Southern Arizona has a long an illustrious aviation history. But you may not know about Tucson’s connection to Charles Lindbergh, or the unusual gift he was given on his visit here nearly a century ago.

Here’s what make the story of the

Spirit of Tucson

Absolutely Arizona.

“He made it. Charles A. LindberghLucky Lindy as they call himlanded at Le Bourget Airport Paris at 5:24 this afternoon.”

Charles Lindbergh became world famous after his 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. Two weeks later, a ticker tape parade in New York City drew more than 4 million people.

He then set off on a 48 state tour, flying his

Spirit of St. Louis

, to prove airplane travel was safe.

On September 23, 1927, Lindbergh landed in Tucson, his touchdown captured on silent film.

He came to Tucson to dedicate the new Davis-Monthan Municipal Airfield. Newspaper reports say 20,000 people greeted Lindbergh.

There was also a commemorative gift waiting for him. As Hal Burns III showed me in photos, his grandfather Hal Burns Sr. made a Tucson-themed surprise for Lindbergh: A life-size replica of the

Spirit of St. Louis

made entirely of cactus.

“He wanted something special for Charles Lindbergh flying to Tucson, It was a big deal.”

A Tucson florist and WWI veteran, Hal Sr. owned his own flower shop near downtown.

After landing, Lindbergh took a moment to walk over and inspect the cactus plane dubbed the

Spirit of Tucson


According to Hal Sr.’s own writings, Lindy said to him “surely you don’t want me to get in that.”

Hal Sr. posed with Lindbergh and several Tucson dignitaries in front of the cactus creation. It took him a week to construct the cactus plane at what was then the world’s largest municipal airfield.

“He made it out of saguaro ribs, he had ocotillo along the body,” says Hal Sr.’s granddaaughter Liz Thompson. “I know he used a barrel (cactus) for the nose and prickly pears for the propeller.”

Thompson also points out the cactus flowers arranged to say “Spirit of Tucson”. She says constructing the cactus plane took a toll on her grandfathers hands.

“I know he said he got stuck plenty. I’m sure he used some sort of gloves but I’m not sure I don’t know what they were,” Thompson said.

Following the cactus plane presentation, Lindbergh rode in a car to the University of Arizona to give a speech.

He posed for a photo with four women, including the mother of Oscar Monthan, one of the Airfield’s namesakes.

After spending the night at the Santa Rita Hotel, Lindbergh flew out of Tucson. His next stop: Lorsdburg, New Mexico.

As for the

Spirit of Tucson

cactus plane:

Hal: “It was dismantled, it was dismantled.” Pat: “That’s a shame, but I guesswhat are you going to do with it, right?” Hal: “Right.”

But the spirit of the

Spirit of Tucson

cactus plane lives onand so does the Absolutely Arizona history of Charles Lindbergh’s visit here nearly a century ago.