Ninety-two years after Charles Lindbergh flew The Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic, another Spirit of St. Louis took to the skies for the first time Sunday.
The new Spirit, perhaps the most painstakingly detailed replica of the original, flew at 7 a.m. on its maiden flight at Arlington Municipal Airport, with approximately 50 fans cheering it on. After some 9,000 hours to build, this bird was ready to fly.
Ron Fowler of Lopez Island was the pilot. He circled the airport counterclockwise for about an hour. Since the plane doesn’t have a windshield, it was followed by a 170 Cessna as a chase plane. Fowler did two touch-and-go maneuvers, where the plane’s wheels would touch the airstrip, then ascend, like a dragonfly taps the water.
At one point, one spectator said to another, “I can imagine myself back in 1927, as a villager in Ireland, looking up at this strange thing in the air.”
People on the ground also noticed a slight issue during the flight: When the power was released, the engine would sputter. One man said, “The pilot holds the power off and the engine starts poppin’.”
When the plane had landed, owner and builder John Norman said to Fowler: “I think the thing to do is get it back in the hangar and run a compression check.”
Amid the conversations in the crowd, I asked Fowler, “Compared to the other planes that you’ve flown, what’s the difficulty level of this one?” Without hesitation, Fowler said, “10. Yeah, this is probably the toughest plane I’ve ever flown, because of the lack of visibility.”
“It’s hard to tell where I’m at,” he added.
Handling-wise, Fowler said, “In the air, it’s very sluggish on the roll rate. And if you let go of the rudders, it won’t go straight. You have to fly the airplane.” I mentioned that Charles Lindbergh also had to constantly wrestle with the original plane. “And he built it that way,” Fowler replied. “He said it would keep him awake. “
I asked him if he worried about the loss of power when he let off the gas. “Yeah, I worried a little bit, but it was really consistent,” Fowler said. “It sputtered a little bit, but it went every time. And I was OK with that.”
The plane flew up to 2,500 feet, and as fast as 120 miles per hour.
The mood in the crowd was upbeat, with many remarking how beautiful the plane was. One man said to another, “Does this make you wanna restore your plane?” The answer was “Yes!”
The Spirit will make its public flying debut on Aug. 11. For more information and updates, go to: https://www.jneaircraft.com.
For a background story on the replica and its ties to Edmonds, see: https://myedmondsnews.com/2019/07/a-labor-of-love-couple-putting-final-touches-on-spirit-of-st-louis-replica.
— Story and photos by David Carlos