Saturday, April 13, 2002 Lindbergh legacy takes flight By Mary Delach Leonard The St. Louis (MO) Post-Dispatch Erik Lindbergh is stretched out on his back, hands behind his head, on the right wing of the New Spirit of St. Louis - at rest under an ocean of blue Midwestern sky. A production crew had been filming him at the airport in Chesterfield named for the old Spirit, the plane his grandfather, Charles A. Lindbergh, flew 75 years ago. It was a handsome scene, the 37-year-old pilot in his royal blue flight suit and aviator glasses, standing before the ultramodern Lancair Columbia 300 he'll fly during his re-creation of his grandfather's solo nonstop flight from New York to Paris in 1927. While the crew debated angles and lighting, Lindbergh quietly announced his need to sit down. Though you'd never know it to look at him, he's been battling rheumatoid arthritis since he was 21. He's had both knees replaced, and he takes medication to control the pain and swelling in his joints. With no chairs to be found, he sought his own comfort- on the wing of the sleek mechanical bird he'll fly across the Atlantic. If you're looking for parallels between Erik and Charles Lindbergh - and most everyone is - their shared flight path is only the beginning. There are the Lindbergh blue eyes. The slender build. The enthusiasm for the mission. But here's a difference: "I'm more of a people person than Grandfather was," said Lindbergh. He greets reporters with a smile and politely accepts the kind wishes of strangers. In recent weeks, he's been interviewed by Parade magazine, People, The Associated Press and CNN. The History Channel is chronicling his journey for a two-hour special on May 20, the actual anniversary of the flight. And during this recent trip to St. Louis, his story played on all the local media. "But it's difficult when it gets in the way of the mission, when you can't get anything done," he admits. "I know Grandfather hated when it got in the way of the mission." Charles Lindbergh, a notorious list-maker who planned for every contingency, wasn't prepared for all the attention he got. His grandson is. The flight On Sunday morning, Erik Lindbergh plans to climb into the tan leather seat of the New Spirit of St. Louis and take history - specifically, the chunk with his grandfather's name on it - for a ride. Just as his grandfather chose an innovative plane, the grandson will fly a state-of-the-art single-engine propeller craft modified to hold extra fuel and communications equipment. But unlike his grandfather, who carried no radio and was totally on his own, this journey will be monitored by specialists in aviation, navigation and meteorology at the project's Mission Control at the St. Louis Science Center. Though working replicas of the Spirit of St. Louis will be making appearances around the nation during 75th anniversary celebrations this year, Lindbergh makes no excuses for choosing a modern craft. "This isn't about duplicating Grandfather's flight, it's about celebrating it," he said. "This is a fun and educational adventure." The starting point is Lindbergh Field in San Diego, where Charles Lindbergh found a company willing to build his plane - the now-famous Ryan NYP that hangs in the Smithsonian. Taking off about 11 a.m. St. Louis time, Erik Lindbergh will trace his grandfather's path over the Rockies to the heartland. He'll land at Spirit of St. Louis airport around 9 p.m. Sunday. The stop is significant because it was this town's movers and shakers, led by Harry H. Knight and Harold M. Bixby, who financed the 1927 flight. On the way to New York in his new silver monoplane, Charles Lindbergh stopped in St. Louis to show his backers what their money had built. On Saturday, Erik Lindbergh will fly to New York, where his grandfather waited out bad weather for a week at Roosevelt Field. On May 1, weather permitting, Erik Lindbergh will depart from Republic Airport in Farmingdale, N.Y., (Roosevelt Field is now a shopping mall) about 10 a.m. St. Louis time. He intends to take the most direct route over the Atlantic - the same "great-circle" followed by his grandfather. He expects to land at Le Bourget Airport outside Paris around noon local time (5 a.m. St. Louis time) the next day, covering the 3,142 nautical miles in about 19 hours. The flight took his grandfather 33 1/2 hours. The trip will focus on Charles Lindbergh's against-the-odds achievement, which not only captured world attention but demonstrated the possibilities of travel by air. Before Lindbergh, most level-headed people thought of airplanes as whimsical flying machines built by dreamers and piloted by daredevils. Erik Lindbergh, who is a spokesman for the Arthritis Foundation, will also use the attention to publicize advances in medical science that he says gave him a second chance at life. And he hopes to prod some fresh thinking about the future of aviation. "I want to go to space," he said. "And I want to take people with me." Fame is the name Erik Lindbergh was only 9 when Charles Lindbergh died of cancer at age 72 in 1974, but he remembers his grandfather as a wonderful man who was great with kids. Though the memories are those of a child and nearly three decades old, people want to hear them. He obliges with an amusing story: His grandfather offering him 50 cents if he could learn to wiggle his ears - he practiced hard and soon could wiggle his ears, raise one eyebrow and scrunch his nose all at the same time. "Grandfather was very impressed; he gave me a dollar." He hated the movie classic "The Spirit of St. Louis" when he saw it the first time because "Jimmy Stewart just wasn't my grandfather. But I saw it years later, and I thought it was wonderful." Lindbergh, a graduate of Emery Aviation College, has a commercial pilots license and is a certified flight instructor. He is married and lives in the Seattle area. His father is Jon Lindbergh, the second of six children born to Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Their