On the last Friday in April, the Golden Wings Flying Museum, in Blaine, MN, housed more than just an astonishing collection of vintage aircraft. The hangar bustled with hundreds of industry partners eager to make new connections and meet great historical figures, namely astronauts Dr. Buzz Aldrin and Dr. Harrison “Jack” Schmitt. The Founding Flyers Gala, hosted by AirSpace Minnesota and the Founding Flyers Society, celebrated achievements in lunar expeditions, Minnesota’s aerospace history, aviation training, and flight in its entirety.
After mingling around cocktails and entrées, guests did not sit back and relax, but rather leaned forward in their seats as a moderator interviewed both Aldrin and Schmitt about their expeditions to the moon. Aldrin reminded the audience that though only twelve men actually left their boot prints in lunar soil, twenty-four astronauts traveled there and deserve equal recognition for their efforts. Both men described the paths that led them to NASA as well as their times of intense preparation for launches. They both credited Minnesota native Dr. Bob Gilruth for the Apollo program’s success. (Gilruth led the program after counseling President Kennedy to pursue lunar travel.) With this recognition, Aldrin and Schmitt confirmed that individuals from the Midwest contributed substantial improvements to “companies and infrastructure that ultimately took America into space” (AirSpace Minnesota).
The night’s talk also noted undertones of the importance of flight and flight training. When asked about the biggest surprise on his journey to the moon, Aldrin replied with a humorous story: after reentering the spacecraft following their lunar walk, he noted a small spring on the floor, which he found to be the missing piece of the engine arm circuit breaker. “We could have said, ‘Houston, we have a problem!’” Buzz exclaimed through laughter. His pilot training, he said, was most important at that moment. To put his “trust in a machine” meant that he needed to be thinking critically at all times. “That’s what flying is all about.” He could not be more correct.
Guests touring the museum viewed the early and meager beginnings of pilot training with the Link Trainer—or “Blue Box”—built in the 1930s to simulate flight for WWII pilots. In addition, tales of WASPs landing crumpled and engine-blazing aircraft with tact displayed again the necessity of critical thinking derived from flight training. WASPs and other famous aviators, such as Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, and Floyd Bennett, were among those who flew aircraft in the expansive collection. The 1927 Ford Tri-Motor C-1077, 1937 Fleetwings Seabird, 1936 Stintson Tri-Motor 600A, and 1929 Bulh Sport Airsedan were only a few of the many aircraft in the collection.
To close, the gala focused on the role of a rich aerospace heritage in educating, inspiring, and training the coming generation of aviators. A key to achieving these ends is engaging the public and returning to space. Just as Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon” had people looking up at our lunar neighbor, Aldrin said we need a new song encouraging us to go to Mars, sung by none other than Bruno Mars. Star Trek’s success in inspiring a generation of engineers and scientists in the 1960s must be recaptured again in this age. Aldrin argued that America must generate a similar public inspiration to grow our modern pool of talented scientists. These individuals will be crucial in advancing economic studies on the moon as well as leading an international permanence on Mars. In five years, America will celebrate the 50th anniversary of our first lunar launch, and Aldrin wants to see a strong resurgence in aerospace activity by then, or, in his opinion, we will be out of the race entirely. A recognized flagship project for the beginnings of this inspiration is the Aviation Learning Center in Boeing’s Museum of Flight in Seattle. In this center, kids come for a day of education on flight planning, aerodynamics, preflight walk-arounds, and simulation; they leave with a focused picture of what flying is all about. AirSpace Minnesota has plans to create a similar aviation center near the MSP airport and historic Fort Snelling. This project supports the non-profit organization’s goals “to chronicle Minnesota’s great aerospace and aviation legacy and equip a new generation to write the next chapter of the innovation story.” All present at the gala certainly plan to see great things to come in aerospace, be it advances in flight or maintenance technology or deeper space travel.
Founding Flyers Fun Facts:
- The first lunar landing was originally intended to be the Apollo 12 mission, not Armstrong and Aldrin’s Apollo 11 expedition
- Aldrin was the first astronaut to train in his space suit under water
- Schmitt was the only geologist to walk on the moon
- In the most recent landing, Dr. Schmitt and his colleagues found indigenous lunar water in strange, orange soil
- Aldrin’s original application to NASA was rejected; he later reapplied for the Apollo missions and was accepted
- Minnesota’s Jean Piccard was real-life inspiration for Star Trek’s Jean-Luc Picard
- Piccard’s son, Don, who was present at the Founding Flyers Gala, once shook hands with Orville Wright
- Don Piccard later went on to make the first hot air balloon voyage across the English Channel
- Minnesota’s major corporation, 3M, engineered many of the astronauts’ space boots
- Ford Motors built the first all-metal airliner, the first concrete runways and passenger terminals, and was the first to offer airport shuttles in its Fordson bus
-Rochelle Johnson, JETPUBS Inc.