Article first published in December 2021/ January 2022 Forbes Monaco issue.
Erik Lindbergh gives Monaco a hundred million reasons to help make aviation permanently sustainable.
In May 1919, New York hotelier Raymond Orteig offered a $25,000 prize ($400,000 today) to anyone who could fly 5,794 km non-stop from NYC to Paris. The American-French philanthropist wanted to promote tourism between the two cities but after five years, the purse remained unclaimed. He extended the deadline and, in 1926, nine teams would each spend sixteen times the amount of the prize money (and six men would die) in a bid to be the first to cross the Atlantic in one go.
It was a 25-year-old mail pilot named Charles Lindbergh who succeeded in 1927 with a 33.5-hour flight in his custom-built plane Spirit of St. Louis forever changing the future of aviation.
“Before my grandfather flew across the Atlantic, people who flew in airplanes were called barnstormers or daredevils. After he flew across the Atlantic, people who flew in airplanes were called pilots and passengers,” Lindbergh’s grandson Erik told the American Club of the Riviera, who were celebrating Thanksgiving at the Hotel Hermitage in Monte Carlo. Lindbergh noted that shift in perspective changed overnight as the epic flight transformed the way the world thought about air travel. “Within a year the number of pilots tripled. And within two years the number of people buying tickets for commercial flights increased 30 times.”
He added, “People often forget that aviation was developed primarily by two things—warfare and prizes.
In May 2002 Erik Lindbergh flew New York to Paris solo to fire up the private spaceflight industry with the XPRIZE Foundation.
An amazing thing happened as a result of the Orteig Prize, it was incredible leverage for research and development focused on long- distance air travel.”
From the 1920s to 1970s, Lindbergh’s pioneering grandparents flew over large parts of the world and “saw firsthand the devasting effects that the technology that enabled this quality of life could harm the quality of our environment, what astronauts often refer to as the Overview Effect as they see planet earth from space.”
Lindbergh recalled that most people are unaware that his grandparents spent the latter half of their lives trying to protect the environment and looking “for balance between advancing technology and nature.” Following the death of his grandfather, friends and colleagues including the first astronaut to walk on the moon Neil Armstrong and decorated war hero General Jimmy Doolittle, who made early coast-to-coast flights at record-breaking speeds, founded the Lindbergh Foundation in 1977 to continue that quest for balance.
To mark the 75th anniversary of his grandfather’s historic flight in 2002, Lindbergh retraced the New York-Paris route in a single-engine Lancair aircraft and raised over a million dollars for charity. Like his grandfather did for aviation, Lindberg’s journey helped kick-start the private spaceflight industry.
The voyage garnered half a billion media impressions for the XPRIZE Foundation, whose cofounders Gregg Maryniak and Dr. Peter Diamandis offered a $10 million prize, based on the Orteig model, to galvanize space flight. This led to the first private human space flights in 2004 and ignited the commercial spaceflight revolution we see in the U.S. today. “We changed the way the world thinks about space flight and jump-started a new industry. We see Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson building that new commercial space flight industry.”
The XPRIZE Foundation continues to use the power of prizes to solve the biggest global environmental challenges. It recently teamed up with the Lindbergh Foundation to create the ForeverFlight program, an alliance to make aviation permanently sustainable. Funded by former XPRIZE board member Elon Musk and the Musk Foundation, the $100 million competition is the largest incentive prize in history and will last for four years through Earth Day 2025. $50 million will be paid to the single Grand Prize Winner, with $30 million going to a maximum of three runners up along with $5 million distributed to student teams.
“This is what we do,” said 56-year- old Lindbergh, who suffers from crippling rheumatoid arthritis. “We apply prize philanthropy to the grand challenges of our time and to find the creative people who can solve those issues.”
The $100 million suite of prizes for removal of carbon directly out of the atmosphere is the ultimate goal to speed the creation of true zero carbon flights. “We have trillions of dollars of aircraft out there that are not going to go away. And we need to make those sustainable as quickly as we can,” explained Lindbergh. “It is one of the most challenging sectors to decarbonize. Airplanes are mass constrained and need high amounts of energy. Success here will also have tremendous impact on ocean and long-distance land transportation. The acceleration of energy storage will greatly increase the penetration of renewable energy throughout the world.”
For Lindbergh, who is chairman of the board of the Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation, “These efforts are creating hope for the future for our children and grandchildren, like my grandparents did for me and all of us.”