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Sesquicentennial Minute: most famous pilot in history influenced Air Force Academy landing in Colorado Springs

AIR FORCE, Colo. (KRDO) -- The Air Force Academy has been synonymous with Colorado Springs for nearly 70 years. But the academy could have very easily been built in the Midwest, if not for one of the most famous pilots in history.

America’s military aviation had discussed plans for an “aeronautical” academy since the Wright brothers discovered flight in 1903. The talk finally became a reality after World War II under the National Security Act, which created the Air Force.

But where would the Air Force train cadets? There were 350 cities under consideration before three finalists were announced: Alton, IL, Lake Geneva, WI, and Colorado Springs.

Colorado Springs won the bid because of an impressive pitch that included the city buying part of the 17,000-acre plot. But also helping the Air Force Academy land here - possibly the most famous pilot of all time was on the survey committee, and he loved our little town.

"Charles Lindbergh went up in a local small aircraft, flew around and said 'this area is perfect, this is where it needs to be,'" said Brian Laslie, Air Force Academy Historian. "He was basically chosen to be on the committee basically because of who he was. So, not only does he serve on the committee, the site survey committee, but he also serves on the very first board of visitors here," he said.

Lindbergh was known worldwide after becoming the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic earlier in the 20th century. And with the remarkable pilot in the Springs soon came a remarkable story: Lindbergh, one of the most famous men in the world at the time, was treated like any other pilot while trying to rent his plane here.

"And the airfield manager said, 'well, do you have a pilot's license?'" And he said, ' yes, I do have a pilot's license. In fact, I have several of them.' And he said, 'well, I'm going to have to see your private pilot's license.' And so Charles Lindbergh pulls out his wallet, slides his card across the table and the manager just turns beat red when he realizes he's got Charles Lindbergh standing in front of him," said Laslie.

Luckily, Lindbergh didn’t mind being inconspicuous. He still fell in love with Colorado Springs. And he may very well be responsible for our city being the home of the Air Force Academy.  

Sesquicentennial Minute is a summer series produced by KRDO's Josh Helmuth in celebration of Colorado Springs' 150th birthday, commemorated on July 31, 2021.

Josh Helmuth

Josh is an anchor for Good Morning Colorado. Learn more about Josh here.

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