Simon Etlinger may have been only three years of age but the memory of his first time in a plane is as vivid as if it were just yesterday. His dad took him on a flight aboard a Cessna with a friend, who was a pilot.
“The view out of this open door, the air space around us, the mountains, and ground below us, I can still remember to this day,” Simon relates, noting that in the intervening years his dad would deflect any questions about the trip. “I don’t think he wanted my mom to know.”
Anyone who knows Simon now knows that flying a machine of his own creation courses through his veins. Indeed, the captain of the GoFly Prize’s Team EDEA, based in Austria, says matter-of-factly: “Flying an aircraft with my own hands is the best experience I could ever have – it’s only me, my machine and the elements. The world gets small in a moment, like when you see cars driving down on the highway below you. They look like toys.”
Simon views GoFly - which now includes the participation of 3700 innovators from 103 countries - as much as an opportunity to learn and expand his horizons as it is a challenge. He explains that, “you can learn so much from the task at hand.” At the same time, he says there is an advantage to the competition in that there is “one clear goal.”
Interestingly, unlike many of the competitors, Simon’s personal goal in life was not to be a pilot. He often went with his father to lectures about flight at the airport – his father travels a lot for business. And Simon took flight lessons for a time, which he often paid for by landscaping the airport grounds. But he came to realize that, “I’m a technician, and a creator. I never shared this glory aspect of being a pilot. I just like to fly this thing, nothing less, nothing more.”
This “thing” is the personal flyer he is developing for the GoFly Prize. His aim is to create a machine that will positively impact the world of the future – one that will give off absolutely no emissions, help with fire-fighting, and be able to deliver necessities, from food and medicines, to remote and previously unreachable areas. “Only the stars know if I can do this,” he says thoughtfully.
To this end, Simon perseveres despite obstacles. Indeed, he is the father of two small boys and has what amounts to two full-time jobs between working on his GoFly Prize entry and his entrepreneurship consulting business. Plus, he is a one-man team. Nevertheless, he follows what he says is the best advice he has ever received: “There is only one forward, fast forward!”