Erik Lindbergh showed how far general aviation has progressed over the decades, when, five years ago, he retraced his grandfather’s most famous achievement, the world’s first solo transatlantic flight. The younger Lindbergh piloted a four-seat, single-engine Lancair Columbia 300 that he had modified to carry enough fuel to make the trip from New York to Paris. His New Spirit of St. Louis was trailed by a Cessna 210 carrying a History Channel crew that filmed him contending with thunderstorms and icy conditions. At one point, the chase team radioed Lindbergh, asking him to slow down to make it easier to record his flight. “I don’t think so,” he replied. “I’m going to get there as fast as I can.” Flying at 212 mph, he made it across the Atlantic Ocean in 17 hours, 7 minutes, about twice as fast as the mark Charles Lindbergh set in 1927.
As impressive as Erik Lindbergh’s feat was, general aviation’s advances might be more relevant to the pilot who can fly his plane from Los Angeles to San Francisco or New York City to Washington, D.C., in less time than it would take him to make either of those trips on a commercial flight. Indeed, as long waits at ticket counters, increased scrutiny at security lines, and luggage mix-ups can combine to make commercial travel a nightmare, owning an aircraft is more convenient than ever—but it also involves an onerous amount of paperwork and upkeep. With that in mind, Lindbergh and fellow pilot Andrew DeMond founded iFly, a membership club that offers the experience of owning a plane without its burdens.
The club, which manages a fleet of six Columbia 350s from its headquarters in Long Beach, Calif., is not a fractional program. Rather, it employs a model similar to that of a country club, in which members pay a five-year membership fee of about $40,000 and monthly dues of $1,800. The club pays the planes’ registration, insurance, and maintenance fees, while members pay $70 per hour for flight time plus the cost of fuel. To join, you have to have logged at least 150 flight hours as a pilot.
With only about a half dozen members to date, iFly reports that it has experienced no scheduling conflicts. Lindbergh and DeMond plan to keep it that way by maintaining a members-to-plane ratio of 4 to 1 as the club grows. The organization currently operates out of six airports in Southern California, but it hopes to expand its reach nationwide within five years.
Lindbergh made his transatlantic flight in 2002 partly to bring attention to the X Prize Foundation, an organization for which he serves as a vice president. In October 2004, the foundation awarded $10 million to the Mojave, Calif.–based group Scaled Composites for being the first nongovernmental association to launch a reusable manned aircraft into space twice within two weeks. The flight of that craft, SpaceShipOne, recalls Charles Lindbergh’s own flight, which was prompted by a $25,000 prize. “I have a problem I inherited from my grandfather,” Lindbergh says. “I try to make things a little better. The X Prize has changed our notions of what’s possible in flight, and I hope that iFly, in its smaller way, can do the same for aircraft ownership.”
Members can reserve a plane for as many as seven days a month, but for those who wish to take a two-week trip around the country, iFly can make the necessary arrangements. However, unless you can modify your plane to carry a considerable amount of extra fuel, you may want to consider other options for a flight from New York to Paris.