first son, Charles, was kidnapped and murdered in one of the most notorious cases of the last century. "Do you get asked often about the kidnapping?" a middle-schooler wanted to know during a videoconference in which Lindbergh chatted with students from area schools. "Not often," he replied politely. "I don't have much to say about it. It was so long ago, it really hasn't affected my life." He is personable and open to most questions about his grandfather, his health and aviation. It took him years, he says, to understand the depth of the Lindbergh fame. "When I was younger, it used to make me feel funny when I would meet people and they would shake my hand and tell me they once met Grandfather in an airport or somewhere or that his flight had changed their lives. I didn't know how to deal with that," he said. "But I've come to understand what I'm tapping into with this flight - and it's extraordinary." He would have liked to discuss his grandfather's flight with him, but he doubts it would have happened. Charles Lindbergh wanted to move on. "Anyone who asked my grandfather about the flight - including family members - he'd say, 'Read the book,'" said Lindbergh. "The book" is his grandfather's Pulitzer Prize-winning biography "The Spirit of St. Louis." Erik Lindbergh is a director of the Lindbergh Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh's vision of finding a balance between technology and the environment. He said the Lindbergh name can be both burden and gift. "Grandfather's flight changed the world, and it changed my life," he said, adding, "I wouldn't be able to do this flight if I weren't a Lindbergh." Not just a plane The Spirit of St. Louis cost $10,580 to build in 1927. Erik Lindbergh's Lancair Columbia 300 lists for just under $300,000. The old Spirit was pretty much a fuel tank with wings designed to carry about 425 gallons in five tanks. Its cruising speed: 108 mph. The New Spirit can carry about 310 gallons of fuel and go nearly twice as fast: 184 mph. Erik Lindbergh, who has flown a replica of the old plane, said it was difficult to fly. The New Spirit? "It's the nicest aircraft I've ever flown," he said. "It's easy to operate. It's fast. It's forgiving. And it's simple." The New Spirit is a standard Columbia 300 with the passenger seats removed, the fuel tank in the wings enlarged and an extra fuel tank installed in the rear, says Chris Schweppe, a spokesman for Lancair, a sponsor of the flight. "Basically, we added a lot of gas," he said. The normal range for the plane is 1,000 to 1,300 nautical miles with its standard tank of fuel - 100 gallons. The New Spirit has a range of more than 4,000 miles, plus a global positioning system, a satellite phone and wireless Internet hookup. Even with those techno-gizmos, a trip across the Atlantic in a light aircraft is no Sunday drive, explained Mel Burkart, a professor of aviation science at St. Louis University who once flew internationally for TWA. "Using modern-day technology, you would expect the trip to be uneventful, but there is a risk involved," he said. The plane still has only one engine and only one pilot, unlike commercial passenger planes which have multiple systems and pilots. Along with an inflatable raft and survival equipment, Lindbergh plans to take a Swiss army knife that belonged to his grandfather. For food, he's leaning toward sandwiches, just like you-know-who did 75 years ago. Moving on During the worst years of his battle with rheumatoid arthritis, Erik Lindbergh says he had to use a cane to walk. Actually, say people who knew him, he used two canes. "The first time I saw him, I remember wondering how old he was. He was walking with the aid of two canes, and you could tell it was very painful for him," said Bev Pfeifer-Harms of the St. Louis Science Center. "Now you look at him and there's a spring in his step." Rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive autoimmune disease marked by pain, tenderness and inflammation of the joints. Once a champion gymnast and skier, Lindbergh could barely perform everyday tasks. "When I was really crippled with arthritis, it was hard to earn a living," he said. "I did some woodworking, but it was hard on my hands. It was really, really difficult." For several years, he and his wife lived in a yurt made of straw bales on a friend's organic farm in Washington state. He knows that sounds odd, but he points out, it is a very efficient alternative building technique. He also began sculpting with wood - "making sawdust," he said, smiling. His creations were often aviation-inspired, planets and spacecraft. Lindbergh attributes his recovery to advances in medical science - total double knee-replacement surgery and a new biotech drug called Enbrel. The drug's manufacturer is a sponsor of his flight. He said he's in good condition and as prepared for the journey as humanly possible. He tries to exercise an hour daily and has undergone rigorous survival training. Just as his grandfather didn't dwell in the past, Lindbergh hopes to prod aviation forward - into space. He encourages the private development of space travel through his involvement with the X Prize Foundation, based in St. Louis. The group is offering $10 million to the first privately funded team that will build and launch a spacecraft carrying three people to space on two flights within two weeks. The X Prize is modeled after the Orteig Prize - $25,000 for the first nonstop flight from New York to Paris - won by his grandfather 75 years ago. For now, though, Erik Lindbergh is focusing on the mission at hand. "I wonder what is was like for Grandfather to be out there," he said. "Until I actually make the flight, I won't know." Attached Photo: Erik Lindbergh prepares to tape an interview with The History Channel as cameraman Dan Desloge (center) and soundman Chuck Stanton adjust equipment this month at Spirit of St. Louis Airport, which was named for Charles Lindbergh's famous plane.