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North to the Orient

 by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

 In July 1931, Charles and Anne Lindbergh set off on the adventure of a lifetime, an unofficial survey flight on the great-circle route from New York to points in the Far East. Unlike explorers of an earlier era who had pioneered trade routes to the Orient by sail, the famous couple did it by airplane. Four years after that remarkable journey, Anne published her description of their two-month “air voyage.”

North to the Orient is a lyrical and timeless travelogue. In eloquent prose Anne focuses on the flying, the people and the places. The 23 chapters serve as grand logbook entries, covering each of the aerial expedition’s extraordinary episodes.

A Lockheed Sirius, notable for its sleek monoplane configuration and 600-hp Wright Cyclone engine, was outfitted with a sliding glass canopy and a pair of plump pontoons expressly for the Lindberghs’ journey. Even laden with fuel and supplies, the aircraft’s range was an impressive 2,000 miles. Charles flew the plane from the front cockpit while Anne worked the radio in the aft cockpit.

Decked out in an eye-catching black-and-orange paint scheme, the Sirius sparked the imagination of many observers, especially those who had never before seen an airplane. Indeed, when the Lindberghs made a later flight of the North Atlantic, an Eskimo boy in the remote stretches of Greenland named it Tingmissartoq: “one who flies like a big bird.”

The book transports readers to exotic locales in a time that the author herself recognized was “perhaps unrepeatable.” Anne captured the scene during each landing on a river, lake or open sea in an urbane vignette full of grace and charm. She proved to be not only an invaluable crewmate but also an astute and sensitive observer of the distant outposts they visited and the people who inhabited them.

In Nome, an old mining town dating back to Gold Rush days, the aerial explorers were treated to a rousing performance of an Eskimo wolf dance. Arriving in Soviet waters at Kamchatka, Anne feared the reception she might receive in what was rumored to be a fiercely regimented society, but she came to realize that the locals shared a common humanity when they chuckled along with her at the sight of a family photo. When weather forced the plane down near Kunashiri Island, an old fisherman demonstrated the ultimate in friendship and hospitality by offering the fliers his pipe.

Magnificent vistas punctuated the journey, as when the “most beautiful pagoda in China” rose from the lush landscape, prompting the Lindberghs to circle the site three times. Later, the whole enterprise nearly came to grief along the Siberian coast when fog and storms enveloped the Sirius. Charles slid open the canopy, signaling his defiance and at the same time his intent to be one with the sky. He wrestled the plane against the elements until he spotted an opening and set down. But the drama didn’t end there, as the roiling sea was threatening to push the helpless travelers into nearby shoals. Then, as if by miracle, a launch from a Japanese naval vessel came into view, manned by a crew of singing sailors who towed the Sirius out of harm’s way.

In the course of their journey, Anne Morrow Lindbergh developed a new appreciation for the perspective from the cockpit. She believed that when peering below it is possible to see everything at peace, which inspired her to write that “if flying…can give you that vision…it will always remain magic.” This beloved book offers unforgettable insight into the exhilarating vision savored by all those who fly.


Originally published in the November 2013 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.