Chicago’s Contributions to the Development of Heavier-Than-Air Flight
INTRO Chicago The World’s Flying Capital
PART ONE Octave Chanute
PART TWO The Aero Club of Illinois
PART THREE First Aeroplane Flights Over Chicago
PART FOUR Chicago to Springfield
PART FIVE 1911 Aviation Meet
PART SIX Dirigibles
PART SEVEN 1912 Gordon Bennett Race
PART EIGHT Municipal Airport (Midway)
PART NINE 1930 National Air Races and Aeronautical Exposition
PART TEN 1933 American Air Race
PART ELEVEN 1937 Amelia Earhart
PART TWELVE Northerly Island Airport (Meigs Field)
Chicago Tribune, August 13, 1911
INDEX TO BIRD’S EYE VIEW
①—Judges, Timers, Press, Etc.
②—Boxes and Reserved Seats.
⑥—Chicago Yacht Club.
⑬ & ㊽— Bleriot Monoplanes.
Art Institute in the foreground
CALL it “aeromania” or “aviationitis” or “gravitiphobia,” whatever you will, the fact Chicago’s got it remains a fact still.
Two and a half million souls—with apologies to the 3,000,000 club, are instilled with the flying craze at the moment of writing. Today a noticeable segment of that number will crowd the viaducts connecting Grant park with Michigan avenue, intent on watching the “aerodome” preparations for what will probably be the greatest week in American history. Afire with enthusiasm after getting the contagion from printed and verbal narrations of yesterday’s triumphs, they will crowd about the aviation sheds and scan the sky, impatient for the beginning of the Monday chapter in this history making week of aeronautics.
But here is the queer part of it.
Chicago people have been far slower in catching the aviation “bug” in anticipation of their own meet than have the residents of far-off cities and rural places. There seems to be much in the adage that distance lends enchantment. In New York, Buffalo, New Orleans, St. Louis, Elgin, Waukesha and Wahoo, Neb., the folks have been gossiping about Chicago’s international aviation meet at a great rate. They seem to know far more about it than the villagers of the midland metropolis, on whose lake front lawn the wingfest is being held.
Estimates as to the number of strangers who will be attracted to the big meet from other places vary widely. Some of the optimistic railroad passenger agents who have in charge the dispatching of big excursions place the total visitors at 500,000. There are extreme conservatives among hotel men who declare that not more than 100,000 outsiders will be magnetized by the coming events which cast their shadows not before but underneath.
“The biggest crowds since the world’s fair in ’93,” asserted one railroad official who is busy clearing sidetracks to accommodate special trains expected.
Estimates Vary Widely.
The champion excursion route will be from New Orleans. Nearly 3,000 southerners are expected to take the journey up the Mississippi valley to this lake cooled goal. From the “central southern” region, which includes Memphis, Tenn., Louisville, and Paducah, Ky., and Cairo, Ill., another detachment of 2,000 is expected. Of course, Chicago is always the August mecca of hundreds of southern folk, but when the railroads arranged to time their excursions this summer for the aviation meet, the applications for round trip tickets were enormous. Pretty soon we will know the worst concerning the Mason and Dixon pronunciation of “hangar” and “Bleriot” and “dirigible” and “bird man.”
Excursions from Many Points.
The special one day excursions from points in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana will be too numerous for even a bus agent to trace.
The “flying hours” in Grant park will be from 3:30 until 7 p.m. and the railroads have arranged to transport their patrons according to this schedule. Most of the departing trains will not steam away from town until after 8 o’clock in order to permit the “avy fiends” and the “aero nuts” to feast their eyes until the last moment. Nor will all of the oncometers travel by rail. In the absence of a convenient line of overland airships they will arrive by steamboat. From many ports on both sides of Lake Michigan and east on the great lakes as far as Detroit excursions will traverse, thus shifting the tables of the trend of lake traffic which is generally eastward from Chicago.
