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First Flight Across Lake Michigan to be Recreated July 1, a Century Later

June 24, 2013

Tucson, Ariz. -- Pioneer aviator Logan A. (Jack) Vilas made aviation history on July 1, 1913, when he was the first person to fly an airplane across Lake Michigan. 

His granddaughter, Faith Vilas, will recreate that journey exactly 100 years later next Monday when she pilots a Cessna 185 amphibious plane from Southwest Regional Airport in St. Joseph/Benton Harbor, Mich. to the Navy Pier in Chicago, Ill. 

Jack Vilas was the sixth person in the United States to gain a seaplane pilot’s license. He made the first Lake Michigan crossing at age 21, 14 years before Charles Lindbergh made the first non-stop solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. Vilas also pioneered air-sea rescue and the use of aircraft in forest fire spotting. 

Faith Vilas, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz., as well as a third-generation pilot, is making the journey to commemorate her grandfather’s groundbreaking feat. 

“We're into our second century of flight, built on the achievements of aviators in the early 1900s, including my grandfather,” Vilas said. “I want to honor him with this flight.” 

Vilas, a licensed seaplane pilot based in Seabrook, Texas, said her flight will take approximately 60 minutes depending on weather conditions. 

She came up with the idea for the commemorate flight about five years ago, and spent the past two years planning and working out details. 

She said flying is in her genes. Her grandfather Jack, father Jack Jr. and aunt Ariel all flew. “I grew up thinking anyone could be a pilot,” she said. 

Vilas, 61, is scheduled to land in Lake Michigan near Navy Pier at 11 a.m. A press conference will follow at the East End Plaza on Navy Pier. Mark V. Sykes, CEO and Director of the Planetary Science Institute, will introduce Vilas. She will be available for one-on-one interviews following the press conference. 

While the Lake Michigan crossing marks the conclusion of a long effort of planning and training, Vilas has plans for even loftier aviation adventures. 

She is eager to go up into space as part of PSI’s Atsa Suborbital Observatory project that will see scientists and students operate a telescope while aboard a reusable spacecraft, XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx. 

Atsa will provide low-cost space-based observations above the limiting atmosphere of Earth, while avoiding some operational constraints of satellite telescope systems such as the inability to observe objects close to the Sun. 

“It will be fantastic to fly and use the Atsa in suborbital space,” she said. “Open human spaceflight is our future.”

 

 

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