Today, an aviator searches for his center of gravity.
The University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make our
civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity
Just before he died in 1974,
Charles Lindbergh wrote the foreword for a book
about the Tasaday tribe in the Philippines. The
Tasaday's way of life was under assault, and
During decades of [flying we crowded ourselves
into] cities that spread like scabs across the
landscape. Obviously an exponential breakdown in
our environment was taking place; and, just as
obviously, my profession of aviation was a major
factor in that breakdown. Aviation had opened every
spot on earth to exploitation.
That was far from Lindbergh's earlier thinking. He
grew up in a small Minnesota town -- his father a
progressive congressman, his mother a chemist who
drew him into technology. When he was 11 she took
him to Panama to see the new Canal being built
Lindbergh tried to take up engineering, but he
didn't have the patience for it. He flunked out.
Then he enrolled in a flying school. Before he was
20, his heart was set on winning the $25,000 Orteig
prize for flying from New York to Paris.
Of course, he won the prize and the fame that went
with it. By the mid-30s he was consulting in Nazi
Germany. He was deeply impressed with Hitler's
technocracy, even if he distrusted the politics.
Back in America he preached defensive isolationism.
When WW-II broke out, he offered his services to
the Army. By then, they saw him as pro-Nazi, and
they wouldn't take him.
Historian Leonard Reich tells how Lindbergh went
instead to industry. First he helped Ford make B-24
bombers. Later, he was almost killed test-flying a
P-47 for Republic Aircraft.
By the age of 42 Lindbergh was a "civilian" test
pilot in the South Pacific. He combat-tested P-38s
and Corsairs. He flew fifty bombing and strafing
missions. He even shot down a Japanese plane. His
work changed the tactics of low-altitude combat.
After the war, he influenced the development of
civilian jets. He also wrote a book of essays on
the conflict he saw rising between the benefits and
the dangers of modern technology.
Lindbergh's defining moment came in 1955 when his
wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wrote Gift from
the Sea. She described a simple life on the
seashore and contrasted it with, in her words, "the
curtain of mechanization [coming] down between the
mind and the hand." He read that as an accurate
criticism of the life he had spent pushing the
machine ahead of its human users.
After that, Lindbergh became less visible. Now he
worked with a quiet intensity trying to implement
sane environmental policies. He pushed for the
creation of the Congressional Office of
Technological Assessment. He fought for the
survival of that Tasaday tribe. At the end, Charles
Lindbergh was still doing, with a complex life,
what most of us stop doing in our later years. At
the end he was still struggling -- to get it right.
I'm John Lienhard at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds