NORTH TO THE ORIENT
Anne Morrow Lindbergh
FLYING implies freedom to most people. The average person who hears the drone of a motor and looks up from the walls of a city street to see an airplane boring its way through the clear trackless blue above- the average person, if he stops to use his imagination, may say to himself casually, "Free as a bird! What a way to travel! No roads- no traffic- no dust- no heat- just pick up and go!"
In that careless phrase he is apt to overlook what lies behind the word "free." He is apt to forget, or perhaps he never knew, the centuries of effort which have finally enabled man to be a bird, centuries of patient desiring, which reach back at least as far as the Greek world of Icarus. For Icarus, trying to scale the skies with his waxen wings, was merely an early expression of man's desire to fly. How long before him the unexpressed wish wrestled in the minds of men, no one can tell.
And since flight is not a natural function of man; since it has been won by centuries of effort; since it has been climbed to arduously, not simply stumbled upon; since it has been slowly built, not suddenly discovered, it cannot be suspended as the word "freedom" is suspended in the mind. It rests, firmly supported, on a structure of laws, rules, principles- laws to which plane and man alike must conform. Rules of construction, of performance, of equipment, for one; rules of training, health, experience, skill, and judgment, for the other.
Not only must a man know how his plane is made, what it will do, how it must be cared for; but also- to mention only a few of the rules that govern him- what the ceiling of his plane is, whether it will go high enough to clear any elevation on the route; what the gas capacity is, how far it will carry him; what points he can reach for refueling; how to navigate through a signless sky; where he will land for the night; where he can get emergency repairs; what weather conditions he may meet on his way; and, keeping in mind the back stairs, what equipment he should carry in case of a forced landing. All this he must know before he can win that freedom of a bird, before he can follow that straight line he has drawn on the map, directly, without deviation, proverbially "as the crow flies."
The firm black lines which we ruled straight across Canada and Alaska, preparatory to our flight, implied a route which, in its directness of purpose and its apparent obliviousness of outside forces, looked as unerring and resistless as the path of a comet. Those firm black lines implied freedom, actual enough, but dearly won. Months, and indeed years, of preparation made such freedom possible.
It is true that as air travelers we were free of many of the difficulties that had beset the early surface travelers in search of a Northwest passage. Our fast monoplane could carry us far above most of the dangers mentioned by Master George Best "mountaines of yce in the frozen Sea . . . fiercenesse of wilde beastes and fishes, hugenesse of woods, dangerousnesse of Seas, dread of tempestes, feare of hidden rockes." But in any comparison between us and the early navigators, there were disadvantages to offset advantages.
The early travelers, although confined to navigable waters, and restricted by slow speed, nevertheless were favored with a limitless fuel supply. Wherever they went and no matter how long they were gone, they could count on the wind for power. They might have difficulties in using it, now coaxing it, now fighting it; but they would never completely drain their supply. It was inexhaustible. Whereas we must plan and budget our fuel, arrange for its location along the route, sometimes sending it ahead of us by boat or train, sometimes using fuel already cached through the North.
And although they had to be prepared for longer time, we must be prepared for greater space- north and south, sea and land- and therefore more varied conditions. Our equipment had to be as complete as theirs, and our carrying capacity was far more limited in weight as well as space.
Our craft, the Sirius, with its six-hundred-horsepower cyclone engine, was equipped with gasoline tanks which would carry us for two thousand miles, and with pontoons that would enable us to land in Hudson Bay, on the many inland lakes throughout Canada, along the coast of Alaska and Siberia, and among the Japanese islands. The general equipment had to include, among other things, instruments for blind flying and night flying; radio and direction-finding apparatus; facilities for fueling and for anchoring. (We had a twenty-five-pound anchor and rope tucked into a small compartment in the pontoons.) Aside from the general equipment indispensable for our everyday flying, we must carry a large amount of emergency supplies: an adequate repair kit and repair materials; a rubber boat, a sail and oars; an extra crash-proof, waterproof radio set; parachutes; general camping equipment and food supplies; firearms and ammunition; a full medicine kit; warm flying suits and boots; and many other articles.
The contingencies to be provided for were many and varied. We must consider the possibility of a parachute jump, and carry in our flying-suit pockets the most concentrated food and the most compact first-aid kit. We must be prepared for a forced landing in the North, where we would need warm bedding and clothes; and in the South, where we ought to have an insect-proof tent; and on the ocean, where we would need, in addition to food, plenty of fresh water.
