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Lindbergh Took Shortest Route to Paris; Geographers Explain Great Circle Puzzle
May 22, 1927
Special to The New York Times
Washington, May 21The route taken by Captain Lindbergh is the shortest to Paris, the National Geographic Society explained in a statement today. It is about 473 miles shorter than by way of the Azores.
"Lindbergh was not going out of his way," said the statement. "He was making a bee line' for Paris. Even a casual examination of a globe would show this fact, but landsmen are more accustomed to looking at map, with their inevitable distortions' always necessary if a spherical surface is to be projected upon a flat surface.
"Aviation is educating the general public in the significance of the great circle line,' a potent fact to mariners, and a significant force in making history and laying down the major trade routes of the world.
"To non-seafaring folk, it is rather a surprise to note that the shortest course from New York to Liverpool lies across New England and Canada, west of Nova Scotia, and through inland Newfoundland. Ships cannot sail overland, but they do veer as far north as the double, obstacle of land and icebergs will permit.
" The reason for this, technically stated, is that in the higher latitudes, the shortest distance between two points, because of the earth's curvature, is not on the east and west parallel, but on the arc of a circle which would divide the earth in two equal parts and pass through the points in question [a great circle].
"A far simpler way to prove this is to take a piece of string and apply it to a globe. That piece of string will reveal more amazing facts about oceanic commerce than volumes of trade statistics.
"It will show why Norfolk, Va., is a normal coaling port for all Europe-bound vessels out of our Gulf ports.
"Look at the map of the world, and it seems as if Lindbergh's shortest course would be to fly out in an easterly direction from New York and past the vicinity of the Azores.
"Again apply your string to a globe and you will find that the flying distance from New York to Paris, via the Azores, would be 4,107 statute miles, whereas a course outlined by a string stretched tautly from New York to Paris across New England, Canada and Newfoundland, and south of Ireland the way Lindbergh flew, would be 3,633 statute miles. Lindbergh flew that way to save 473 miles.