July 11, 2007

CELEBRATING A PIONEER OF FLIGHT

By Senator Mike Crapo

Pioneers come in all shapes and sizes.   Our ancestors went west to find a better life and, for many of them, particularly the earliest explorers, they were motivated by that simple human desire to see what was beyond the horizon.  Their trek was often dangerous and many didn't make it but no matter what the odds, they kept trying and soon succeeded in blazing a trail to a new way of life.

That's what all pioneers have in common.  They are full of hope and daring; willing, almost fearlessly, to venture into the unknown.  But there are other kinds of pioneers, ones with the very same spirit, who are in search of different horizons.  There are pioneers in medicine, engineering and in aviation.  This year is the 80 th anniversary of one of the most famous airplane flights in history.  On May 20, 1927, Charles Lindbergh, a pioneer of flight, set out in a single engine airplane and successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

Lindbergh was an amazing mix of mechanical whiz and daring aviator.   In the field of aviation, he was willing to think in unconventional ways.  Also, like most pioneers, he wasn't easily talked out of his dream.  While other aviators were thinking about big airplanes with big crews, in pursuit of a prize that had been offered for the first plane to cross non-stop from New York to Paris, Lindbergh's concept was different.   He knew the basics of what was needed and, working with a group of St. Louis backers and the Ryan Aircraft Company in California, he built his own special aircraft.

The basic engineering involved a plane that was efficient in fuel use while at the same time capable of operating for at least a day and a half.  These days, the same flight in a Boeing 777 with two meals and a movie, takes about eight hours.

The Spirit of Saint Louis flew for 33 hours-by no means a comfortable flight.  Lindbergh had a wicker seat to save weight, a thermos of coffee and a sandwich.  He navigated by the stars and what's called dead reckoning.  In fact, his approach was so basic that when he was off the coast of Ireland, he went in low toward some fishing boats.   Knowing of Lindbergh's historic attempt, the fishermen pointed him towards Paris.

Few modern-day heroes have received accolades like those bestowed on Lindbergh.  But, it wasn't so much about who he was, as it was about what he represented.  He opened up a whole new concept of flight.  If one person in one little airplane could cross the Atlantic, then who knew what was possible?  That optimism was proven when, 42 years later, Neil Armstrong took that first step on the moon. 

Today, aviation and aerospace-the industry Lindbergh and those early pilots and engineers worked so hard to build-employs a staggering 11 million people in the United States.  Here in Idaho, there are some 25,000 jobs that depend on aviation and aerospace industries.  There are many other aviation heroes in our history, but we owe a special debt of thanks to one flier who, like our pioneer ancestors, set off into the unknown and made his mark on history 80 years ago.

 

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