“Chicago has been slow in picking up interest in the big meet compared to outside places, but when it once gets started—wow!” said one of the aviation officials at the Auditorium hotel on Thursday. “This town is so intensely wrapped up with its own affairs that it cannot rise to the situation as swiftly as a smaller community. But oince the humming of propellers and the puffing of motors is in the air, the city will sweep down upon the lake front like a tidal wave and all gate records will be simply overwhelmed by the number of paid and free admissions to the aviation meet.”
Indications were plentiful last week that the spell of aeronautics was beginning to weave itself about the minds of the people. Lake front hotel managers first felt it, which they began receiving telegrams and letters from many cities demanding reservations of “outside windows” for the week. Well-to-do Chicagoans, anxious for better accommodations even than those afforded by grandstand seats engaged rooms in the hotels with no other intention than that of using the “east exposures” as observations for themselves and their friends. Some of the settled and sedate resident guests of the hotels, living in “inside” rooms, upset tradition by requesting a temporary change of abode where the bird men would be visible.
Envied are the stenographers, bookkeepers and other office employes who work in the glass bound cliffs overlooking Michigan avenue. For them a continuous and perfect view of the flyers is in store, and they have been careful to arrange their vacation dates so that the week August 13 shall be part of the working calendar. They want to “stick around” when flying is being done, although some employers have forebodings that it will be a wek of half holidays, for all the work they will obtain from their forces during the afternoons.
Rival of the Zoo.
During the latter part of last week the “avy fiends” were out in force in Grant park, and their intrusive eagerness was as insistent as that of the military fans while the recent soldier camp was being constructed. Every day at noon hour the Van Buren street viaduct was forced to groan with the tramp of feet.
“The Lincoln park zoo ain’t got anything on this,” observed one stranger to the city, who wore and immense slouch hat, alpaca coat and kahki trousers.
As a matter of fact the parade of sightseers past the aeroplane sheds did resemble an exhibition of curious beasts. In the rear the sheds were guarded by wire netting and the cage effect made the keen observer think of a zoological garden. Some of the “curiocitizens” looked disappointed after they had feasted their eyes on the mechanical displays. Evidently they expected the resting machines to fly around in their cages, flap their wings, and call for crackers.
“Why, there’s Fort Dearborn!” cried a girl to her escort as they walked north from the row of aeroplane sheds.
She was an imaginative girl, but her metaphor was apt in this instance. The company of soldiers from the regular army signal corps which were assigned to the the meet by order of President Taft, had just pitched its tents. The two rows of brown “-conicals” were only a miniature of the greater camp of two weeks before. But behind the tents of the soldier boys was a bright “stockade” fence, built possibly to separate the smoke of the Illinois Central engines from the soldiers at sleep and at meals.
The boards had been sharpened at the top and altogether resembled the canvas stockades of the Buffalo Bill show and of such melodramas as “The Girl I Left Behind Me.” In combination with the military tepees and the armed sentries the scene looked like a replica of old Fort Dearborn, set down at the feet of the contemptuous skyscrapers of modern Chicago.
“Rubbernecking” a Fine Art.
Aviation “rubbernecking” will soon become an art in this town, although we are almost strangers to the practice as yet. One of the advance hints issued for women who would be “avy fiends” is that of wearing large mesh veils.
“Unless the veil is made of wide meshes it will mean optical pain to the feminine observer,” was the advice issued from aeronautical headquarters. “This was demonstrated long ago in Europe, and now there is a special veil manufactured for aviation meets over there and worn about the hat even if the wearer does not care to drape it over her face. With a finely knit veil before her eyes a woman will experience difficulty in following the movements of the flyers which are swifter than we realize until we study them at close range.”
Another technical point of scientific “rubbernecking” will be the operation of the held glass. So swiftly do the aeroplanes rise and swoop that it requires alertness on the part of the user of binoculars to regulate them according to distance. The effort of several days will be required to become a proficient binocularist. Folks who wore field glasses strapped about the shoulder in old racing days will find that this is going to be a different proposition.
“Get out the heirloom op’ry glasses,” will be the paternal command in many homes before the family starts for Grant park.
If possible, Chicago will be “aernuttier” by nightfall than it was this morning.
LEFT: Broadside for the 1911 International Aviation Meet. From a watercolor by John A. Coughlin.
RIGHT: Souvenir Program
Chicago Tribune, August 12, 1911
CAPT. THOS. S. BALDWIN, American.
Baldwin—Hall Scott Motor
This dean of American aviators and prince of good fellows is known to all his “boy,” who include all aviators and friends, as “Uncle Tom,” and to all appearances there is no better loved man in any hangar that this intrepid air man.
He is primarily known as balloon man and dirigible pilot, having sold to Undle Sam the first dirigible the government owned. A member of the Aerial Experiment association with Curtiss, he developed his steel-framed biblane which he will fly here.
It is apply named the “Red Devil.” He was the first man in America to make a parachute drop.
WILLIAM R. BADGER.
Baldwin Biplane—Hall Scott Motor.
“Bill” Badger, as he is affectionately called, is another of the wealthy men to take up aviation, and is the first Pittsburgh man to learn to fly. He obtained his certificate at Capt. Baldwin’s school at Mineola, L. I.
RENE BARRIER (Baireeay) French.
M. Barrier, Simon’s side partner in the air is known as the “cloud chaser,” and is noted for his altitude work. In hundreds of flights, he has never had a serious accident. His daring is combined with a cool calculation which enables him to do dangerous things in safety.
LINCOLN BEACHY, American.
Curtiss Monoplane—Curtiss Motor.
Rivaling Blondin’s tight rope walk over the falls was the recent feat of Lincoln Beachy, long ago known as a flyer of dirigibles, when he flew a Curtiss machine over Niagara falls, under the steel arch bridge, and up again to the bluffs above, crossing the rapids and whirlpool.
Beachy has been flying less than a year, his first attempt being in a monoplane of his own make which he wrecked at St. Paul. Curtiss then took him up and the result is one of the best bird men in the game.
WALTER BROOKINS, American.
Walter Brookins, one of the first of the Wright exhibition fliers, is the aviator who made the record cross country flight to Springfield last year. His spiral glides and daring drops have made him famous.
EUGENE E. ELY, American.
Curtiss Biplane—Hall Scott Motor.
Mr. Ely (pronounced Eelie) won his first great name by flying from the drill grounds in San Francisco nine miles out into the bay. He landed on a battleship for dinner and then flew back again. His feat first proved the practicability of the aeroplane for naval uses.
Mr. Ely acquired and piloted one of the first biplanes which Mr. Curtiss made and has been flying ever since. He has been in the exhibition business since the start. He shows a complete mastery of his machine at all times. His wife, who is with him, has also done some flying on her own account, but prefers to let her husband drive.
JOHN J. FRISBIE, of the Emeral Isle.
Frisbie Headless Biplane—Gnome Motor.
Mr. Frisbie’s boast is that he is the only real and original simon pure Irishman in the business, a graduate balloonist and parachute jumper who never had an accident.
He is at present known for his daring cross country work on a biplane of his own manufacture, fitted with Gnome engine and no front elevator. From time to time he takes a rest by ascending by means of a man carrying a kite.
CHAS. K. HAMILTON.
Mr. Hamilton is chiefly known for his flight from New York to Philadelphia shortly after Mr. Curtiss’ flight from Albany to New York. Recently he accompanied Harry Atwood part of the way on the latter’s trip from New York to Washington. During the recent insurrection in Mexico he flew over the warring armies and declared on his return that if he had bombs he could have destroyed both armies.
ST. CROIX JOHNSTONE, Chicago.
St. Croix Johnstone is the son of Dr. Stuart Johnstone of 4001 Grand boulevard. He learned to fly at the Bierrot school in France and within a month of his graduation made a remarkable flight over the city of Havana.
Recently he broke the American duration record, and promises that he has a new “stunt” to show his home city.
JAMES V. MARTIN.
Grahame White Biplane—Gnome Motor.
Mr. Martin was formerly a professor of astronomy at Harvard when, becoming interested in aviation, he went to England and joined the Grahame-White school. Seeing his work his wife joined too and now they both fly, though she is not to appear at this meet. She is from Scotland and married Mr. Martin while he was studying flight.
He has made some brilliant flights in the east, and on one occasion calling a friend and alighting on the lawn.
J. A. D. M’CURDY, Canadien
McCurdy Biplane—Curtiss Motor.
Mr. McCurdy is known as one of the first airmen, having piloted the first machine of the Aerial Experiment association, the result of whose work is shown in the Curtiss, the Baldwin, and the McCurdy machines. A graduate of Toronto university, Mr. McCurdy is a man worth watching in a scientific way, his work with wireless culminating in the first successful use of that form of telegraphy on a flying machine.
Mr. McCurdy’s best flight was over the water from Key West to within a few miles of Havana, until a few weeks ago the record for an oversea flight.
He was for a while president of the Aero club of Canada.
Wreck of McCurdy Bi-Plane.
1911 International Aviation Meet
EARLE L. OVINGTON.
Bleriot Monoplane—Curtiss Biplane.
Mr. Ovington is the proud possessor of two “70 Gnomes,” which he uses on his speedy racing Bleriot. Obtaining his brevet at Pau in France, he has rapidly forged to the front as a fearless aviator, making a name chiefly by his cross country and overcity work.
Originally in the motorcycle business, Mr. Ovington is known to many in Chicago as a former president of the F. A. M.
From looping the loop on a motorcycle to flying an aeroplane is not such a long leap as might be, but Mr. Robinson took up ballooning between times. Driving a Curtiss he has won a reputation all through the middle west and will give a good account of himself at the coming meet.
ANDRÉ RUEL, French.
Brooks, Bleriot—Gnome Motor.
Lieut. Andrè Ruel, a former officer of the French army, flies an American built monoplane with a gyroscope stabilizer. He was one of the first Frenchmen to fly as a business, being some time associated with the late John B. Moisant. More recently he has been with the Brooks Aeroplane company.
RENÉ SIMON, French.
Renè Simon (called by M. Barrier “Seg mawgh”), is probably the most skillful at handling the Bleriot of any to appear at the meet. His daring work has gained him the name of the “fool flier.” He is an extremely handsome Frenchman, with a blue tie. His dips and dives, while spectacular to a degree, are the result of careful study and practice and he declares them safe.
His work with the Moisant aviators has won him a name all over the continent.
THOMAS SOPWITH, English.
Bleriot Monoplane—Wright Biplane.
Thomas Sopwith, better known as “Tom,” won his first spurs on the Brooklands aerodrome in England, later making a flight from there across the channel and into Belgium, thereby winning the Baron de Forrest prize for the longest flight of the year on an All-British Howard-Wright.
This flight won for him the sum of $20,000 and a name for skill and daring not excelled by any other flier on the “tight little isle.”
Star-Bleriot—100 H. P. Gnome Motor.
Arthur Stone is one of the scientific students of aviation to whose like will be due the real progress of the future. He is noted for his careful work and beautiful manipulation rather than spectacular flying. With the powerful motor at his command he should be able to show some speed.
CHARLES V. WALSH.
Mr. Walsh is from the far west, where he is known as a skillful cross country flier. His machine is a huge passenger carrier which he expects to develop into a regular aerial “bus.” In the weight carrying contests Aviator Walsh should show the others several tricks.
JAMES WARD, Chicago.
New Racing Curtiss—Curtiss Motor.
“Jimmie” Ward looks like a boy just out of high school until you see him in the air, and then you wonder where he learned it. Though not old enough to vote for Taft at the next election, yet his importance in aerial performances is of sufficient importance to make Glenn Curtiss build a special racer for him, which he will fly at this meet.
Ward has been known for his altitude work and over city flying. He has flown two engagements weekly for a year and a half and has never broken a wire on his machine.
CHARLES F. WILLARD, American.
Willard Biplane—Willard Motor.
Charles F. Willard is an old bird, bearing on his hand the scar caused by an aero propeller hitting him twenty years ago. Winning his first spurs as an automobile racer he turned to aviation several years ago, flying the Curtiss biplane. Of late he and Mr. McCurdy have formed a partnership and build their own machines. Willard makes his own motor also. He was born in Melrose, N. Y.
Aeronautics Magazine, September 1911
THE CHICAGO MEET.
TWO men lost their lives, 3 new world records were made, 300.000 people were present and aviators received $101,114.87 at Chicago, Aug. 12-20, the second big meet which has been held in this country: one which outshone the other at Belmont last fall. The Wright Company won 116,029 and received royalties of $100 a day from Rodgers, Beatty, Sopwith, Brindley and Drew, independent Wright flyers. Curtiss’ men got $27,291, Moisant $8,143. The largest single winner was Sopwith who drew down from the paying teller $14,020, while the smallest was poor Lewkowicz who, with his Queen Monoplane, won 60 cents in a flight of 18 seconds, plus 250 expenses for having his machine on the grounds. The expenses of the meet were approximately $195,000 and the total receipts were $142.901 leaving a deficit of over $50,000 for the promoters to face.
The Chicago Club produced one of the world’s best exhibitions of flight without drawing in the least upon foreign talent. Every contestant, except Mestach, was already either an American or one who had been in the country, flying, for the past few months.
Photograph taken at 6 o’clock last evening for “The Tribune,” showing the crowd on the lake front watching “Jimmie” Ward, Chicago youth, flying in a Curtiss biplane, the “Shooting Star.”
There were no accidents to aviators beyond the two fatal ones, but many accidents to machines occurred and an auto truck was kept fairly busy carting machines to sheds, minus wheels, or skids, parts of winers, etc.
The Aero Club of Illinois is the first club in the world to conduct a meet on a purely sporting basis, in the same manner, practically, as horse-racing is carried on. Entrants, except the big exhibition companies, had to put up a $1,000 bond to Insure their attendance. When their machines arrived each received $250 in cash and another $250 after a flight of 5 minutes had been made. The exhibition companies had to take their chances on winning enough to make their entries pay. How well they succeeded is shown by the figures. In the case of the Wright aviators, the policy of no-Sunday flying lost for them considerable of the total duration money. The Independent flyers of Wright machines, Beatty, Rodgers and Brindley ran their duration up to top-notch figures, Rodgers within four hours of the greatest possible obtainable.
A year ago such a meeting would have been impossible, for guarantees were demanded by all aviators and none had the stamina before to start purely sporting events.
The field was very small, indeed, right on the edge of Lake Michigan, a spot always known as windy—and isn’t Chicago called by those who do not live there, the “Windy City?” On some days, starts had to be made with the wind blowing straight out over the lake, as there was no room to start against the wind. The Wright company would not allow its men to take any chances of failing to get off and dropping in the lake, and the machines could not get off running along with the wind from the side.
The turbulent air currents came down from over the roofs of the skyscrapers lining one side of the field and blew down on the aeroplanes as they tried to rise.
The nine Curtiss machines went through the meet without accidents other than the smashing of propellers, due to carelessness. Reachey and Ely flew on one day when the other machines could not get off the ground and demonstrated that they could fight out any wind.
Beachey’s flying with his ‘headless machine put him decisively at the extreme pinnacle, both figuratively and literally. He flew himself to fame greater than ever before and won more money than any other aviator using one make of machine. In the free-for-all race on the 16th he beat Ovington. in his 70-horsepower Bleriot in 12 miles.
His world altitude record was a feat which may stand unbroken for a long while. He started on his 2-mile climb knowing that he might fall because of the small capacity of his fuel t«nk, even expressing doubts of the result. He kept on, however, until he had drained the tank dry and then glided down every foot of the way. Beachey actually was in the air two hours when he had gas enough for but an hour and threequarters.
The barograph showed that he climbed steadily and came down steadily at a sharper angle. The line on the record sheet goes straight up to its highest point, and then directly down at an angle still more nearly the perpendicular. He took about 1 hour and 48 minutes to go up and 12 minutes to come down.
The best flying of the meet was done by Beachey, Ovington and Welsh. The most interesting events were the races over the lake to a crib some four miles out, and back, in which Ovington and Sopwith with their 70 Bleriots had it touch-and go. In the straightaways the 70 Bleriots had a little the best of It over Beachey. Ely and Ward, but the latter made up considerable on the turns. Beachey carried a passonsrr 8 miles in 10. min. 19.87 sec.
