By Geoff Flossic
On August 29, Erik Lindbergh helped kick off the Spreading Wings Colorado Barnstorming Tour. Sponsored by the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum, the tour will span to 17 communities throughout Colorado.
The ceremony took place at Signature Flight Support at Centennial Airport. Governor Bill Owens was on hand to proclaim August 29 as Spreading Wings Day in Colorado.
Lindbergh, the grandson of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, is the honorary chairman of the tour. The tour is intended to teach and encourage young people about aviation and give them hands-on experience.
More than 100 charter school students from American Academy attended the kickoff event. While at Centennial Airport, they toured Adam Aircraft, Aviation Technology Group and Straight Flight Conversions.
Seventh grade students had a chance to get up close to a Stearman biplane owned by Mike Baldwin and an Adam A500. They also learned what it takes to plan an actual flight. The students had to calculate time en route, fuel flow, aircraft heading and what airspeed to use.
“Programs like this tour are a first step toward building our next generation of math and science professionals,” said Greg Anderson, president of Wings Over the Rockies.
He said the tour also gives students a chance to climb into cockpits of modern and vintage aircraft, and get a hands-on feel of what it’s like behind the controls of a plane.
An Alexander Eaglerock and/or other vintage aircraft will fly with a modern general aviation aircraft to each of the tour stops. In each community, pilots will meet with community leaders, and provide math and science activities for schoolchildren.
This is the largest event ever planned by Wings Over the Rockies. The tour, which will visit communities including Granby, Grand Junction, Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Steamboat Springs, has three goals. The first is to increase public awareness of aviation and space in Colorado and its communities. The second is to motivate and teach young people about the importance of math and science skills. Students are selected to come to the airport in the community where the tour lands, and are encouraged to participate in many activities, during which they’re taught the importance of aviation.
The last goal is to advance Wings Over the Rockies with its mission to begin a partnership statewide in communities with aviation and education in which the organization will provide the tools and resources needed. Educators and aviation volunteers will help conduct the activities.
The kickoff celebration moved to Wings Over the Rockies that evening, where Erik Lindbergh spoke to more than a hundred people.
He talked about his life, including how aviation has influenced him and how it resulted in his commemorating the famous flight his grandfather made. On May 20, 1927, Charles Lindbergh took off in The Spirit of St. Louis from Roosevelt Field near New York City. He flew northeast along the coast, eventually flying over Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. From St. Johns, Newfoundland, he headed out over the Atlantic, toward Ireland, and then toward Paris, and Le Bourget Field, where more than 100,000 people were gathered. When he landed, less than 34 hours after his departure from New York, Lindbergh became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
That summer, Lindbergh flew his plane to all 48 states. One of those stops was Lowry Field in Denver.
Like his grandfather, Erik Lindbergh had a passion for aviation. But he almost gave up that passion when he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 21. The progressive autoimmune disease crippled Lindbergh for 15 years. During his worst years with RA, he was forced to use a cane due to severe pain that made it almost impossible for him to walk. He’s had both knees replaced, and with the help of a breakthrough biotech drug (Enbrel), he’s able to lead an active lifestyle and pursue his dreams.
When he wasn’t able to fly, Lindbergh made carvings of airplanes in a friend’s garage. Making a wood sculpture of The Spirit of St. Louis for two brothers who requested it led him to start his amazing journey. He said that while he was carving that piece, he started to imagine what his grandfather must have been thinking sitting in the cockpit of his airplane, making that flight alone over the Atlantic Ocean.
In May 2002, Lindbergh began his journey in San Diego, the same place where the original Spirit of St. Louis was built. In the New Spirit of St. Louis, a specially equipped Lancair Columbia 300, he flew to St. Louis, then to New York. From there, he crossed the Atlantic Ocean and followed his grandfather’s route to Paris. His flight was made in 17 hours and 7 minutes.
Lindbergh wanted to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s historical flight, but he also wanted to give people a message of hope.
“I thought that if I gave just one person a glimmer of hope that his or her life would change somehow, then it would be worth doing the flight,” he said.
Lindbergh’s flight almost didn’t make it off the ground. While he was out trying to get sponsors to help with the flight and the costs, 9/11 happened and aviation came to a grinding halt. Not knowing where the future of aviation was going, things started to slowly kick back in and general aviation was getting back to speed. The sponsors came back to him and got it going again. In a very negative time for aviation, this was something very positive. The mission went forward.
Lindbergh described his journey in great detail, including all the preparation, from flight planning to sea survival training (just in case anything went wrong), and kept the audience entertained with his humor. When talking about his grandfather’s flight, he said that none of it would have been possible if wasn’t for a man named Raymond Orteig. In 1919, Orteig put up a $25,000 cash prize for the first nonstop aircraft flight between New York and Paris in either direction.
“People forget that aviation was developed by two things: warfare and prizes,” Lindbergh said.
Lindbergh went on to talk about the future of aviation and where it’s going. He serves on the board of the X Prize Foundation, which administered the Ansari X Prize for the first nongovernmental reusable crewed spacecraft. The X Prize, seen as a major boost for the cause of space tourism, and of private spaceflight in general, was fashioned after the Orteig Prize.
Lindbergh talked about how the X-Prize Foundation is helping to fuel that next step, which is private spaceflight, rocket racing and beyond. He said it’s important for the youth of today to be involved in aviation and aerospace to give them motivation to try and learn new things. The future is in their hands, which is why the tour is so important to Colorado.
“It’s inspiring kids to reach for their dreams and aim,” he said. “Don’t just aim for the sky; aim for the stars.”
Lindbergh is also a member of the board of Aviation High School in Seattle.
The Spreading Wings Tour includes an impressive number of partner organizations, suggesting the importance of aerospace promotion and youth education to entities across the state. The Colorado Division of Aeronautics has been instrumental. Other partners include the Colorado Airport Operators Association, Colorado Pilots Association, Experimental Aircraft Association, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and NASA. Generous financial assistance for the tour and educational outreach was received from The Boeing Company, Jeppesen and Stephen Nevin. Carl Williams, Mike Baldwin and Adam Aircraft provided aircraft, as well as private operators in tour stop communities.
For more information on the Spreading Wings Colorado Barnstorming Tour, visit [http://www.wingsmuseum.org].