The man and his dream
The man is Thor Solberg, a close friend of Roald Amundsen, and he is mentioned in the same breath as the flying pioneers Trygve Gran and Bernt Balchen. He was born on the farm of Årebrot in the then municipality of Kinn, now Flora municipality, on 25 March 1893. He was the second eldest of 11 siblings, and he had early dreams of learning to fly. Years passed, but the dream did not disappear. In 1910, at 17, he went to Bergen and got work as a frame maker. He saved money and tried to learn about flying as best he could. In 1919, he got his pilot's licence. Roald Amundsen advised him to go to America. This happened in 1925. In 1928, he got a pilot's licence first class, and bought his first aeroplane. It turned out to be a plane of the worst kind. Solberg had to make no fewer than 25 forced landings with this plane.
After a while, he bought his third plane in 1932. With this plane he made his first attempt at flying from New York via Labrador, Greenland, Iceland, and the Faeroe Islands to Norway. This attempt could have been the end. At Newfoundland the plane was covered with ice, and he crashed, losing all his possessions. This disaster would have broken most people, but not Thor Solberg. In 1934, he had raised enough capital to buy his fourth plane, a single-engine amphibian bomber, built in 1931, and baptized it "Leiv Eiriksson" after the Norse explorer and discoverer of Vinland.
On 18 July 1935, he took off from New York and landed in Bergen on 16 August. On this tour he made 13 single flights with a total flying time of 57 hours. This was the first trans-Atlantic flight USA - Norway following the tough itinerary of the Norse seafarers.
Honoured in the USA
It was in the USA that he spent most of his active career. His name is inscribed in the New Jersey Aviation Hall of Fame, an honour bestowed only to the great pioneers.
During the Second World War, he instructed some two thousand pilots that entered the US Air Force and took part in the war in Europe. His son, Thor Solberg Jr., today runs the airport and the activities that his father established more than 60 years ago.
"I have prayed to God for you"
Thor Solberg had business interests in Norway as well. Both before and after the war, he had his own airline company in western Norway, and in 1957, he started a new airline company and a civil aviation school at Jarlsberg Airport, where he built hangars, workshops, and a hall of residence for pilot trainees.
Finally, some of his own words when he landed at Solberg on a beautiful August day after his Atlantic crossing in 1935:
"Then I met my old mother who was standing there on the beach. You had become old and thin, and I hadn't seen you in many years. But I will never forget when you took my hand, and said those words that moved me so immensely: - I knew you would make it, Thor, because I have prayed to God all the way..."
Thor Solberg died on 26 February 1967, and he is buried at the churchyard in Florø. The road to the airport is also named after him. Solberg was awarded the Knight's Cross of St Olav.