By MICHAEL PARFIT
Charles Lindbergh could see things in the distance. Not just other airplanes, or a landing strip in France one May night in 1927. He was the best of risk-takers. He could visualize both trouble and achievement before their time, and he was determined to adapt the tools of the present to the needs he could see in the future.
In aviation and elsewhere, we need more of that kind of thing. So I’d like to give you some perspective on an organization that’s trying to help people find that vision and act on it. It’s the Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation. I’m not a spokesman for the organization. I’m a pilot who now serves on its board of directors.
I first met people from the foundation one day in the 1980s when I landed my Cardinal at Little Falls, Minnesota, where Charles Lindbergh spent some of his childhood. I crossed the Mississippi and visited his home, where he used to go to bed in the middle of winter in a freezing cold, screened porch near the river, just so he could watch the stars.
In Little Falls, I went to the annual meeting of what was then called the Lindbergh Fund. That day the organization was giving grants – equal to the price of “The Spirit of St. Louis” — to young scientists. The grants were given for projects that were dedicated to a concept of balance between technology and nature that the Lindberghs believed is vital to the survival of humans and the planet.
Today this quiet but persistent organization is, in many ways, coming home. It is sharpening its focus on the stunning human achievement that will forever be linked to the Lindbergh name: Human flight.
In my view, the foundation is focusing on aviation because aviation needs the qualities of both Lindberghs – Charles’s drive and innovation, and Anne Morrow’s wisdom and poetry — as we all face new challenges, both to aviation and to the Earth. Both are in various forms of crisis. Aviation is in a kind of crisis of invisibility. It remains astonishing, but people aren’t astonished any more, so it gets more attacks — for energy use or perceived elitism — than awe. And crises also threaten Earth and our species — extinctions, dead zones in the seas, pollution of many kinds, warming, shortages of water, food, and energy.
To reach its full potential as the marvelous tool that it is, aviation needs to lift not just our freight, but our hearts. Of course it must address its own role in the problems of energy and pollution, but it can do much more.
Charles Lindbergh took new technology that others had made, adapted it and used it to open doors of possibility. That’s what aviation can do again this century, and that’s what the Lindbergh Foundation is here to help us achieve.
When I think of that balance between our human ability to make tools and our planet’s need for care, I remember a favorite image of Charles when he was young.
It’s of the boy in Little Falls, Minnesota, who knew how to drive his father’s car better than the old man did, but who also bundled up in the winter so he could go out on that screened porch, wide awake and dreaming, beside the river and among the stars.
That was less than a hundred years ago. Human flight is still very young. The Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation is here to remind us why flight is still so important — and so wonderful — and how we must learn to adapt it and use it so future children, too, can watch the stars and dream.
Michael Parfit is a pilot, writer and filmmaker. His book “Chasing the Glory” describes his flight around the U.S. following the route of Charles Lindbergh’s tour of the country after his flight to Paris. He is a member of the board of directors of the Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation.