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Family will keep flight legacy alive with another journey to Ecuador

By Melonyce McAfee
June 4, 2005

EL CAJON – Theodore Gildred Sr., emboldened by Charles Lindbergh's solo flight from New York to Paris in 1927, yearned to make his mark in aviation.

The San Diego businessman owned a Stinson airplane dealership and had lived and worked in South America for years, and in 1931, he flew to Ecuador on a journey themed "Spirit of Goodwill."

Ted Gildred Jr. spoke during a dedication ceremony at Gillespie Field yesterday, announcing that he would again re-create his father's 1931 flight to Ecuador.

Since then, his son, Ted Gildred Jr., has followed his dad's flight path.

Twenty-four years ago, the son flew 4,200 miles to Ecuador to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his father's trip.

And during a dedication of a Stinson airplane for exhibit at Gillespie Field yesterday, Gildred said he would honor the 75th anniversary by embarking on the journey a second time.

Gildred, who will be 70 in October, will be joined by his sons, Ted III and Stephen, for the trip in March.

"It's become a tradition and it's something that we're really proud of," Gildred Jr. said yesterday.

His father landed a Ryan B-5 Brougham in Quito, Ecuador, at 10:52 a.m. March 31, 1931, after 18 days of travel.

A 1930 Stinson Detroiter was donated to the San Diego Aerospace Museum yesterday by Si Robin, a pilot who owned the plane for 20 years. "San Diego is very instrumental in the aviation business," he said. "It doesn't get the credit it deserves."

Because there was no airport in Quito, a field had been cleared for his arrival. That space is now the location of Mariscal Sucre International Airport, where Gildred Jr. touched down at 10:52 a.m. March 31, 1981, mirroring his father's arrival time.

"We did the exact, to the minute, schedule he was on," he said.

"The whole purpose of the flight was to re-create it as exactly as possible."

(This was made possible by advance work and trip coordination done by Bill Cavan)

He was thrilled by the warm welcome when he landed.

After his return to California in 1981, Gildred said: "The reception in Quito was unbelievable. There must have been 400 people there. Military bands played the anthems of both countries. I was so choked up with emotion that I could not speak to the reporters for several minutes after we left the plane."

Gildred Jr., a real estate developer, dreamed of honoring his father's trip by replicating it. He was a director of the San Diego Aerospace Museum. Board members urged him to re-create the journey.

The 1930 Stinson Detroiter

He flew a 1942 Stinson Reliant monoplane on loan from the Aerospace Museum and renamed it the Ecuador II, after his father's plane, the Ecuador.

After reaching Quito in 1981, Gildred got permission from the museum to donate the Stinson to Ecuador for the creation of an aviation museum there. It was time to retire the plane, which had been plagued by engine troubles. He presented the keys to then-President Jaime Roldós Aguilera.

His father's airplane was also put to good use. It was sold to the Ecuadorean government and used to start the country's first airmail fleet.

The Gildreds have a storied connection to Latin America. Gildred Sr. lived and built homes in Ecuador after studying civil engineering in college. He worked in land development in Mexico and owned an import and export business in South America.

Gildred Jr. was ambassador to Argentina during the Reagan administration. He was born in Mexico and lived there until age 15.

"I really feel as much Latin as I do American," he said. "So going to Latin America was really like coming home."

Gildred Jr. learned to fly almost 50 years ago at Montgomery Field in Kearny Mesa.

The Stinson he piloted in 1981 was similar to the 1930 Stinson Detroiter donated to the San Diego Aerospace Museum yesterday by Si Robin.

Robin, an airplane antenna manufacturing executive from Woodland Hills, owned the Detroiter for 20 years. His longest flight was to Paris.

He flew the plane from Van Nuys for the dedication yesterday. Robin said it was important to contribute to the local legacy of flight innovation.

"San Diego is very instrumental in the aviation business," he said. "It doesn't get the credit it deserves."

Gildred Jr. said he is proud to be a part of San Diego aviation and to carry on his father's legacy.

Ted III will co-pilot their 2002 Pilatus PC-12 during the March flight. He plans to make the same trip in 2031 for the 100th anniversary of his grandfather's flight.

The airplane may be more modern, but the sentiment is the same.

"It's something we want to keep alive," he said. "It's a good thing for the Aerospace Museum . . . and good for San Diego aviation."

Melonyce McAfee is a community news assistant in the East County office.

Melonyce McAfee: (619) 593-4957;

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