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The Spirit of St. Louis

Article by
Dave Pecota

“Spirit of St. Louis” glider #3

 - Broadfield Toy Company


From a historical perspective, no glider gives me as much pleasure to have in my collection as this vintage glider from the Broadfield Toy Co.   As a fella who spent most of his adult life in the aviation industry, I believe there are few aircraft of greater importance in the history of aviation than Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis”.  Undoubtedly, few pilots and their planes have ever captured the adoration of the public or energized civilian aeronautical advancement the way Lindbergh and his silver Ryan Model NYP did in the late 1920’s.  (The “NYP” model designation refers to the airplane’s design goal of flying New York to Paris nonstop.)  Reportedly in post-flight interviews, Lindbergh always stated, “we flew from NY to Paris” … referring respectfully to his aircraft.  In fact, “they” had flown over 3600 miles nonstop in 33.5 hours.

Upon their return to America from Europe (by boat), Lindbergh and the Spirit completed goodwill tours across the US and Central/South America.  Their last flight together … from St Louis to Washington D.C. … ended on April 30, 1928.  The Spirit completed 174 flights in a little over 1 year.  This great airplane was immediately turned over to the Smithsonian, and to this day remains one of the most popular aircraft on exhibit at the National Air & Space Museum.          

Throughout the Spirit’s relatively short flying career, Lindbergh was at the controls for just about every minute of its 489:28 total flying hours.  He even performed all the test flights after the plane emerged from Ryan’s San Diego factory in April, 1927.  (A close friend from Lindy’s barnstorming days may have been allowed to do a short “test hop” in the Spirit after the airplane returned to the USA from its transatlantic flight.) 

This toy glider is clearly not a scale model of the Spirit.  It actually has its “big” wing in the back, and is motor-less.  It’s not even silver.  But it was Broadfield’s “homage” to Lindy, his plane and their heroic transatlantic flight in May, 1927. 

As you can see from the photo, the glider is in superb condition for its age.  For the record, the glider is about 10 inches long and has a wingspan of 11½ inches.  Unlike its namesake, it appears never to have flown.  Remarkably, the original brown paper wrapper has also survived.  However, the original rubber to secure the wings vanished into dust decades ago, so contemporary substitutes are standing-in.  This glider was probably made shortly after Lindbergh’s legendary flight to Paris.  At this time, the company had not yet changed the packaging of its standard #3 glider to indicate that a very special version of the glider was inside. 

As indicated on the wing, the Broadfield Toy Company (est. 1919) was located in Hempstead NY.  Interestingly, Hempstead is located just a few miles from the site of Roosevelt Field … the airfield that was Lindbergh’s take-off point for his epic flight.  Perhaps some of the Broadfield employees were among the 500 folks who personally witnessed Lindbergh’s take-off on that cold, rainy morning in May … or heard the drone of the Spirit’s engine as the heavily laden plane struggled for altitude as it headed out over the Atlantic Ocean. 

Unfortunately, we will probably never know how “connected” the company employees were to the Spirit, or how inspired they may have been by the bravery of “Plucky Lindy”.  (Although they were obviously determined to incorporate as much information as they could into the graphics on the wing!)  Nor do we have any information as to the identity of the original owner of the glider … the person who protected it so well since the late 1920’s.   But I feel privileged to have now become the caretaker of this extraordinary “toy plane”.