Erik Lindbergh: Right Now is the ‘Most Exciting Time’ in Aviation

For Erik Lindbergh, whose grandfather Charles Lindbergh famously piloted the first-ever nonstop flight from New York to Paris, charting unknown territory comes naturally.

Instead of flying over the Atlantic Ocean, however, his aspirations have evolved to meet modern challenges. Namely, he aims to popularize electric air travel.

“Electric propulsion is the future of transportation — most every form of transportation,” he said, in a recent Aviation Outlook virtual event, noting that the technology still has a way to go before it is perfected. “The biggest issue in electric flight is the amount of energy you can pull out of a battery. So we saw there was a huge market.”

Through his company, VerdeGo Aero, which provides powertrain systems and engineering services to the emerging electric aircraft industry, and is a partner in Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Research Park, Lindbergh attempts to meet that market demand through a phased approach.

The next Aviation Outlook webinar event will feature Bonny Simi, head of air operations and people at Joby Aviation, a company that is currently developing an all-electric, vertical take-off and landing aircraft that intends to operate as a commercial passenger ridesharing service, beginning in 2024. The Zoom event will take place 6 p.m. EDT Thursday, April 15. Register now.

“Hybrid is really what we see as the bridge to full electric,” he said. “This is how we’re going to get to market.”

For example: during takeoff and for thrust, use gas; the rest of the time, go electric.

“If we want to see aviation become clean and quiet and sustainable, we need to invest in it,” he added, noting that the same is true for space travel. “We need to develop this technology.”

For Lindbergh, challenging the status quo is key to seeing continued growth in the aerospace and aviation sectors, and it was the core concept behind his grandfather’s transatlantic flight.

“Before my grandfather flew across the Atlantic, people who flew in airplanes were called barnstormers and daredevils, and they often lost their lives in that pursuit,” he said. “After he flew across the Atlantic, people who flew in airplanes were called pilots and passengers. It was a shift in the world’s perspective about what airplanes can be used for.”

Within six months of that historic flight, the number of pilots in America tripled, Lindbergh added. The number of licensed aircraft quadrupled. And pre-pandmic, more than 1,300 flights were traveling across the Atlantic daily.

Hyper-aware of the impact his grandfather had on the world, Lindbergh said that the lesson of that famous flight has guided most of his adult life — including when he piloted his own solo trip across the Atlantic.

He remembered a moment during his flight when the communication systems shut down, and the quiet gave him time to take in his surroundings, time for contemplation. And it was just then, he said, that he felt most connected not only to the world but also to his grandfather.

“I realized I was cradled in the same sky he was,” he said. And he thought about how much more difficult his grandfather’s flight must have been, using more primitive controls, much less communication and an unproven aircraft. “(His flight) was a breakthrough moment in history, showing the world really what was possible.”

That concept pushes him every day to uncover what other innovations might be possible, which is why in 1996 he helped launched the XPRIZE Foundation, which awarded a $10 million prize to the first successful privately manned space mission. That prize contributed to jumpstarting the commercial space industry we see today.

“We’re living in the most exciting time that I’ve ever seen in aviation,” he said. “What we’ve seen in the electric propulsion side is that it’s moving faster than ever. It’s actually moved faster during the pandemic. … We have seen tremendous growth.”

The full April 13 webinar, sponsored by the College of Aviation and featuring Erik Lindbergh, is available for playback online. For recaps on prior guests, visit the Aviation Outlook website.

Posted In: Aviation