The Quote, 1927, C.A.L.


A week before last Christmas, I spent a day in Manhattan with my brother-in-law Col. John Nerges. One of the things I wanted to go find with him was the excerpt from one of Lindbergh’s quotes. I was pretty sure it was emblazoned on the wall of the lobby of the Empire State Building.  We walked all through the restored art deco lobby, but couldn’t find it. 

Tonight I cannot sleep, so I picked a book off the shelf,  “Reuben Fleet and the Story of Consolidated Aircraft.” Thumbing through it for the first time in years, I stumble over a photo of it.

“Science, freedom, beauty, adventure: what more could you ask of life? Aviation combined all the elements I loved.”

The quote was actually put on the wall of Rockefeller Center, 15 blocks north of the Empire State building. Reuben Fleet, a great admirer of Lindbergh, had added a statue to the words after Lindbergh passed in 1974.

The whole quote is much more revealing. As you read and consider it carefully, ask yourself just one thing: What branch of aviation can lay any claim to understanding and appreciating this, the greatest of all aviation quotes from the greatest of all aviators? The only branch that can make that claim is Experimental Aviation. Airlines, FBOs and even the military all have their reasons for flying, but they are not the ones Lindbergh was speaking of.  Today, someone went flying in a Cirrus, spent an hour aloft, and their experience was largely staring at a screen and speaking on a radio. Another pilot flew a B-767 coast to coast, but spent much of the free moments thinking about bidding his next trip and the rumors of a merger with another airline. A military pilot walked out to the ramp and thought about how long his deployment would take him from home.

None of these experiences brought the pilots close to what Lindbergh found to be the absolute fundamental core of flight.  Yet today, somewhere out there, a builder got in his homebuilt, a plane that he built with his own mind and hands, and went out and experienced exactly what Lindbergh was speaking of. In the 86 years that have passed since Lindbergh flew the Atlantic, almost everything in aviation has changed. Almost. The hardware, the electronics, the capability, they are all radically different, and these are the elements that matter to the person seeking transportation, distraction or commerce. The one element that has not changed at all is what Lindbergh was speaking of, the element that traditional homebuilders are seeking. This never changes:


“Science, freedom, beauty, adventure: what more could you ask of life? Aviation combined all the elements I loved. There was science in each curve of an airfoil, in each angle between strut and wire, in the gap of a spark plug or the color of the exhaust flame. There was freedom in the unlimited horizon, on the open fields where one landed. A pilot was surrounded by beauty of earth and sky. He brushed treetops with the birds, leapt valleys and rivers, explored the cloud canyons he had gazed at as a child. Adventure lay in each puff of wind.

I began to feel that I lived on a higher plane than the skeptics of the ground; one that was richer because of its very association with the element of danger they dreaded, because it was freer of the earth to which they were bound. In flying, I tasted a wine of the gods of which they could know nothing. Who valued life more highly, the aviators who spent it on the art they loved, or these misers who doled it out like pennies through their antlike days? I decided that if I could fly for ten years before I was killed in a crash, it would be a worthwhile trade for an ordinary life time.”— Charles A. Lindbergh


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