Slim and Bud

Meet Charles Lindbergh the barnstormer—as he interviews his oldest flying buddy.

Charles Lindbergh (left) and Harlan Gurney (with a Lincoln-Standard J-1, ca. 1922) would remain lifelong friends. (Linbergh Archives at Yale University Courtesy of The Gurney Family)
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Charles Lindbergh's account of his record-setting transatlantic flight, We, was rushed to press in 1927. He later admitted that "being young, and easily embarrassed" and wanting to present only the most positive image of aviation, he left out what he called "much of greatest interest." Acutely aware of his place in history, Lindbergh wrote again, in greater detail, of his famous solo flight, publishing The Spirit of St. Louis in 1953. It won a 1954 Pulitzer Prize.

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Lindbergh's belief that the history of aviation should be told reached beyond his own part in it. He often encouraged pioneering aviators, including Orville Wright, to write their memoirs. For years Wright dodged the opportunity to tell his story, even while objecting to the errors introduced when others told it for him. "It is a tragedy," Lindbergh wrote in his diary in 1939, "for Wright is getting well on in years, and no one else is able to tell the story as he can."

Another pilot whose story Lindbergh thought deserved to be told was his closest friend, Harlan A. "Bud" Gurney. Since his first airplane ride, in 1922, Gurney had been beside Lindbergh, later becoming, like Lindbergh, an airmail pilot, and afterward a captain with United Airlines and a restorer of vintage aircraft. It was Gurney whom Lindbergh trusted as technical advisor on the 1957 film The Spirit of St. Louis, starring Jimmy Stewart.

During barnstorming trips in the early 1920s, Gurney, then 18, and Lindbergh, 21, shared stories around the campfire, and had lazy afternoon conversations under the wing of Lindbergh's Curtiss JN-4 Jenny. Certainly, no one knew Lindbergh better as a young adult than Gurney, and vice versa.

Both Lindbergh and Gurney were independent children, and, as teenagers, accepted adult responsibilities. They were both handsome, yet shy with girls; mechanically gifted, and adventuresome.

In 1969, Lindbergh, then 67, and Gurney, 64, met in the Gurneys' California home. While Gurney's wife, Hilda, puttered in the kitchen and the tape recorder spun, Lindbergh interviewed Gurney. It may be the only time Lindbergh was on the opposite end of a microphone.

Give a brief outline, if you could, [of] where you were born and how you started out at Lincoln. How you got to the sand hills of Nebraska.Charles Lindbergh

The one-and-a-half-hour interview has been heard only by those close to the Gurney family, and visitors to their hangar. In the interview, Gurney refers to the man beside him alternately as "Charles Lindbergh," or "Slim," a nickname for which Gurney often took credit. When they first met, Lindbergh called his friend "Buddy," which he later shortened to "Bud"; it stuck for the rest of Gurney's life.

The first 40 minutes of the interview are devoted to Gurney's childhood. He struck out on his own at age 13, when he learned his family didn't have enough money to buy his schoolbooks.

The rest of the interview supports what is known of Lindbergh's arrival at the Lincoln Aircraft Corporation to sign up for flying lessons in 1922; Lindbergh's and Gurney's first flight, side by side in Otto Timm's Lincoln-Standard J-1; and other adventures to which Gurney adds his own impressions.

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