And we must not exceed our limited weight budget. Every object to be taken had to be weighed, mentally as well as physically. The weight in pounds must balance the value in usefulness. The floor of our room for weeks before our departure was covered with large untidy piles of equipment. All day, while my husband was supervising the work on the plane, the piles had "Please do not disturb" signs on them. Each night they were rearranged. The things we had decided to take were heaped against one wall: rubber boat, flying suits, gloves, helmets, and stockings, pell-mell on top of each other. In the middle of the room were the baby's white scales and a large mountain of not-yet-decided-upon equipment. A third pile- by far the most untidy- of discarded things lay on the hearth.
I sat in the middle of the cans and read a book on calories, commenting from time to time, "Now, tomatoes haven't much food value, but they keep you from getting beri-beri. Magellan's men all got beri-beri, do you remember?" or, "Few calories in hardtack, but it will fill up the hole still left inside of you, after you've eaten your army rations for the day."
My husband added and subtracted endlessly from lists. "This shotgun would kill birds if we needed food; but each shell weighs nearly two ounces, and the gun itself weighs six pounds. Think what that would mean in food!"
"Or shoes," I said. Shoes are the most weight-expensive item in personal baggage. I tried to get along on two pairs. We allowed ourselves eighteen pounds each, including suitcase.
"I want a pair of shoes," I would say, entering a shop, "that I can wear at balls and dinners, and also at teas and receptions, and also for semi-sport dresses, and also for bedroom slippers."
"Anything else, Modom?" asked the bewildered clerk.
"Yes, I like low heels."
"Try our 'Growing-Girl' Department," he said, glad to get rid of me.
My preparation, however, did not consist alone in tracking down impossible shoes through "Growing-Girl" departments. The most important part of my work was learning to operate our radio. It started when my husband began explaining how safe the trip was going to be.
"Of course, we'll have to use pontoons instead of wheels up there," he remarked, studying the map of Canada, early in our preparations.
"Pontoons over all that dry land?" I queried.
"Yes, you can usually get down on a lake in northern Canada. The Canadian pilots always use seaplanes. And coming down the coast of Siberia, we could probably find sheltered water to land on- in an emergency we might even land in open ocean."
(Raised eyebrows, the only reply.)
"And if the ship got badly banged up," continued my husband, "we have the rubber boat."
"If we came down in the middle of the Bering Sea, Charles," I insisted, "it would be quite a long row to Kamchatka!"
"We might sail to shore, but otherwise we wouldn't have much chance of being found without radio," he agreed. And then firmly, "We'll have to carry radio."
"Can you operate radio?" (I can see it coming, I thought, I can just see what's going to happen.)
"A little- I learned at Brooks." (Then turning to me.) "But you will have to be radio operator."
"Oh!" (There it is! I thought.) "Well- I'll see."
The next day he came home with a small practice set of buzzers and keys, connected to two dry cells. When I pressed down the key, there was a little squeak which brought four dogs and the baby scrambling into my room. I went on boldly with the Morse code in front of me, and, like everyone with a new fountain-pen, spelling out my own name in dots and dashes: "Dit-darr, darr-dit, darr-dit, dit."
An experienced radio operator gave us practice in receiving in the evenings. It reminded me of French dictées in school, where, at first, I could copy all the words; then I stumbled over a hard one; finally, after struggling along, three or four words behind, I gave up in a panic, and let the dark torrent of language stream over me without trying to stem the tide.
In the meantime, my husband had been working with the experts of Pan American Airways over the installation of the radio equipment in the plane. We found that we would have to have a third-class license to operate other than emergency calls.
"Here it is," said my husband, reading out of a book of radio regulations, "`Applicants . . . must pass a code test in transmission and reception at a speed of fifteen words per minute in Continental Morse Code . . . and a practical and theoretical examination consisting of comprehensive questions on the care and operation of vacuum tube apparatus and radio communication laws and regulations.'"
"'Comprehensive questions on the care and operation of vacuum tube apparatus,'" I read over his shoulder.
"Now, Charles, you know perfectly well that I can't do that. I never passed an arithmetic examination in my life. I had to be tutored to get through elementary physics in college. I never understood a thing about electricity from the moment that man started rubbing sealing wax and fur!"
