Did French Pilots Beat Charles Lindbergh’s Transatlantic Flight Record?

charles lindbergh
Charles Lindbergh stands tall next to the plane that he flew to Paris on May 20, 1927. He designed the cockpit so the pilot sits behind the gas tank, relying on a periscope to see ahead. (Photo courtesy Cradle of Aviation Museum)

Parisian officials reportedly erected a plaque that suggests French pilots beat Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 record for the first transatlantic flight by two weeks — but American aviation historians maintain “Lucky Lindy” was first.

Paris city council recently unveiled plaques on a street named for Charles Nungesser and François Coli, whose biplane was lost while they tried to fly from Paris to New York in May 1927, The Times of London reported. The plaque credits the duo with “crossing the Atlantic” and replaces a prior plaque that noted they “disappeared while crossing the Atlantic,” the newspaper reported.

“It is for us just a matter of updating facts which give a better understanding of what happened 90 years ago,” Catherine Vieu-Charier, a deputy mayor of Paris, told The Times.

The revision follows French historian Bernard Decré’s claim that Nungesser and Coli crashed in Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, the French archipelago off Newfoundland. Although the wreckage was never found, Decré is planning an expedition next year to find it. While noting that the city didn’t contest Lindbergh’s record, The Times added the French newspaper Le Figaro reported the theory “unseats Charles Lindbergh from his first place.”

Nungesser and Coli were trying to be the first to fly from mainland Europe to North America. Two British pilots had flown from Newfoundland to Ireland in 1919. Lindbergh was the first to fly solo from Long Island to Paris.

Experts, including those at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, maintain that despite the new Parisian plaques, Lindbergh still holds the title.

“Nungesser and Collie… disappeared at sea, period,” said Robert Ragozzino, who runs charleslindbergh.com. “It could be argued they crash landed on the North American continent and were never found, nor their aircraft after 90 years. Sorry, Lindy gets this one.”

News of Paris rewriting their pilots’ plaques came in October, shortly before Lesso Home, a Chinese building material and interior design company, announced their planned $25-million renovation of the Source Mall, which was built on the site of the former air strip where Lindbergh took off for Paris. Signage at the re-branded mall includes of silhouette of Lindbergh’s plane, The Spirit of Saint Louis and the developers invoked the historic flight during a news conference announcing the renovation.

“That’s fake news,” Gary Lewi, a military historian and spokesman for Lesso Home, said when asked about the Parisian claim after the announcement. “If they want to rewrite history, that’s their business.”

A sculpture at The Source Mall marks the spot where Lindbergh’s plane finally got off the ground for good. (Spencer Rumsey/Long Island Press)
A sculpture at The Source Mall marks the spot where Lindbergh’s plane finally got off the ground for good.
(Spencer Rumsey/Long Island Press)

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