AOPA Project Pilot spokesman Erik Lindbergh had always been comfortable in the air, but not so much because of his famous last name.
When he was little everybody called him "Airik." He was a champion gymnast and an accomplished skier, among other things. But at the age of 21, he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which changed his life entirely.
"My life became mostly sitting," he told the crowd at the AOPA Fly-In and Open House.
Oddly enough, being the grandson of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Erik Lindbergh wasn't born with a pilot certificate. A friend of Lindbergh's had always been after him to get into flying, so he took a demo flight. And he was hooked. Lindbergh scraped together enough money to put himself through flight training as the arthritis got worse. He said the most painful thing was reaching up and dipping the fuel tanks.
He became a CFI and instructed for two years until the pain became too much. He quit flying in 1996. Thanks to wonder drugs and knee replacement surgery, Lindbergh had the rare blessing of dying physically and being reborn. To celebrate - and raise money for medical research while highlighting the importance of aviation technology - he, in 2002, recreated his grandfather's historic Atlantic crossing. Lindbergh was back as pilot in command.
"Epic flights light people up," Lindbergh said.
Lindbergh pointed out the struggles general aviation is facing such as user fees and low student pilot starts. He said it's up to the pilot community to "pass the juice." In other words, pass along your passion for flight by becoming a Project Pilot Mentor.
[ See the complete coverage of AOPA's Fly-In and Open House.]
June 2, 2007