"It's too bad you didn't take more," he said heartlessly, "but it's not too late; we'll start tonight. I don't know much about radio; we'll work on it together."
We sat in front of clean pads and newly sharpened pencils that night.
"We might as well start with the vacuum tube," said our instructor.
"We might as well," I echoed, as one replies to the dentist's phrase, "We might as well start on that back wisdom tooth."
He began drawing hieroglyphic diagrams on the pad, and skipping through a rapid simple sketch of the theory. He was about to start on the second diagram.
"Just a moment," I said. "Before you leave that, where is the vacuum tube?"
The instructor's face wore an expression of incredulity, amazement, and then, simply, pity.
"Well, don't you see," he said very gently, as though talking to a child, "this is it," and then he started all over again.
"Oh, I see now," I said, elaborately emphatic, as though it were just a small detail he had cleared up. We went on to the next diagram. I knew my role now. It had a familiar swing, so often had I played it: to sit silent, confused, listening to long explanations which one pretended to understand because one could echo the last phrase said- "This in turn sets up a magnetic field in the tickler coil." The only beam of light in my dark mind was, as always, the thought- "I'll get it all explained to me after class."
This scheme worked very well. With the help of all of the diagrams, my college textbooks, and my husband's explanations, I managed to walk into the examination room one very hot day. I walked out before my husband; but I did not go as fully into the "Theory of regeneration in the vacuum tube." He passed with higher marks.
The practical end was on the whole easier. Long hours of work on the buzzer set in the silence of my bedroom gave me a kind of false confidence. The metallic tick, tick, tick of the key, against a background of chintz, rugs, and sofa pillows, seemed quite crisp and professional. This quality, however, quickly faded in the austere setting of a hangar. On the day of the radio test, the antenna was reeled out and hung on a rafter. An unknown radio operator somewhere on Long Island had agreed to listen for us. I called him shakily, three times. My own sending hissed in the ear-phones. Would I forget the letters? No, they sprang instinctively from my fingers as I read them from the notebook. "Who - - - is - - - at - - - the - - - key?" came back the answer. I had to write down the letters as fast as they came. Still a beginner, my mind heard only single letters, and could not retain whole words.
"Anne - - - Lindbergh - - - how - - - is - - - this - - sending?" I scribbled on my pad and then tapped out. My fingers could not yet read directly from my mind, but only from the written word on the paper.
"Pretty - - - good - - -" the letters ran slowly into words as I copied, "but - - - a - - - little - - - heavy - - - on - - - the - - - dashes-" (It seemed intensely funny to me, this slow deliberate conversation with a strange person somewhere on Long Island.) "-just - - - like - - - my - - - wife's - - - sending."
I smiled in the cockpit. How strange to feel you knew an unknown man from a single phrase over the radio- "just like my wife's sending!" I could hear the tone of his voice, the inflection, the accent on the my, the somewhat querulous, somewhat weary, somewhat kindly and amused, somewhat supercilious, husbandly tone- "just like my wife's sending." Yes, decidedly, there was still a good deal for me to learn.
We thought we were rather well along in our preparations. My husband had been in contact with the State Department in Washington. Gasoline was located along the routes; the pontoons were completed; we had installed a radio of the type used on the South American routes of Pan American Airways; and we were third-class radio operators. But we realized how little we had done when, the morning after the announcement was made of our trip, the newspapers voluntarily flooded us with information. Our routes, stops, distances, and fuel consumption were all accurately planned out for us. (Who, I thought sympathetically, did all that arithmetic in such a short time! I detest turning gas into RPM- revolutions per minute- and RPM into miles.) Someone had gleaned all the statistics for years about weather, winds, and flying conditions across the Arctic. Someone else had ferreted out all known travelers, by foot, ship, train, or plane to Canada, Alaska, Siberia, Japan, and China, and gathered together all the information they had to give. Guidebooks, travelers' diaries, and encyclopedias must have been open long past midnight for that great body of tourist information. "What the Lindberghs will see." "What the Lindberghs should see." "What might interest them." Somebody must have spent sleepless nights for all this. I felt quite guilty as I sat down in a comfortable chair and read about "the hairy Ainus, wild inhabitants of the Chishima Islands" and "Primitive Eskimos who suck the eyes out of raw fish."