The Wright company had four sizes of machines at the meet, the standard 39-foot machine, the 32-foot and the two smaller ones. The 8 cylinder engine, seen at the Belmont meet last year, was Installed in one of the big machines for weight carrying and quick starts but was discarded. Parmelee used the 32-foot machine in making his altitude record.
The Curtiss hydro-aeroplane, a special feature, attracted a deal of attention flying above the boats on the lake, over the grounds, and back to the lake again. Robinson flew out to the Johnstone machine when it fell in the water and was ready to assist in the rescue work. The use of this craft for rescue work was demonstrated effectively. Robinson could get to the scene at a rate of a mile a minute and could always land within but a few feet of the desired spot.
When Réné Simon, of the Moisant flyers, fell into the lake with his monoplane. Robinson alighted within a few yards and drove his hydro-aeroplane up until the little French aviator could touch it with his hand. Robinson wanted to take Simon off his wrecked monoplane, but the Frenchman refused to leave it until a tugboat arrived and fastened lines to his machine for the purpose of towing it ashore.
Again, when St. Croix Johnstone fell in his monoplane and Bank in at least 40 feet of water, Robinson, who was in the air at the time well out over the lake, flew to the spot where Johnstone sank, alighted on the water and cruised about for ten minutes, hoping that the unfortunate aviator would rise to the surface so that he might rescue him. Johnstone. however, was fairly trapped in his machine and never rose to the surface. Robinson stood by the wreck until dredgers and motor boats arrived on the scene and located the body of Johnstone.
George W. Beatty, although a novice flyer, one might say, having received his pilot certificate at Nassau Boulevard only a few days before leaving for Chicago, was one of the bright stars of the meet. He flew the Wright model B owned by Walter B. Davis, of New York, the same one as used at Nassau Boulevard on August 5th when he made the new American two-man altitude record of 3,080 feet. He finished second with the total number of hours in the air.
Sopwith, who was the biggest single winner, used both a 70 h. p. Bleriot and a Wright which he purchased from William C. Beers at Nassau Boulevard just before the meet. This he altered and fitted the Farman universal control lever, with foot-yoke for the rudder.
The several Queen monoplanes met with disaster and Lewkowicz got but one chance to fly and that lasted just IS seconds. The 100 h. p. Queen was not tried. Mestach was not very experienced with his Morane. the first to be seen In this country, and landed only two prizes. Cummings did not fly at all and loaned his 50 Bleriot to Ovlngton, who used it three days of the meet. Frisbie came to life at Chicago with his Gnome-engined Curtlss-type and did good flying.
Baldwin had bad luck with his own three machines. Hammond dropped the SO h. p. Hall Scott-engined Baldwin 3 miles out in the lake, then broke the propeller of a second through a pliers having been left on the plane. This was the old Baldwin school machine. Badger broke up the third and Mars did his flying on Baldwin’s old Curtiss 50. The new McCurdy machine hit a live wire and burnt up.
On August 7, papers were served upon officers of the International Aviation Meet Association, In a suit brought by the Wright Company, which alleges that the machines competing are infringements of the Wright patent. A share of the profits and damages are asked.
Each aviator was allowed “expenses” of $500 after he had flown for 5 minutes. Two dollars was paid for every 60 seconds an aviator was in the air, in addition to all prize money won in contests provided that the sum thus earned exceeded his prize winnings alone, in which case he was given the difference between the prize winnings and the total at the J2 a minute rate. Where no prizes were won the 12 a minute rate was applied.
The totalization of duration prize originally was $10,000 but as the unearned prizes amounted to $6,000, this amount was added to the original $10,000. divided according to the ratio of the division of the first amount. These figures give the money received, whether as prizes, at $2 a minute, both, and the expense money allowed.
Four days before the meet opened, Réné Barrier (Moisant) made one evening flight high above the field and over the lake but this was his only one as his doctor forbade him to fly.
The meet closed officially on the 20th but on the following day a benefit performance was given by all the aviators for the widow of St. Croix Johnstone.
Aviator Lincoln Beachey, in his Curtiss biplane.
Aviator René Simon.
Changing tires on his Moissant.