A life of aviation adventure
Last updated 2/23/2022 at Noon
In the mid-1990s, Shane Lundgren was flying on the knife’s edge of adventure, in some of the most hostile environments known to aviators. Those adventures, along with other achievements in the field, earned him nomination among the Living Legends of Aviation.
The Camp Sherman resident grew up on the wing. His father, Kim Lundgren, was a navigator for PanAm, and the founder in 1978 of Air Berlin. Shane was born in Palo Alto, California, and went to university in San Diego, majoring in history and economics. He thought he was headed into a career in law. But the pull of aviation was strong — he had started getting his ratings and licenses at the earliest possible ages. In 1982, he checked out in the Boeing 737 operated by Air Berlin. At the age of 21, Lundgren was the youngest person to fly the 737 commercially.
He wasn’t going to law school.
From 1982 to 2012, he would fly as a captain for Air Berlin. These were historic times. Shane was on hand when the Berlin Wall came down.
“I kind of feel like Forrest Gump,” he said. “I was at the Wall, and all these historic events are going on around you.”
When the Wall fell, Air Berlin “was kind of this strategically placed airline,” Lundgren said. German investors bought in, and the carrier, which flew to Moscow, went from being a U.S. airline to a German one — the only airline in history to change flags in this manner.
Flying for Air Berlin, Lundgren took routes to Moscow and beyond — and a wild notion began to grow.
“I got pretty interested in barnstorming across Siberia,” he said.
“Barnstorming” was a popular phenomenon in the early days of aviation, when pilots would fly into rural communities, often landing in a field near a barn, and put on impromptu airshows. It has come to designate an expedition that travels town-to-town in short hops.
With Russia opening up to the West after the fall of the Soviet Union, it seemed that it would be possible to barnstorm from village to village across the vast spaces of arctic Siberia. It took years to bring the project to fruition, but in 1994, WIRED Magazine got behind the idea — and it became the first “online” expedition, recounted on the then-new World Wide Web, as well as on the pioneering magazine’s pages.
“It was chaotic to try to organize that trip,” Lundgren recalled.
Folks in Arctic Siberia who had lived under the controls of the Soviet Union were not used to foreigners showing up in Russian Atonov An-2 biplanes and pulling out giant satellite phones. And “uploading” stories and photos from Siberia wasn’t viable for an infant Internet — Lundgren and his colleagues had to work the old-fashioned way, dictating the text of stories, and entrusting digital photo files to a businessman who was returning to the United States and offered to deliver them to WIRED.
The adventure was wild and woolly — but satisfying enough to do it again the following year, this time under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institute’s Arctic Studies Center, who wanted to visit and chronicle the lives of indigenous peoples in the wilds of Siberia, from Yakutsk to the Bering Straits.
During this time, Lundgren had taken to carrying the Explorer’s Club Flag #7, an honor accorded to few explorers. Lundgren’s Living Legends of Aviation nomination notes that “carrying the historic Flag #7 from the Explorers Club across Siberia led Shane to cross the paths of historic early arctic pilots George Hubert Wilkins and Ben Eielson, who attempted flying over the top of the world in the late 1920s.”
Lundgren recalls that he “got increasingly intrigued with the idea of flying to the North Pole.”
In 1997, he and several other adventurers made an attempt to reach the North Pole in Lundgren’s Atonov An-2 biplanes. They were turned back by mechanical problems. The unsuccessful attempt was documented by National Geographic in a film titled “Antonovs Over the Arctic,” which can be viewed on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGc2KbB7HMc
In the film, Lundgren says, “We could have made the Pole, we just wouldn’t have ever come back from the Pole. And it’s just like going to the summit of Everest — if you’re within a hundred meters and you know you can make it, but you don’t think you can get down, what’s the point? The point is to live and to come back and to do other things.”
The following year, Lundgren and his team returned for another shot.
The North Pole offers a very narrow weather window when a pilot can hope for sufficient light to see where to land and no fog to obscure the view. For Lundgren the window opened on April 13, 1998.
Landing itself is tricky, since the North Pole is not a land mass, but all ice.
“You have to find a piece that’s big enough to land,” Lundgren said.
Then the pilot must make test touch-downs to make sure the ice will hold.
Lundgren found his spot and made his landing. He said it was -30 degrees, but beautiful. The team left the engines running while they took in the moment — then they climbed back in the cockpit and took off.
The return flight was not without adventure. Stronger-than-expected headwinds meant they had insufficient fuel to hit their destination of Spitsbergen, Norway, so they had to divert to a Danish Air Station at the top of Greenland before making the Norway leg.
Lundgren donated his Antonov An-2, dubbed Polar 1, to the Museum of Flight in Seattle Washington. To get it there, in 1999 he flew across the North Atlantic and across the USA to its final home.
Lundgren lives in Camp Sherman, where he served on the Black Butte School Board for a decade from 2007 to 2017.
“Since I’ve been here, its been raising a family and being a developer,” he said.
He still has his hand in the aviation world, as CEO of the company he founded in 2015, Metolius Aviation Capital, which provides financial services to the commercial aviation market.
Lundgren is modest — almost abashed — about being honored as a nominee by Living Legends of Aviation at a gala in Beverly Hills, California, on January 21. The event’s emcee was John Travolta, and many actors and other celebrities — such as Harrison Ford — who have a passion for aviation attended.
As its website notes, the “Living Legends of Aviation” are remarkable people of extraordinary accomplishment in aviation including: entrepreneurs, innovators, industry leaders, astronauts, record breakers, pilots who have become celebrities, and celebrities who have become pilots. The Legends meet yearly to recognize and honor individuals that have made significant contributions in aviation.”
“It’s celebrity-meets-aviation, a little bit,” Lundgren said. “It’s a nice mix of interesting people who are genuinely interested in aviation.”
Lundgren’s exploits in Siberia and the Arctic, and his ongoing work in the field, will place him with the likes of Chuck Yeager, Bud Anderson, Tom Cruise, and Harrison Ford — and his father Kim Lundgren — among the Living Legends of Aviation.