It was just as well that I read about them - I never saw any.
THE twenty-seventh of July, 1931, was clear and hot. The heat of a whole summer was condensed dripping into that afternoon. A small crowd of people pressed tightly against the gates to the long ramp at College Point, Long Island. As we drove in I saw many familiar faces between movie-tone trucks and cameras. We had all spent sweltering days together on that wooden ramp, watching trial flights and the installation of equipment. Now the preparation was over, we were ready to go. I suppose they were as relieved as we. Friends came up to say goodby. "We all hope you are going to get through it all right," with voices and expressions that said, "But we don't think you've got much chance."
Picking up our baggage, we hurried into the shade of the factory office. A dark heavy heat hung over everything. Men in shirt sleeves ran in and out. We could hear reporters telephoning, "Just arrived in brown auto- now packing up the plane." I turned around; little boys were looking in the window at me and giggling. I mopped my face and counted my radio pads and pencils. A reporter poked his head in the door. "Can't you even say you think it is an especially dangerous trip, Mrs. Lindbergh?" he asked.
I laughed, "I'm sorry, I really haven't anything to say." (After all we want to go. What good does it do to talk about the danger? "What navigation is there voyde of perill?" . . . "What navigation-")
"But, Mrs. Lindbergh, we would like to get some impressions from you. What is it you dread most? What- " A kind friend repeated that I did not want to talk. It was too hot to talk, anyway. It was too hot to sit down. I leaned against the shiny cool-looking surface of a desk.
As I walked out of the building two women ran up to me.
"Oh, Mrs. Lindbergh," said one, "the women of America are so anxious to know about your clothes."
"And I," said the other, "want to write a little article about your housekeeping in the ship. Where do you put the lunch boxes?"
I felt depressed, as I generally do when women reporters ask me conventionally feminine questions. I feel as they must feel when they are given those questions to ask. I feel slightly insulted. Over in the corner my husband is being asked vital masculine questions, clean-cut steely technicalities or broad abstractions. But I am asked about clothes and lunch boxes. Still, if I were asked about steely technicalities or broad abstractions, I would not be able to answer, so perhaps I do not deserve anything better.
"No," I said. "I'm sorry, but I really haven't anything to say." (What could I say that would have any significance? All the important questions about the trip will be answered by my husband.)
"But you must not disappoint all the people who are so anxious to hear about you. You know, the American Public-"
(-will be disappointed if they don't know where I put the lunch boxes! You aren't going to ask me to believe that, I thought.)
"I'm sorry, I'm very sorry."
I turned to look at the plane. Perched on top of the big pontoons, it seemed small and dainty. They were rolling it down the pier. I thought of all the emergency equipment for North and South, land and water, all parts of the world, packed into that little space. I thought of the two of us, ready to go in it anywhere, and I had a sense of our self-contained insularity. Islands feel like this, I am sure, and walled cities, and sometimes men.
It was ready now; we could get in. "No, thank you, I don't need a ladder to climb up." A mechanic was just clambering out of my cockpit. I had a moment to wait and watch the crowd. A radio announcer was speaking into his microphone. "Mrs. Lindbergh," he started smoothly, with a glance at me, "is wearing a leather flying helmet and leather coat, and high leather flying boots."
"Why!" I thought blankly, looking down at a costume which did not correspond at all to his description. What nonsense! It was much too hot to wear leather. The sun beat down on my bare head and sticky cotton blouse; the hot planks of the pier burned through my thin rubber sneakers. What made him say that, I wondered. Oh, of course, it isn't the conventional flying costume. They have to say that I am dressed in leather. I see, you needn't bother to tell me again, I thought, looking at the announcer. I know, "The Great Radio Public must not be disappointed!"
The spray sluiced over the windshield as we started to take off- faster now- we were up on the step- we were trying to get off the water. I held my breath after each pounding spank as the pontoons skipped along from wave to wave. Weighed down with its heavy test load of fuel, the plane felt clumsy, like a duck with clipped wings. It met the coming wave quivering after each effort to rise. Now the spanks were closer together- quick, sharp jolts. I put my hand on the receiving set. It was shaking violently. Suddenly all vibration smoothed out. Effortlessly we rose; we were off; a long curve upward. The squat ferryboats below plowed across our wake, and great flat barges carrying rectangular mounds of different colored earth like spools of gold and tawny silk. I found the little black mass of people on the pier where we had been. Small and insignificant it looked, now I could see the whole life of the river: many piers and crowded ferryboats, ships and roofs and fields and barges, dredges and smokestacks and the towers of New York. We looked insignificant, also, and small to them, I knew, now that our bulk on the end of the pier no longer blocked the horizon. It had become simply a boat in the river of many boats; then a plane in the sky with other planes; now, only a speck against the blue, mistaken easily for a gull.
The photographer's ship banked under us and vanished. Our flight had begun. We were on our way to Washington for our final clearances and passports. I must start working on the radio. WOA at North Beach was waiting for my first message. "First see that the correct coils are in place." I knew the directions by heart. Slowly I let down the door which opened the transmitting set, and took out the two coils which were there. MO was printed on the back of one; PA, on the other. Master Oscillator and Power Amplifier- I knew those names anyway. They were such nice satisfactory names, one always jingling along rhythmically after the other- Master Oscillator (pause) Power Amplifier. They seem to belong inevitably together like Tweedledum and Tweedledee or Arabella and Araminta, and to complement each other like question and answer. Master Oscillator? Power Amplifier. I held them in my lap, as there was no other place to put them. They were both marked 5615 KC. That was not the right frequency. I was planning to send on 3130 kilocycles, therefore I must find the 3130 coils in the coil box at my feet. Feeling blindly, I took out two at random. (Later I could pick the correct coils by feeling them, as, for example, 500 had the most turns of fine wire.) They turned out to be 500 KC. These also went on my lap. Four more came out. One of the coils fell down and started rolling back into the dark unknowns of the fuselage. I stretched after it and picked up 3130. When I finally had the 313O's plugged in, I started to put the other coils back in the box. It was like trying to fit a lamp's plug into a socket in the dark. First I pushed them down with calm assurance. They would not slip in. Then I carelessly tried to jiggle them in, then scraped them along the whole box, trying to find the holes. I became very hot. Suppose I could not get them in? Would I have to hold them all the way to Washington? What would my instructor say- and all the newspapers! "Mrs. Lindbergh did not do any radio sending because she could not fit the coils into their places."
Power Amplifier- Master Oscillator- I looked at them side by side and suddenly noticed the plugs were placed differently. Power Amplifiers fitted into one side of the box; Master Oscillators, into the other side. (Arabella had a blue hair ribbon, Araminta had a pink hair ribbon, in the nursery tale. I remembered now.) How simple.
"Next unwind the antenna to the proper resonance point." (Approximately forty-eight reel turns for 3130 KC, my direction book read.) I counted forty-eight very carefully. I didn't trust myself to find the correct resonance point by experimentation. Then I practiced my message without turning the switch on the keyboard. The message had been written half an hour earlier, before my adventures with the coils. It read, "Now passing Newark Airport." I would have to change that to, "Nearing Philadelphia." I turned on the switch and called three times to WOA. A buzzing silence followed. Again. No results. I repeated frequently. Something must be wrong. Something quite simple; probably there was a main switch off. I hunted around and found another switch on the dynamotor, and turned it on. I tried to call again. Same result. I reeled the antenna in and out to be sure I had counted the turns correctly. The bulbs were burning in both sets. I remembered something about a knife-switch in the transmitter. "Should be closed when in the air to shunt out a resistance"- whatever that meant. I opened the transmitter and reached for the knife switch- something hit me in the chest! A shock. I remembered now- 400 volts. My husband handed back a canteen of water and a note saying that there must be a "short" somewhere, and telling me to take out the fuses.
"I would if I knew what a fuse looked like."
He showed me a spare one. I took out the fuses and sat subdued for the rest of the flight. Someone had once told me that I was incredibly stupid in mechanical things. Everyone would say it was because I was a woman. Perhaps it was. If I were a failure at radio there would be plenty of time to think about lunch boxes and clothes.
"Don't look so gloomy," read the next note. "Probably due to a short circuit when they installed the compass light- get it fixed at North Beach on our way to Maine. Anyway, the radio isn't important from New York to Washington. Very good weather, too."
I looked out. We were circling over the Potomac River and our anchorage, the little inlet behind Bolling Field. Calm waters mirrored the breathless willows. Our first day's flying was over.