Although Charles Lindbergh never settled on the South Coast, he did visit here a number of times shortly after his 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean made him world famous. He had several friends in Santa Barbara and it is quite likely he came to try to escape, if only for a short time, the ubiquitous publicity and the smothering crowds he attracted wherever he went.
Charles A. Lindbergh arguably is the most famous aviator in history. As a young man, he dropped out of the engineering program at the University of Wisconsin to attend a flying school in Nebraska and his career path was set. In 1926, Lindbergh was flying the mail between St. Louis and Chicago when he heard about a prize of $25,000 being offered to anyone who would first successfully fly across the Atlantic alone, nonstop. Lindbergh began to cast about for financial backers.
At this time, several prominent St. Louis businessmen, aviation enthusiasts all, were taking flying lessons at a nearby airfield. One of these was Harry French Knight, a successful stockbroker and president of the St. Louis Flying Club. Lindbergh approached Knight and his wife, Lora, about the Atlantic venture and, intrigued, the two signed on as backers of the trip.
In May 1927, Lindbergh took off from an airfield on Long Island in his Spirit of St. Louis, which was hardly more than a large gas tank with wings. A little more than 33 hours later, he landed outside Paris and became the most acclaimed person on the planet. The adulation that the “Lone Eagle” received in Europe and here at home was unprecedented. A naturally reserved, somewhat shy young man, Lindbergh was often overwhelmed by this avalanche of attention. Periodically, he felt the need to escape by climbing into a cockpit and flying off to quietly visit friends around the country.
During the course of 1927 and 1928, Lindbergh stopped on the South Coast more than once. Sometimes he landed at the Chadbourne-Donze airfield in Carpinteria, located at the present-day intersection of Carpinteria Avenue and Dump Road. The original hanger still stands today. Lindbergh also utilized Earle Ovington’s airfield, Casa Loma, located where the Santa Barbara Golf Club, off Las Positas Road, is presently sited. Ovington had piloted the first official U.S. air mail flight in 1911. When Lindbergh unexpectedly showed up in April 1928, Ovington quickly had to clear the airfield of kite flyers and then hold a handkerchief aloft so Lindbergh could gauge the wind-no control towers for these fellows!
Lindbergh often stayed at Lora Knight’s 80-plus-acre Montecito estate, Cima del Mundo (Crest of the World) or sometimes with John J. Mitchell, who was a director of United Airlines for many years. On one visit, Lindbergh eschewed both the Carpinteria and Santa Barbara fields and simply used the grounds of Cima del Mundo as a landing strip. A home movie, now in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, documents Lindbergh’s departure, flying a copy of the Spirit of St. Louis. Gaining speed, he leaves the crest of a rise and dips down below the horizon, only to reemerge as he gains altitude. He then performs two loops in farewell to his friends below.
Lindbergh never called this area home, but he was quite obviously fond of the South Coast. Here, if even for a brief period, he could be insulated from the public’s adulation and its demands, and have a chance to relax and “chew the fat” with some of his fellow aviators.