On May 20, 1927, Charles Lindbergh departed from Roosevelt Field, Long Island New York in a San Diego-built monoplane named Spirt of St. Louis for the first successful solo transatlantic flight.
A number of San Diegans played a role in that aviation milestone, including chief engineer Donald Hall, who designed the plane, B.F. Mahoney, the builder, sales manager A.J. Edwards and a reporter for the San Diego Union named Howard Moran.
In early 1927, Moran learned that a skinny, 25-year-old airmail pilot was having a plane built here and about to attempt a New York-to-Paris solo flight. Morin was sworn to secrecy on the condition that he’d have the story first. Morin kept his word, and the Union gave the world the first story on the planned flight.
Howard Ernest Morin was born on October 23, 1886, in Saratoga Springs, New York. He was educated in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and joined the Navy in 1903. Moran served aboard the Ohio with a young midshipman named Chester Nimitz, who later became Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and Commander in Chief of Pacific Ocean Areas during World War II.
Moran joined The San Diego Union’s staff in 1912, covering the Navy, aviation and waterfront activities. He worked at the newspaper until shortly before his death in 1972, at the age of 85.
Fifty years after the epic flight, this is how Moran recalled covering the biggest story of his career.
From The San Diego Union, Sunday, May, 21, 1967:
Morin Kept His Word—And Lindy Kept His
By Robert Zimmerman: The San Diego Union’s Military Writer
For Howard Morin, it was one of those frustrating experiences that can happen only to newsmen. He had a big story in his pocket—and couldn’t write a word about it.
The story was that a young air mail pilot named Charles Lindbergh was in San Diego to get an airplane built for a nonstop flight from New York to Paris.
“I gave him my word I wouldn’t publish the story until he gave me permission,” says Morin, who was then—and still is— a reporter for The San Diego Union. “we worked together that way all the time he was here. I kept my word and he kept his, and I got the first crack at all the stories.”
It was in February, 1927, that A.J. Edwards, sales manager for Ryan Airlines, Inc., introduced Morin to the tall, thin Midwesterner who had just arrived to iron out the details of a contract with the Ryan firm to build him a plane.
Though financed by St. Louis money, Lindbergh had come to San Diego for his airplane because of the proven record of T. Claude Ryan’s single-engine, high-wing monoplanes. Ryan, whose life in aviation has been intermingled with San Diego’s involvement in the air age, operated the country’s first airline—flying from San Diego to Los Angeles daily—during the mid-1920s.
Ryan had recently sold his Ryan Airlines, Inc., to Franklin Mahoney, but remained as general manager at the time of Lindbergh’s first visit here.
From one end of the country to another there was talk about aviators and their backers planning to compete for the prize posted by hotel man Raymond Orteig, $25,000 for the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic.
The plans of Charles Lindbergh hadn’t been reported—and they weren’t until Lindbergh gave Howard Morin the nod to release his story.
“It was eight days before he agreed to let me write something, and I’m glad I waited,” Morin recalled in an interview last week. “From then on he respected my confidence, and kept me posted as his plans developed.”
A two-way flow of information developed between Morin and Lindbergh. At the Union office, Morin would file stories about Lindbergh on the Associated Press wire. When stories about the progress of other pilots planning an Atlantic flight would come in on the same AP wire, Morin would get on the phone and relay the news to Lindbergh at the Ryan shops on Harbor Drive.
“You could find him there almost any time,” Morin says. “He was putting in 10 or 12 hours a day with the designers and builders.”
In 1927 Morin had been a reporter in San Diego for 16 years and had gotten to know dozens of pioneer aviators, a daredevil breed. But Lindbergh was different.
“He was a ‘flying fool’ like the rest of them, when it came to planes, but his personality was altogether different. He was the only one of those guys I knew who didn’t smoke or chew or drink or use profanity. If you didn’t know otherwise you’d have figured him to be a clothing salesman. He was just a helluva swell guy.”
Lindbergh was known as “Slim” to the friends he made around San Diego. “He was a real beanpole,” says Morin.
Lindbergh, even then, tried to keep publicity about himself at a minimum. Morin found it hard to get him to talk about his flying exploits in the past, and he was reluctant to announce details about plans for his flight.
Morin got advance word about the test flights Lindbergh made in the Spirit of St. Louis from Dutch Flats and Camp Kearny, but to keep curiosity-seekers away, they were reported only after they had taken place.
Early in May, Lindbergh put the Spirit though its hardest test—a series of take-offs from Camp Kearny, each with an additional 50 gallons of gas in its 450-gallon fuel tank. He had to make sure the plane could get off the ground with the full load required for his 3,600-mile flight.
Morin met him at the end of these tests and Lindbergh said: “It’s a beautiful ship. It’s exceeded all my expectations. We’re ready to go.”
Historical photos and articles from The San Diego Union-Tribune archives are compiled by Merrie Monteagudo. Search the U-T historic archives at sandiegouniontribune.newsbank.com.