Dr. Forrest Bird received the 2012 Lindbergh Foundation annual award March 29. The award is presented to “an individual whose life’s work demonstrates a balance among technology, the environment and the quality of all life on earth.” Bird, who at age 91 remains an active pilot, invented the medical respirator in 1955 and went on to create more than 40 breathing-related medical devices. In 1970 he created the Babybird pediatric medical respirator, a device credited with reducing infant mortality for children with respiratory problems from 70 percent to 10 percent.
Bird soloed at 14 and earned his A&P certificate before enrolling in Boston’s Northeastern University. There, Bird earned undergraduate and master’s degrees in aeronautical engineering. During World War II, he joined the Army Air Corps and wrote all the technical orders on new airplanes and ferried aircraft worldwide. He also worked on breathing devices for bomber crews. After the war, the Army sent him to medical school. During a military career that spanned 40 years of active and reserve duty, Bird flew everything from T-6s to F-4 Phantoms.
Today, Bird continues to work from his research and manufacturing compound in Northern Idaho, which is located near his museum. It features his diverse aircraft collection, which contains everything from his father’s Piper Cub to Bird’s fleet of Bell helicopters, including a 212 that he still flies regularly. Much of Bird’s aircraft collection is modified: He holds about 50 supplemental type certificates. At one point he owned a PBY Catalina “flying classroom,” to which he fitted two extra 380-hp Lycoming engines; the airplane was known as the Bird Innovator, tail number N81RD. He also owned and flew a Learjet 25.