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Lindbergh's Historic Flight

Erik Lindbergh stands next to a vintage American Airlines Stinson route survey plane at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport recently. Erik is the grandson of aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh. (AP/Wide World)
Erik Lindbergh stands next to a vintage American Airlines Stinson route survey plane at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport recently. Erik is the grandson of aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh. (AP/Wide World)

It's not exactly a get-rich-quick scheme, but for space explorers, it's an incentive to reach for the stars. Be the first team to fly to space in a privately built spacecraft, return to Earth—then do the same thing again within two weeks—and your group could take home $10 million.

It's called the X Prize, and it's all about inspiration—and making space travel as common as a Caribbean vacation. To promote the endeavor, the sponsor—the X Prize Foundation—has recruited a well-known name in the annals of aviation: Lindbergh.

To promote the contest, Erik Lindbergh, the grandson of flying legend Charles Lindbergh, recently retraced his grandfather's historic solo flight from New York to Paris nonstop in a propeller plane. Erik took off from New York's Long Island on May 1, and landed at Le Bourget Airport outside of Paris on May 2, about 17 hours later.

Charles Lindbergh, a little-known airplane pilot in 1927, became the first to successfully fly the transatlantic route. Charles made the trip in 33.5 hours. He and his airplane, the Spirit of St. Louis, became world famous instantly.

In his attempt, Erik Lindbergh wanted to commemorate his grandfather's accomplishment. He also wanted to inspire everyday space travel, just as Charles Lindbergh helped usher in aviation.

"I really want to celebrate the 75th anniversary of his flight," Erik recently told Scholastic News Zone. "A lot of people don't know how that flight changed the world."

Advances in aviation technology over the last 75 years certainly helped Erik fly to Paris. His plane, a Lancair Columbia 300, is made from lightweight carbon composite material. Dubbed the New Spirit of St. Louis, it travels at an average cruise speed of 184 mph. His grandfather's plane, a Ryan Airlines NX211, is made of steel tubing, fabric, and wood, and traveled at an average speed of 108 mph. It is now housed at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Charles was motivated by a $25,000 reward. His accomplishment was a big step toward everyday air travel. Similarly, today's $10 million X Prize is an incentive for scientific advances that will make trips to the cosmos an ordinary thing, says Erik.

"Wings and propellers will only carry us so far," Erik says. "The future of flight is in space."

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