Lindbergh’s quest to balance technology and the environment

POULSBO — Erik Lindbergh and I are talking about quiet travel and I tell him about the time I test-drove a Tesla Roadster on a valley road on San Juan Island at 65 mph, and all I could hear was …

Birds chirping.

Zero to 60 in 3.7 seconds.

No emissions. No disturbance to the soundscape. It was a soothing, spiritual experience.

Lindbergh believes the day is coming soon when we will be able to fly that way. Just as his grandfather envisioned a world made smaller by flight, Erik Lindbergh envisions a world made quieter by emerging technologies for electric flight. And this year, his company, Powering Imagination, will perform a series of demonstration flights over the Grand Canyon to show the potential for making quiet a spectacular natural place disturbed by 80,000 sightseeing flights a year.

It’s hard at first to see how Lindbergh’s work is related to the rheumatoid arthritis that had him on crutches by the time he was 30, but it’s all part of his journey, all part of a quest to see in a different way — a spiritual way — the world we live in. His grandparents were pioneers in aviation, his father explored the depths of the sea. And now the grandson is, in his own words, striving to achieve the best balance between technology and the environment.

First, how he got here. Erik Lindbergh grew up on Bainbridge Island, active and athletic. He won a state gymnastics championship and after high school skied Sun Valley, Idaho and earned degree at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Then, at 21, a life changer: He was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. It cut short his career as a charter flight pilot. No more Telemark skiing or mountain climbing. By the time he was 30, he was walking with a cane.

“Rheumatoid arthritis destroyed my physical sense of self,” he said.  But it also gave him pause, like Jonah’s time in the belly of a whale.  He’s careful in his choice of words to describe his earlier self, saying he was a “headstrong” youth.

At age 30, he underwent surgery to replace both of his knees and emerged a changed man. He saw his life and his world in a new way, with a new appreciation.

“I got a second chance at life. I knew I wouldn’t get a third,” he said.

Eight years after knee replacement surgery, he marked the 75th anniversary of his grandfather’s solo flight across the Atlantic by retracing the flight in his own single-engine aircraft. The flight raised more than $1 million for the Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation, which seeks to address environmental challenges through science and technology; the X Prize, a non-profit organization that designs and manages public competitions to encourage technological development that benefit mankind; and the Arthritis Foundation.

Lindbergh is a member of the X Prize board of directors. He also heads the Lindbergh Electric Aircraft Prizes.

Now, nearing age 50, he’s in great shape — “the best shape I’ve been in in 20 years,” he said. He recently returned from Revelstoke, B.C., where he and friends skied back country and climbed for a week. (He also likes to play hacky sack.)

His journey, and that of family members, has him interested in finding ways to remove barriers to aging in place. Life is a terminal condition, he said. How do we ensure people can live their older years with grace and dignity? Ah, that’s where he and Martha & Mary are soulmates.

He’ll talk about his personal journey at Martha & Mary’s Generations of Care Luncheon on April 27. You’ll learn about advances in the development of electric aircraft; he believes commercial e-flights are about 10 years away. In 2013, Lindbergh flew a single-seat electric aircraft manufactured by GreenWing International.

“Like any first flight, it was thrilling and nerve wracking at the same time,” he told General Aviation News. “I had never flown an ultralight before and had never soloed in an aircraft that I hadn’t first had dual instruction from someone sitting next to me.”

Another first for a Lindbergh.


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