July 2, 2017

Lindbergh’s Historical Night Flight Over Arkansas

While movie stars and singers have always dominated popular culture and competed for the hearts of rabid fans, America once had a celebrity of a different feather who neither sang nor danced. He flew. The press dubbed him “Lucky Lindy” and the “Lone Eagle” and in a time when the idea of flight was definitely a “fancy”, Charles Augustus Lindbergh was making it a reality.

Public domain photo from Library of  Congress

The desire to soar above the clouds was a notion that existed long before Charles Lindbergh became a celebrity. The Chinese transported flying objects in the form of kite flying as far back as several hundred years BC, beginning the earliest form of flight. They used these kites to measure distance, lift men, and send messages. In India, the kite evolved into a “fighter” kite, using an abrasive line to cut down other air born kites in battle. In 852 AD, Armen Firman jumped from a tower in Cordoba, Spain, after covering his body with vulture feathers and attaching two wings from his arms. To say that Firman’s hope sprung eternally would be an understatement. Leonardo da Vinci would dream of flight, creating designs but never following through with their construction. Perhaps he’d heard about Firman’s efforts and thought, “Eh, I’ll just theorize, thanks.” During the 18th century the Montgolfier brothers manned hot air balloon flights, and during that time the foundation for modern aerodynamics was created.

In 1927, Charles Lindbergh joined the long list of historical figures and their quest for wings when he made his non-stop flight from Long Island, New York, to Paris. He became a famous and historical figure known for giving aviation the biggest advances since the Wright brothers. His daughter Reeve once famously recounted, “He could feel its every movement as though it were his own body. My father wasn’t flying the airplane, he was being the airplane.”

Public domain picture courtesy of the U.S. Navy

But before achieving a level of fame that rivaled Elvis, he was a young airmail pilot, smiling widely in his photos, and becoming proficient in the field of flight. The smiling young man in photos could have been partly due to the fact that before his great fame and publicity, he simply enjoyed what he was doing without the limelight. And it was this more carefree version of young Charles that conducted his first historical night flight here in Arkansas in 1923.

While flying his plane on a flight between Mississippi and Texas, Charles encountered engine trouble. He landed in an open space that was used as a local golf course near Lake Village and walked to the nearby clubhouse. He was greeted by Mr. Henry, a man who sometimes used the building as an inn. Mr. Henry offered Charles a place to stay for the night and he accepted.

After Charles spent the day repairing his plane (it should be noted that at this time planes had no instruments, radios or modern navigation tools), he decided to take advantage of the clear night sky and go for a night flight, something he had never done before. He offered Mr. Henry the opportunity to go up with him. In his book “We” Charles recounted the experience.

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“Evening came on with the clearness of a full moon and open sky. The landscape was illuminated with a soft yellow light; an ideal night for flying. I decided to see what the country looked like from the air at night and jokingly asked my host to accompany me. For some reason, he had no fear of night flight although I had been unable to persuade him to go up with me in the daytime. What his reaction would have been, had he known that I had never flown after dark before, is a matter of speculation.”

So, Mr. Henry of Arkansas, and Mr. Lindburgh of Michigan, flew by the light of the moon over the Arkansas landscape. In his book, Charles recounts the success of his first night flight endeavor.

“Later in the evening after the ship was again securely staked to the ground, and we were sitting quietly in the clubhouse, my host stated that he had never spent a more enjoyable quarter hour of his life.”

Photo courtesy of the Department of Arkansas Parks and Tourism

The golf course where Charles landed in Lake Village is long gone, as is the clubhouse where he stayed. The old foundation stones are still there, however, and are currently on private property on North Lake Shore Road. A monument was erected in 1934 by the Chicot Delphian Society that marks the area of Charles Lindbergh’s first night flight.

In 1927, Charles would go on to complete his first solo trans-Atlantic flight, set more records, test many kinds of planes, gain international fame, and tragically lose his son during a ransom-motivated kidnapping. But his first historical night flight took place in relative anonymity, beneath the southern moonlight, overlooking Arkansas’ nighttime landscape.

Liz Harrell

Arkansas Women Bloggers member Elizabeth Harrell is a native Arkansan, author, and freelance writer. Her book, My (not so) Storybook Life, was published in 2011. Her blog projects have been featured in At Home Arkansas, Apartment Therapy, Design Sponge, and Better Homes and Gardens. Visit her at https://elizabeth-harrell.com .