Erik Lindbergh, grandson of legendary aviator Charles Lindbergh, was issued the first Longines Lindbergh Award in May. The award, created by the Swiss watchmaker, recognizes those who have carried on the innovative and pioneering legacy of American aviation hero Charles Lindbergh. The award ceremony took place at the New York Times building as a nod to the paper that was committed to telling the story of Lindbergh’s exploits.
Erik was selected for the award not because of his bloodline, but because he has challenged the status quo when it comes to short-distance aviation. After working with the Ansari X Prize, a space-competition offering aimed at spurring development of low-cost spaceflight, Lindbergh turned his attention to taking aviation into the future. “What’s exciting for me is the advent of electric propulsion,” says Erik. “What my grandfather did with long-distance aviation we’re going to do with the way people move with short-distance aviation. We’re seeing something like 10 percent more efficient fuel burn, but other than that, aviation hasn’t changed much since the jet age.” He’s changing all that with Verdego Aero, a company focused on personal air taxis. “And this will be radical. Traffic jams will be a thing of the past.”
Erik’s grandfather was, of course, also known for radically changing the future of aviation during his time. But the timepiece that he designed, the famed Lindbergh Hour Angle watch that saw him through his monumental voyage on the Spirit of St. Louis, was created by Longines, and it, too, changed the face of aviation. The watch, along with a sextant and a radio signal, allowed navigators to calculate their position anywhere on the globe. It solved a specific navigation problem that was often a matter of landing on a runway or having to risk one’s life by ditching the aircraft in unknown territory, and it was used by early pilots post-Lindbergh to safely navigate the skies.
A modern interpretation of the Hour Angle watch was also given to Erik, along with the Lindbergh Award prize money of $25,000. The amount is a not-so-subtle hat tip to the original Orteig award from almost a century ago.
In 1919, Frenchman Raymond Orteig, owner of luxury hotels Brevoort and Lafayette in New York City, put $25,000 in prize money on the table (roughly $375,000 in 2018) to be awarded to any aviator who could successfully fly from New York to Paris, or vice versa. Charles Lindbergh, an aviator whose name wasn’t well-known prior to his monumental voyage, ended up claiming the prize money in 1927. Six aviators had perished attempting the same passage in the years prior.
Lindbergh’s successful crossing of the Atlantic sparked a shift in the weltanschauung (or world view) when it came to aviation. The successful crossing eventually transformed flying from a risky endeavor reserved for the military and intrepid privateers to an approachable way to see the rest of the world. In this regard, Lindbergh’s pioneering spirit made an impact that went far beyond the aviation world. It fundamentally altered public accessibility to faraway places.
Erik said that his grandfather inspired his own passion for aviation, and he “can walk in his footsteps.” In 2002, he retraced his grandfather’s epic voyage and inspired the country to return to the skies after the September 11 attacks. The flight raised a million dollars for the Ansari X Prize, of which Erik is a board member. “I’ve been able to change the way the world thinks about spaceflight, and it didn’t make me famous—but I’m not sure we’ll ever see that sort of thing again,” says Lindbergh.