American Portraits

The Spirit of St. Louis: Charles Lindbergh and Courage

In this lesson, students will study the courage demonstrated by Charles Lindbergh during his cross-Atlantic flight and determine ways in which they can act with courage in their own lives.

Founding Principles

Private Virtue image

Private Virtue

The idea that only a knowledgeable and virtuous citizenry can sustain liberty.

Narrative

On the evening of May 19, 1927, aviator Charles Lindbergh was being hounded by reporters in New York City as he made his way to a Broadway play. Lindbergh had been trying to get his mind off the historic flight he intended to make by being the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from New York to Paris. He was also trying to fight off the boredom of waiting for a break in the week’s stormy weather across the Northern Atlantic. A few competitors were similarly hoping for sunny skies in order to be the first to fly to Paris. They all wanted to be the first to achieve this goal in the exciting new frontier of the skies….

Narrative PDF

Compelling Question

How can you act courageously in your day-to-day life?

Virtue Defined

Courage is the capacity to overcome fear in order to do good.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, students will study the courage demonstrated by Charles Lindbergh during his cross-Atlantic flight and determine ways in which they can act with courage in their own lives.

Objectives

  • Students will analyze Charles Lindbergh’s courageous actions on the Spirit of St. Louis.
  • Students will determine ways in which they can act with courage in their own lives.
  • Students will assess the effects of courageous behavior.

Background

Aviator Charles Lindbergh was born in 1902, just a year before the Wright brothers’ historic flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Lindbergh was often an indifferent student, but he loved tramping around the outdoors, driving a Ford Model T, and tinkering with technology. In 1922, he made his first flight and instantly fell in love with flying airplanes. “My early flying seemed an experience beyond mortality. There was the earth spreading out below me, a planet where I had lived but from which I had astonishingly risen,” he wrote.

Lindbergh did not just pilot planes. He studied manuals and worked on engines to learn about them and how they worked. He went on barnstorming tours of the Midwest and West where he was a daredevil who walked on the wings of planes during airshows. He was even daring enough to test out some of the first parachutes. Most of all, Lindbergh loved flying and soon purchased his first bi-plane.

Out of a sense of patriotic duty and to perfect his flying, Lindbergh joined the Army Air Service in 1924. Over the next two years, he continued to barnstorm at airshows and flew for a private company that contracted out its services to the government to deliver air mail. He had to bail out of the planes or make crash landings several times and barely escaped with his life. Still, nothing would stop this intrepid pilot from braving the dangers to fly.

Several pilots from around the world courted the dangers in order to be the first to achieve historic flights. In 1919, three U.S. Navy seaplanes (with multiple pilots) attempted to fly from New York to England, and one plane made it. In 1923, two U.S. Army pilots flew across the continental United States. In 1926, Richard Byrd and Floyd Bennett flew across the North Pole. A wealthy French businessman offered the $25,000 Orteig Prize for a solo pilot to fly across the Atlantic from New York to Paris or vice-versa back in 1919, but the prize had yet gone unclaimed. In 1926 and 1927, several aviators were preparing to attempt the seemingly impossible and fly across the Atlantic. One of them was the courageous Lindbergh, who moved to San Diego to oversee construction of his plane, Spirit of St. Louis. By the spring of 1927, he was ready to fly solo across the Atlantic or die trying.

Vocabulary

  • Aviator
  • Indifferent
  • Tinkering
  • Mortality
  • Barnstorming
  • Bi-plane
  • Intrepid
  • Hounded
  • Broadway
  • Meteorological
  • Sluggishly
  • Foolhardy
  • Arrogance
  • Squall
  • Undaunted
  • Reckoning
  • Ecstatic
  • Ticker-tape parade

Introduce Text

Have students read the background and narrative, keeping the Compelling Question in mind as they read. Then have them answer the remaining questions below.

For more robust lesson treatment, check out our partners at the Character Formation Project

Visit Their Website

Questions

Walk-In-The-Shoes Questions
As you read, imagine you are the protagonist.

  • What challenges are you facing?
  • What fears or concerns might you have?
  • What may prevent you from acting in the way you ought?

Observation Questions

  • Charles Lindbergh stated, “My early flying seemed an experience beyond mortality. There was the earth spreading out below me, a planet where I had lived but from which I had astonishingly risen.” What does this statement tell you about his identity?
  • What was Lindbergh’s purpose in flying across the Atlantic solo?
  • Why was Lindbergh willing to risk his life in attempting to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean?

Discussion Questions
Discuss the following questions with your students.

  • What is the historical context of the narrative?
  • What historical circumstances presented a challenge to the protagonist?
  • How and why did the individual exhibit a moral and/or civic virtue in facing and overcoming the challenge?
  • How did the exercise of the virtue benefit civil society?
  • How might exercise of the virtue benefit the protagonist?
  • What might the exercise of the virtue cost the protagonist?
  • Would you react the same under similar circumstances? Why or why not?
  • How can you act similarly in your own life? What obstacles must you overcome in order to do so?

Additional Resources

  • Berg, A. Scott. Lindbergh. New York: Berkley Books, 1998.
  • Hixon, Walter L. Charles A. Lindbergh: Lone Eagle. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

Give Feedback

Send us your comments or questions using the form below.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Close