If all goes according to plan, a replica of Charles Lindbergh’s historic Spirit of St. Louis will take off from Long Island on May 20, 2018, to re-create “Lucky Lindy’s” solo, nonstop flight to Paris. Spirit of St. Louis 2, dubbed SOS 2 for short, is nearing completion in an 8,000-square-foot hangar at Novato’s Gnoss Field, 28 miles north of San Francisco.
The project is being overseen by 58-year-old Robert Ragozzina, who set a world record in 2000 for circumnavigating the globe in a Stearman Super 450, an open-cockpit biplane. Twenty-six years in the making at a cost of more than $2 million, the effort has had its ups and downs, but is finally approaching takeoff.
Though Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis was built in only three months by San Diego–based Ryan Airlines, it’s expensive and time consuming to re-create a historic airplane today. Much of Spirit of St. Louis’ original documentation is lost or incomplete, forcing Ragozzina’s team to track down missing diagrams, improvise when they can’t be found, or in the case of some parts, fabricate them from scratch.
SOS 2 is not an exact copy. Safety features have been added and some materials upgraded for strength and durability. For example, the instrument panel is made from aluminum rather than the original plywood, and Ragozzina will have a GPS navigational device when he pilots the aircraft. Still, the rest of the flight instruments are authentic to the period and the plane bears a strong resemblance to Lindbergh’s aircraft.
“All this stuff is hard,” Ragozzina says about re-creating Lindbergh’s aircraft, “but if we don’t get it right, it’ll fall out of the air. In the end, you have to go down the hard road.”
More than 75 percent of the aircraft is complete. SOS 2’s fuselage, wings and landing gear are assembled, the control system is operable and a successful test of the 1930s Jacobs 755B2 engine was conducted last September. All that’s left are the electronics, wiring and oil system. FAA approval is still forthcoming, but Ragozzina hoped to make a test flight in February.
As for what’s next after he achieves this goal? “I don’t know,” he says. “I just want to get to Paris.”
Originally featured in the March 2018 issue of Aviation History. Subscribe here!