Back in 1968 I was the relief copilot on Pan Am’s Boeing 707 Rome to New York morning flight. I was doing pre-departure Doppler navigation system checks and the captain, first officer and flight engineer were busy accomplishing other pre-departure duties when the purser entered the cockpit with news that Charles Lindbergh would be traveling with us in first class. It wasn’t unusual since Lindbergh was a Pan Am consultant and periodically rode our flights on company business, but it was the only time he flew on one of my trips. The captain thanked her and we all nodded. She flashed her “Pan Am smile,” a fleeting, superficial expression of politeness, then turned and left.
Flying from Rome to JFK normally took over nine hours and sometimes much longer depending on routing and headwinds. I was on board to relieve the captain and first officer so that they each had a few hours rest during the trip. It was customary for all of us to be in the cockpit during the departure and early stages of cruise flight as well as during the descent, approach and landing to provide an extra set of eyes and ears at those busy periods.
Our route passed over Paris, across the English Channel, over the UK and out over the Atlantic. After leveloff, when the seat belt light had been switched off, a flight attendant brought up a tray of hors d’oeuvres. Before she left, the captain asked her to invite Mr. Lindbergh to the cockpit if he cared to visit. Back in those days before reinforced cockpit doors and high security, captains had more latitude about who could enter the cockpit and we thought nothing of his gracious gesture.
About 45 minutes later, the purser chimed the cockpit and said Mr. Lindbergh would like to come forward and visit the flight deck. The captain responded: “Sure, bring him up.” The watch list had already been posted and I was scheduled to go aft to a first class seat for crew rest since I would relieve the captain and then first officer during the ocean crosssing and down the Canadian Maritimes to JFK.
But I chose to hang around for Mr. Lindbergh’s visit.
There was a knock on the cockpit door. The flight engineer looked through the door’s viewing port, opened the door, and in walked the purser and Mr. Lindbergh, an erect, lean, gray-haired gentleman with angular facial features. I unstrapped and offered him my jump seat behind the captain. The captain introduced himself and we all did in our turn.
He had a polite, no nonsense countenance and sat quietly, taking in the scene of gauges, status lights, charts and logs amid the loud hiss of air streaming by outside at .80 Mach. By then we had entered French airspace and were approaching Paris. Skies were clear and Paris lay before us about six miles below with Le Bourget Airport clearly visible. The captain turned around to Lindbergh and pointed down at Le Bourget and said: “Well I guess you recognize that place.” Lindbergh just smiled and nodded.
Paris passed beneath the nose and a little while later French air traffic control handed us off to British controllers. I switched off the frequency to monitor the first officer on a separate frequency while he got our oceanic routing. Lindbergh sat quietly, taking it all in. With nothing much going on at that point we were just a small fraternity of five airmen in the cockpit, the captain, first officer, flight engineer, me and Mr. Lindbergh, heading west on a sunny day toward New York.
After receiving our oceanic clearance the captain and first officer set about verifying and entering the first two course segments in the Boeing’s Doppler navigation system. Lindbergh watched as the pilots set in the oceanic courses down to a tenth of a degree which included corrections for magnetic deviation in the 707’s two compass systems. With that accomplished, the cockpit was quiet again.
All this attention to detail must have piqued Lindbergh’s memory. He smiled and said: “I was flying down in Mexico,” (most likely it was back in the 1920s or 30s but he didn’t say). He went on: “The maps were spotty and I didn’t know where I was. I saw a railroad track and thought I’ll just drop down and follow it to a station and read the town’s name off the station sign. So I followed the track and sure enough a small station came into view up ahead. I descended to rooftop height and spotted a sign above a doorway. As I flew by I could read the sign’s bold letters but it was no help. It said CABALLEROS.” Lindbergh had located the men’s room entrance and nothing more. We all had a good laugh. His presence in our cockpit that day was proof that he ultimately found his way to a safe landing on that flight long ago.
We shook hands and I left the cockpit for my crew rest seat in first class. Lunch would be served soon, then I’d get a short nap before it was time to relieve the captain. Across the aisle, the gray-haired gentleman returned unobtrusively from the cockpit to his seat and was served lunch. Then, like me, he dozed off to sleep. Passengers took no notice.