from New York to Paris
  • April 26 - U.S Naval pilots, Lieut. Comdr. Noel Davis and Lieut. Stanton Hall Wooster, are killed when their Keystone Pathfinder, American Legion, fails to gain altitude during a test flight at Langley Field, Virginia, about a week before they expected to attempt the New York to Paris flight.
  • Early May - Both Chamberlain's and Byrd's group are at adjoining Curtiss and Roosevelt Fields in New York awaiting favorable flight conditions. Chamberlain's plane's owner Charles Levine is feuding with co-pilot Lloyd Bertaud who obtains a legal injunction. Byrd's group still testing new equipment and instruments.
  • May 8 - Charles Nungesser and François Coli attempted a Paris to New York crossing in a Levasseur PL-8 biplane, The White Bird (L'Oiseau Blanc) but were lost at sea, or possibly crashed in Maine
  • May 10 - May 12 - Repositioning his $10,000 Ryan monoplane, Spirit of St. Louis, to Curtiss Field, in New York, Charles A. Lindbergh sets a new North American transcontinental speed record.
  • May 11 - Byrd's financial backers forbid the group to fly until Nungesser and Coli's fate is known.
  • May 15 - Lindbergh completes test flights. The Spirit of St. Louis total flight time equals only 27 hours, 25 minutes, less than the predicted time required to make the Atlantic crossing.
  • May 19 - Byrd having offered him the use of the longer runway at Roosevelt Field, Lindbergh has his plane moved there and prepared to fly the next morning.
  • May 20 - Lindbergh takes off, requiring ground crew to push his plane, which is flying for the first time with a full load of fuel but no parachute, radio or sextant to save weight.
  • May 21 - Lindbergh captures the Orteig Prize, flying the Spirit of St. Louis, in the first solo transatlantic flight and first nonstop fixed-wing aircraft flight between the American and European mainlands, in 33 1/2 hours.
  • May 21 - Byrd's America officially christened at almost the same time Lindbergh landed in Paris.
  • June 4 - June 6 - Two weeks after Lindbergh, Chamberlain, without Bertaud, flies Levine as his passenger, in the Columbia, from New York to Eisleben, Germany, a record distance of 3,911 miles.
  • June 16 - Lindbergh is awarded the Orteig Prize
  • June 29 - Byrd with replacement co-pilot Bernt Balchen, co-pilot Acosta and engineer Noville fly to Paris in 40 hours, but end up ditching in the Atlantic after finding fog over Paris.

See also

References

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