Perspectives: Charles Lindbergh and his Lindbergh Hour Angle
Here at A Collected Man, we often obsess over the stories behind watches, be it a connection to space, racing, or in this case, aviation, there are intriguing tales to be uncovered. Since the arrival of air-travel, the watch has been a critical tool for use predominantly while calculating geographical positioning. There are a number of straight-forward methods to calculate this, the first being ‘The Hour Angle’.
The principle is based on this simple calculation - the earth completes a full rotation of 360 degrees over a period of 24 hours, with each hour of the day representing fifteen degrees (360 / 24). The navigator would then calculate the ‘Greenwich Hour Angle’ using a known star, giving you your longitude. This unlikely calculation would go on to inspire the design of an iconic wristwatch, in collaboration with the famed aviator of the 20th century, Charles Lindbergh.
Mr. Charles Lindbergh was born on February 4th, 1902, the son of Swedish immigrants, spending his youth in Minnesota. Lindbergh, known to some as ‘Lucky Lindy’, was an aviator, military officer, author, inventor, environmental activist and explorer, who would rise to stardom after completing a solo mission to cross the Atlantic in his now iconic plane, the Spirit of St. Louis. But before we get to that, lets understand a little about the man and what came before this daring adventure.
From a very early age, Lindbergh had displayed a keen interest in all things mechanical and motorised. This passion for motorbikes and cars soon developed into an obsession for aviation, and after quitting an engineering school he had briefly attended, he would enrol into the Nebraska Aircraft Corporation’s flying school, where he would earn his wings. Due to a lack of available funds, Lindbergh was somewhat ironically denied the right to fly solo, as he couldn’t afford the damage bond. In order to raise the funds, he hit the road barnstorming (flying circus), performing as a wing-walker and parachutist. He returned to his hometown half a year later, and managed to buy his first aircraft for $500, a Curtiss JN-4 which was a relatively basic bi-plane, originally designed for military training purposes. It was in this plane that Lindbergh would complete his first solo flight. Despite not having been at the controls of a plane for over six months, he decided he was ready, and took to the air. An action quite detached from today's reality.
With advancements in the aviation industry coming thick and fast, certain seemingly unattainable targets were being set by wealthy individuals determined to incentivise those brave enough to write themselves into the history books. One such man was French hotelier Raymond Orteig, who was advised by the Head of the Aero-Club of America to offer a $25,000 reward (roughly $350,000 in today’s terms) for a non-stop transatlantic flight from New York City to Paris in either direction. There were a number of serious attempts made, however, on Friday, May 20th 1927 at 7:52 AM, Charles Lindbergh would take off on what would become the first, ever successful solo transatlantic flight.
It’s reported that when he landed, "Lucky Lindy" was greeted in Paris by an adoring crowd of roughly 150,000 people, who carried him around cheering for nearly a whole hour.The aircraft he used was a mono-plane powered by a J5-C Wright Whirlwind radial engine, and yes, Wright as in the father’s of flight, the Wright Brothers. The following 33.5 hours and 5,850 kilometres, that Lindbergh and his plane, ‘The Spirit of St. Louis’ would face, were enough to defeat just about anyone. According to the brave pilot, he faced storms, constant fights with icing, flying blind for several hours through fog and extreme fatigue, as he would need to remain awake for the entirety of the flight. He did all this without a parachute or a radio, to save on fuel. It’s reported that when he landed, "Lucky Lindy" was greeted in Paris by an adoring crowd of roughly 150,000 people, who carried him around cheering for nearly a whole hour. This incredible achievement shot his name to worldwide recognition, and rightly so. As an official timekeeper for the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), Longines participated in approving this historic achievement by timing the flight and adding it to the list of aerial records.
Following the flight, Lindbergh imagined and sketched an instrument that would be able to calculate geographical positioning to a greater level of accuracy. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and so it’s quite easy to imagine how and why Lindbergh felt this creation was necessary after his flight with a very stripped-back version of the required tools. As Longines were the official time-keeper, it only seemed logical for the aviator to team with the brand in developing this wristwatch. The watch would feature a rotating bezel and inner dial, the outer featuring a scale to adjust for the daily equation of time, while the inner shows each 15 degree on a rotating disc that allows the user to synchronise the seconds hand. The watch remains a part of the brand’s heritage collection, which pays tribute to iconic pieces throughout their long and varied history.
We would just like to extend a thank you to the Longines Museum for granting us access to their spectacular collection.