“Don’t worry about me if you don’t hear from me for two or three years.”
With those reassuring words, the intrepid air pioneer, Paul Redfern, bid adieu to his wife, family and friends. He was twenty-five, but had been flying for nine years. After graduating from high school, he opened the first commercial airfield in Columbia, South Carolina and worked as a Customs Department pilot. But flying was more about excitement than steady employment and he made a name for himself barnstorming through forty states. He also found himself on both sides of the law. As a revenue agent he once busted 80 stills in a single week. But he was also jailed twice; once in Texas for buzzing a train and once in South Carolina for dropping a football dummy before the eyes of horrified spectators at an air show from an altitude of 2,000 feet. (They didn’t know it was a dummy.)
That was all behind him in the summer of 1927. Lindbergh had flown the Atlantic the previous May and Redfern was planning to do him one better—Brunswick, Georgia to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The 4,600 mile journey would best Lindberg by more than 1,000 miles and earn him $26,000. With the president of Brazil and actress Clara Bow waiting for him in Rio, he took off in his green and yellow Stinson SM-1 from a Georgia beach on August 25 and headed south. The following day, Redfern dropped a note to a passing Norwegian freighter off the cost of Trinidad asking the captain to point his vessel in the direction of Venezuela. The captain happily obliged, Redfern wagged his wings in thanks and was never seen again. Despite persistent rumors that he had survived the crash, twelve expeditions over the next decade, failed to find either pilot or plane. One bush pilot later claimed that he’d flown over the wreckage in an inaccessible jungle region many times and watched it, “sink deeper and deeper into the jungle canopy over time,” but no one knows for sure.
The sad story of Paul Redfern might have a familiar ring to many people. After all, his is a tale of enthusiasm, vision, hope and courage—things we’ve all experienced at one time or another. Each of us has excitedly launched a dream on some bright morning of our lives and watched it take flight. But for too many, their dream—like Redfern’s plane—has grown smaller and smaller in the sky before disappearing over the horizon and vanishing from sight.
There are many reasons why your life might take a different vector than the one you’ve planned. Sometimes it’s a matter of circumstance, or luck, or decisions that didn’t work out. But if you look hard enough, there’s always a chance to get back on course—a chance to revive the dream.
Paul Redfern didn’t have the option of reviving his dream. He knew there was a high probability of crashing in the jungle, but had hoped to walk out with, “a corker of a story.” It didn’t work out for him, but it can work out for anyone who still dreams of being more than they’ve become. Dreams only die when you let them—when you decide to settle for what you know is less. And if you ever find yourself ruminating about what might have been, your life is already sinking deeper and deeper into the jungle canopy. So don’t wait. Reacquaint yourself with the future you desired. Dream big dreams. Make the flight from Brunswick to Brazil. —Ebert