Charles A. Lindbergh, first person to fly the Atlantic alone, is a fascinating character. This book, written at the end of his life, is a glimpse in the fertile mind of a great man. He tells the story of being one of the first modern media celebrities, an unsought burden. We also follow him through his careers as a civilian combat pilot in World War II and as a medical researcher.
I wrote this review before I was aware of Lindbergh’s pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic statements. People are complex and mysterious. My admiration of some aspects of his work and stated philosophy should not be taken as an endorsement or even toleration of his significant flaws.
The real appeal of this book is not the facts of Lindbergh’s life, amazing and interesting as they are. The true privilege for the reader is to hear Lindbergh ruminate on the nature of life and spirituality, the ways to remain sane and centered in modern society, and what it means to be an individual while part of a team.
Page references are to the soft cover edition
[Items enclosed in brackets are paraphrases or commentary by Tony Mayo.]
p. 293 Within the major framework of an organized society, individuals are like the atoms making up the matter that our senses see and touch. Theirs is a framework within a framework, and while reactions of individuals are relevant to magnitudes above and below, they are also independent of them. …
It is the lot of civilized man to exist simultaneously in individual and organizational frameworks, and to accept in the world of life, as in the world of matter, certain standards of behavior in one framework that often are not valid in the other. The existence of an organization is bound to the co-operation of a group of individuals who act together through desire or compulsion. But the individual can break away from an organization, and as he moves away he can revert to the primitive. The combination of numerous individuals working in the organizational framework creates a quality of living that could not be attained by each independently. But it is from the individual framework that the organization’s value must be judged; for here, in the end, the decision is made to support, to revolt, to abandon.
p. 361-2 [People’s reluctance to alter behavior based on expert advice.]
Organizations are conceived like men–we will form a squadron; we will have a child–and they live and die as men do. Like men, they have an individuality. When you were a member of a squadron, under the intensity of war, you could merge your existence with it the way an organ merges with its body to function as a whole. Headquarters became your brain; Intelligence, your eyes; Communications, the nerves coordinating action. You realized that the squadron’s welfare had to come before your own. You flew bomber cover as a member of a fighting body and felt an airman’s loss as a body feels a wound.
It was as part of a group that I felt I could function effectively in war. It lead me to solve a problem that our flyers encountered in the Pacific. After one of the first missions I flew with the 475th Fighter Group at Hollandia, New Guinea, the commander, Colonel Charles H. MacDonald, told me the crew chief for my P-3 8 reported it landing with more fuel on board than had been found in the tanks of any other plane. How was that possible, he asked.
A simple investigation brought it out. I had not studied the 475th’s operational procedures. On my own, I had adjusted my engine settings during the mission in accord with techniques I had adopted years before-manifold pressure high and propeller revolutions low. That increased the brake-mean-effective pressure in the cylinders, and decreased fuel consumption. It was an old procedure, well known to long-range flyers. I had used it in less elaborate form when I crossed the Atlantic Ocean in my Spirit of St. Louis. But the young fighter pilots of the 475th had, quite properly, been trained for combat, not for practicing fuel economy. During earlier stages of the war, combat was usually encountered within easy range of the home airstrip and fuel conservation was unnecessary. It was, of course, better to keep your speed up and your revolutions high so you could maneuver quickly on an instant’s warning of enemy attack.
In the New Guinea area during the summer of 1944, a year before the war’s end, fighter squadrons often cruised for hours getting to and from areas where enemy attack could be expected, and the “juiciest” Japanese positions lay usually just beyond a squadron’s range. A decrease in fuel consumption would let the fighters reach more distant targets, thereby increasing opportunity for combat and the achievement of more victories.
By raising manifold pressure and lowering revolutions per minute, the 475th could, I calculated, add well over a hundred miles to its effective combat radius. This seemed simple enough to Mac-Donald and to me, but we had the problem of getting a new technique accepted by group mentality, and then implemented by group action. Of course the commander could issue an order that all engines must be adjusted to the settings I suggested. But that would be like the brain telling the body to breathe slower and run farther. Without training, the result could hardly be satisfactory–especially if only part of the brain believed the idea was a good one. To be successful, we had to get the cruise-control procedures into their bones.
I gave lectures to officers and airmen, compiled simple engine-setting tables for pasting on instrument boards, flew extra combat missions. The fuel economy resulting from methods I advocated had to be accepted. My flights with the squadrons demonstrated that. My P-38 always had, among the others, the most gasoline remaining in its tanks. But were not mechanical parts in my engines being strained? Would breakages result at critical moments of combat when war-emergency power was in use? I sensed behind the pilots’ questions a suspicion that I had access to some magic to be distrusted, that mine was a procedure that the squadron should not adopt for itself as a whole. It meant a radical change in technique for long-range, combat-zone cruise.
Pilots cautiously tried out the new procedures. It was an awkward and uncoordinated effort at first–a little higher manifold pressure, a little lower rpm, rather than the exact settings I advocated. Then, when no breakages occurred and crew chiefs reported the engines to be still in good condition, laggers overcame their timidness and the group as a whole began to sense increasing power gained from range.