It took 33.5 hours for Charles Lindbergh to fly The Spirit of St. Louis nonstop from New York City to Paris in 1927. In 2014, 18-year-old Scott Croft managed to shave off more than seven hours from that time.
Not in an actual airplane per se, but in a simulated cockpit in a corner room on the third floor of the Granite Technical Institute (GTI) in Salt Lake City.
Croft, a senior at Skyline High School who attends aviation courses at the GTI, took up the challenge to recreate Charles Lindbergh’s single engine flight across the Atlantic after aviation teachers Ted Roos and Carl Readicker proposed the opportunity to his class.
“I thought, “Why not?’ I’ve got nothing to lose,” he said.
Croft, who is pursuing a private pilot license, particularly stood out to Roos as someone who would have the endurance and technical knowledge to complete the challenge.
“Scott was the most passionate about the prospect,” Roose said. “We were pretty confident he could pull it off.”
Around 5 a.m. on May 20 (the same day Lindbergh took off from New York City in 1927), Croft took his seat in the cockpit and began a simulation that would last until about 7 a.m. the next day.
Other than the obvious differences between a simulator and an actual flight, Croft’s reenactment mimicked the 1927 flight as much as possible; even down to the food Lindbergh took with him.
“Lindbergh took five sandwiches with him and only ate one,” Croft said. “I ended up eating all five of mine.”
Four water bottles substituted the two canteens aboard The Spirit St. Louis during the original flight. As Lindbergh’s plane didn’t have a front windshield, Roos and Readicker modified the simulator so that Croft could only glance out the side windows and a small 4” x 4” opening at the front of the plane.
Croft said the biggest obstacle during the simulation was fatigue. He recalls falling asleep with his eyes open during a few points in the flight.
To stay alert, he would periodically splash water on his face. When that didn’t work, he resorted to singing any tune he could think of.
“At one point I thought I heard him calling for me,” Roos said. “I leaned closer and realized he was just singing The Star-Spangled Banner; it made me laugh.”
Croft was also given two restroom breaks during the simulation, but he had to ensure that the plane was on the right course before briefly passing off the controls.
“Lindbergh went to the bathroom in the plane, but we didn’t really want him doing that in simulator,” Roos said.
With the knowledge he learned from multiple semesters in aviation courses, Croft stayed on course throughout the flight. As the simulator could not completely replicate the vintage aircraft, Croft’s simulation began to outpace the original record.
“We had to give him a head wind to slow him down a bit,” Roos said.
After completing the tiring feat, Croft said the experience was a big boost in his pursuit to obtain a private pilot license. In addition, he has a newfound respect for one of history’s most famous aviators.
“I have a lot more respect for the man,” Croft said of stepping in the shoes of an America icon. “You can learn a lot in a classroom, but you can’t grasp the full effect unless you try to do what he did.”
The Lindbergh challenge will be put forth to GTI students again next year. After Croft’s successful flight, several other aviation students have expressed their desire to recreate the adventure.