The Big Jump

The Big Jump Lindbergh and the Great Atlantic Air Race BAK, Richard

As the little silver monoplane sloshed down the unpaved, rain-soaked runway on the morning of May 20, 1927, many of the silent onlookers remembered the fireball that ended the previous attempt to cross the Atlantic from this same Roosevelt Field strip. The Spirit of St. Louis, carrying obscure Midwestern pilot, Charles Lindbergh, and more than one and a half tons of gasoline, barely cleared the telephone lines at the runway's end, and thoughts turned to the acclaimed French fliers Charles Nungesser and FranÇois Coli, who had disappeared over the ocean less than two weeks earlier. One spectator muttered what many were thinking: "We'll probably never see the poor guy again." The furious international competition to win the $25,000 Orteig Prize for the first nonstop flight between New York and Paris had already claimed six lives. Would there be an unlucky seventh?

In The Big Jump, award-winning author Richard Bak takes you back to the glorious era when every pilot was a daredevil and every flight was a near-death experience. Here you'll meet the most colorful and intrepid airmen of the age, the pilots, engineers, and designers who would lift aviation out of its infancy, and some unsavory characters who sought fame and fortune through the efforts of others.

This gripping account of the deadly contest that captured the world's imagination and culminated in one of the twentieth century's most thrilling personal achievements draws on many previously overlooked sources to take a fresh look at the men, technologies, and media frenzy that made it happen. It offers compelling portraits of René Fonck, the fastidious French "ace of aces" whose heroics did little to offset his grating personality; the brilliant but chronically broke Igor Sikorsky, whose giant three-engine biplane "should" have been first across the Atlantic; Commander Richard Byrd, whose celebrated Arctic exploits seemed to make him a shoo-in for the prize; and Clarence Chamberlin, a gifted seat-of-the-pants pilot who would forever feel cheated out of glory by the machinations of his mercurial partner, Charles Levine.

But it was "The Lone Eagle," a modest young man who craved solitude as much as he did adventure, who would become the icon of the new "air age." Bak traces Lindbergh's career from his early days as a barnstorming aerial stuntman, crackerjack military flier, and airmail pilot through his carefully planned and perfectly executed transatlantic crossing. The author offers a memorable account of the unprecedented response to Lindbergh's flight and how the newly minted hero coped with the universal and often mindless idolatry: the seemingly endless string of parades, speeches, awards, and banquets; the countless letters, telegrams, and gifts; and the massive, adoring crowds. Ironically, Bak reveals, Lindbergh's reluctance to bask in glory only enhanced his image as an incorruptible "fair-haired Apollo" and added to his already suffocating fame. In an age of unrestrained "ballyhoo," the shy, handsome Lindbergh unwillingly became the biggest celebrity on the planet.

Complete with scores of rare photos and new revelations about some of the obscure figures from the early days of aviation, The Big Jump is must reading for Lindbergh fans, aviation buffs, and anyone who loves an epic tale of true adventure well told.


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Turner Publishing Company
336 pp.

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