The Norwegian-born aviator became modestly famous, at least in Norway, for making the first flight from the United States to Norway in 1935. Born in 1893 on the family farm at Florø, Norway, Solberg earned his pilot certificate in Germany before immigrating to America in the 1920s where he worked various jobs in New York City while planning his United States-to-Norway flight.
After one failed attempt in 1932, Solberg departed from Brooklyn’s Floyd Bennett Field on July 18, 1935, flying a Loening C–2C Air Yacht, an open-cockpit, single-engine amphibious airplane he named the Leif Erikson. Paul C. Oscanyon accompanied Solberg on the flight as the radio operator and the duo made stops at Labrador, Canada; Greenland; Iceland; and the Faroe Islands, before landing in Norway on August 16. Solberg planned the flight to follow the route of Leif Erikson, the tenth-century Viking who was the first known European to sail the Atlantic and set foot on the continent of North America. On arrival, the King of Norway presented the pilots with a gold medal.
Returning to the United States, Solberg founded Solberg Airport in New Jersey in 1939, which was used during World War II for military pilot training. Solberg remained in New Jersey until his death at the age of 73 in 1967.
The airport Solberg founded is still active and owned by his descendants. For the past 37 years it has hosted the New Jersey Festival of Ballooning, which claims to be the largest summertime hot air balloon and music festival in North America (balloonfestival.com).
Solberg Airport made aviation news in 2015 when it successfully defended itself against attempts by nearby Readington Township to seize the family-owned airport and prevent any improvements under a local “open space” policy. The township spent millions of taxpayer dollars in legal fees, plus millions more to hire a public relations firm to foster voter opposition to the airport. The legal judgment stated that “the township’s asserted reason for the taking, i.e., open-space preservation…was actually motivated to stifle aviation-related activities on the property.”
Currently, the airport endures the challenge of being closed by the U.S. Secret Service any time President Trump visits his nearby golf club. Its flight instructors must resort to flying the training aircraft to other airports for the duration of a presidential visit. (AOPA has long advocated for a solution for airports negatively affected by presidential temporary flight restrictions, and a spending bill signed into law in February provides some financial relief for Solberg and other affected airports.)
In remembrance of the pioneering Norwegian-American pilot, a bust of Solberg and a commemorative plaque stand by the ramp, while nearby, new student pilots train in Cessna and Piper aircraft and GA pilots enjoy recreational flying from the 700-acre facility. Also, if you’re ever in Oslo, Norway, visit Solberg’s historic airplane, now on display at the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology.