Thursday, May 2, 2002 Pilot skirted law to fly across Atlantic in Lindbergh's shadow By AMY WHITE The Modesto (CA) Bee NEWMAN -- As Robert "Ty" Tyler followed the progress of Erik Lindbergh's Atlantic crossing, he had flashbacks. Tyler remembered the tightness of a small plane's cockpit, the nothingness of sky above and water below. He remembered the hourly radio calls to report his location, somewhere between North America and Europe. Tyler, 76, of Newman crossed the Atlantic alone in a single-engine plane in 1959 -- 32 years after Lindbergh's grandfather, Charles Lindbergh, made his historic crossing. But Tyler did not leave the United States amid crowds and fanfare as both Lindberghs did. He grabbed a Thermos of coffee and some sandwiches and candy bars, boarded a Cessna 175 at Logan International Airport in Boston and took off -- in his Bermuda shorts. Tyler was living in Arlington, Va., at the time, and the Northern Virginia Sun later carried a story under this headline: "Shorts-Clad Arlington Pilot Flies Solo Over Atlantic." The reason for the slap-dash departure was twofold: one, Tyler hoped to outfox Federal Aviation Administration officials who planned to ground his mission; and two, fellow pilots said they had never seen such a fine day for flying. So he left. Taxiing on his way to the runway, Tyler saw faces in the windows of a nearby 707 watching him go. He later learned that the pilot had announced Tyler's plans to fly across the Atlantic in the Cessna. Tyler said the plane exceeded the weight regulation by 50 percent, due to to carrying enough fuel to last more than 27 hours. "I hadn't ever loaded an airplane full of gas before," Tyler remembered. "It rolled and it rolled and it rolled. I didn't have a lot of altitude as I lifted up." At the time of his flight, Tyler was in the Army, working a desk job in the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon. He was an enlisted man, and his military job had nothing to do with flying. But he also was teaching at a civilian flight school. One student was a banker from Vienna, Austria, whom Tyler helped buy the small plane that would eventually take him across the Atlantic. When the man transferred back to Europe, he planned to ship the plane for $5,000. "I said, 'Max, supposing I flew it across for $3,000? Would that interest you?'" Tyler said. His friend agreed. Tyler wrangled with the FAA for a month to get clearance to fly through Bermuda, but could not. "Finally, I just decided that I was going to go," Tyler said with a feisty smile. He set his sights on flying from Boston to the Azores, which had a U.S. Air Force base where he could land with his military clearance. He filed a flight plan at the Boston airport and no one stopped him. Only fellow pilots questioned the wisdom of "flying out of here in THAT?" Hours later, Tyler was in the air over the Atlantic. Tyler first got his hands on airplane controls at the age of 10, in his stepfather's small plane. At the age of 33, he found himself wedged between extra gas tanks and radio equipment in the tiny cockpit of the Cessna 175. He could not stretch. He could barely move. But every four hours he had to guide the plane with his knees while he added a quart of oil to the engine. "There was no autopilot," he said. Partway through the 211/2-hour flight, lightning struck one of his antennas and he lost radio contact with the ground. Using an emergency frequency, he reported his progress to other pilots, who relayed it to the ground. With no radar, Tyler relied on a magnetic compass and other pilots' guidance to maneuver through a massive thunderstorm and find his way. He flew mostly at 9,000 feet -- about half the altitude of larger planes -- but at some points dipped to 50 feet to avoid storms. "I didn't have to worry about (hitting) planes, but I had to worry about ships at sea," he said. Headed due east as night fell, Tyler was blinded by the brightness of the full moon. He had to wear his sunglasses to fly. Approaching the Azores base, Tyler learned that it was socked in with fog and that he would have to fly an hour and a half to another Azores airstrip. When he landed, he met people who had been on the 707 that he had seen on the Boston runway. They had gotten to the Azores in five hours. The next day, Tyler flew the 13-hour leg of the trip to Bordeaux, France. Once there, he sent a telegram to his fiancee, Johnsie, who is now his wife. The telegram read: "Guess Who's Where." He later delivered the plane to his friend in Munich. Tyler flew back to Boston in a commercial airliner. Upon his return, he learned that the FAA had revoked his pilot's and instructor's licenses, and grounded him until he passed the exams again. He soon did. And he does not regret bending the rules at all. "I wanted to do the flight," said Tyler, who retired from the computer industry and moved from Santa Clara to Newman three years ago. "I wanted to fly the Atlantic. I saw the possibility where I could do that, and I set out to put that in motion, and I did it." Attached Photo's: Robert 'Ty' Tyler of Newman displays a photo of himself as a 33-year-old pilot before his 1959 trans-Atlantic flight in a single-engine Cessna, 32 years after Charles Lindbergh's historic flight. Tyler made the crossing in 21 1/2 hours. An Aug. 7, 1959, Northern Virginia Sun article describes Tyler's flight across the Atlantic. He left on short notice, so he was wearing shorts when he flew.