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)
Popular Mechanics, August 1907
The opening of the Chicago Aero Club attracted considerable attention, the exhibit including three airships, and one aeroplane. Capt. Mattery had a large ship with an 8-cylinder engine of 30 h. p.; Horace Wild and Chas. K. Hamilton each had an airship. A few flights had been made but the entire week was rainy with high winds, which made long flights impossible and ascension dangerous. The gas bags were kept inflated constantly in hopes of the wind going down.
Mr. Lesh made one ascension in his double deck glider which was 20 ft. long, 6 ft. fore and aft, with 200 sq. ft. of surface. The tail was 11 ft. long; the decks 4 ft. apart. We say “was” because the machine was wrecked by the storm on the last day.
On entering the ground of the Aerodrome the first that attracts the attention of the sightseer is the various tents that cover the huge monsters of the air. The tents all seemed to be securely staked to the ground in order to hold the great gas bags from taking their flight. Near the side of each tent some tanks and barrels could be seen which formed the apparatus for making the hydrogen gas used in the gas bags. A combination of iron filings, sulphuric acid and a secret preparation makes this gas. A tube of cloth and about six inches in diameter conveyed the gas from the tanks to the gas bags. The gas bag is constructed of a very fine grade of silk which is sewed together in squares with strips of heavier material. It is then oiled with a preparation that will not get hard. From these great bags, which are about 55 or 60 feet in length and 20 feet in diameter, is suspended, by a network of fish line, a small three-cornered frame made from spruce sticks and braced with piano wire. On this light frame and near the middle is bolted the motor that drives the 16-foot propeller wheel. On the various types of airships this motor differed in style and construction, ranging from 6 to 40 hp. and 2 to 8 cylinders. A tank for gasoline as well as a small storage battery is attached to the light frame. A large frame made of spruce and covered with muslin and fastened to the rear end of the light frame forms the rudder. The daring aeronaut strides the light frame and when in midair controls the motor by a long rod along the frame and changes the course of the ship by guide ropes to the rudder and changing his position along the frame.
The entire weight of an airship is about 350 pounds, while the motors weigh from 96 to 165 pounds, The light spruce frame will weigh from 65 to 80 pounds. The propeller is placed at the forward end.
Scenes at the Chicago Aero Club.
Views of Aeroplane Built By L. G. Lesh.
Chicago Tribune February 3, 1912
By Cable to the Chicago Tribune
BERLIN, Feb. 2.—It is announced here that the Aero Club of Illinois has purchased one of the famous German Parseval nonrigid dirigible airships. The craft is capable of carrying twenty passengers. Regular trips will be made in Illinois next summer.
Capt. Horace B. Wild, who was field marshal of the aeroplane meet held in Grant park last summer, arrived in the city yesterday with the announcement, confirmatory of the above dispatch, that he had bought in Germany a dirigible airship he will fly to this state next summer. According to Capt. Wild, the dirigible is now in New York and will be brought to Chicago in plenty of time for summer flights.
At the headquarters of the Aero club of Illinois at the Auditorium hotel it was stated that the club itself had not bought the airship, but that if the purchase been made it was done by individual members for their own private amusement.
Craft Now in New York.
This statement was corroborated by James S. Stephens, second vice president of the club. He said he had talked with Capt. Wild and the captain had told him he had brought a dirigible back from Europe with him, that the craft was now in New York, and that it was intended to fly here.
Sidney James, engineer of the club, said he knew positively the club itself had bought no airships.
Capt. Wild was sent to Europe by the government to ascertain what other governments sere doing about the building and maintaining of military airships. He could not be located in Chicago last night.
In New York he told of a spectacular flight he had made in a Perseval, and asserted he had bought a ship of that type for flying in this country.
Tells of Flights Abroad.
“We took two German officers, hauled on board a moving picture machine, a roll of advertisements, and a shrieking siren horn,” he said, “and rose up and started for the clouds in a snow storm above Berlin. We went back and forth, throwing ou the ‘ads,’ while the siren howled and to the accompaniment of others from the crowds gathered below.”
In Berlin, Capt. Wild asserted, any one can go to a balloon station on the outskirts of the city, pay a licensed air pilot $50, climb into his dirigible along with ten or fifteen other passengers, and sail for three hours over the country to Johanestown.
Dry Goods Reporter, July 13, 1912
PASSENGER DIRIGIBLE SERVICE FOR CHICAGO
A dirigible balloon of European make has been imported by a syndicate of men and brough t to Chicago, where it will be operated by Captain Horace B. Wild, one of America’s leading licensed dirigible pilots. This ship will be in service with headquarters at White City, Chicago’s great amusement resort, and will be operated during the Summer, beginning July 20, in and about the city of Chicago, and cross-country passenger trips will be made daily, weather permitting, from White City to Milwaukee and return between the hours of 10 a. m. and 9 p. m. Special inter-city trips will be contracted for upon application.
Twenty-five acres have been secured by theWhite City Construction Company adjoining their amusement resort on the south, and has been leveled off for an aviation field. A large steel and concrete hanger is now being con structed in this field for the purpose of housing the large dirigible.
The minimum fare charged will be $25 for each person, and reservations are now being made for passenger trips. Captain Wild was field captain of the Chicago aviation meet at Grant Park last Summer and is considered one of the most capable pilots. He expects to make the first trip in Chicago Saturday, July 20, which will establish the first aerial passenger service in America.
Chicago Tribune, September 10, 1912
Mrs. Walter R. Smith, wife of a jeweler at 3920 South State street, was crooning her baby to sleep late yesterday afternoon on her roof garden—the top of a rear shed—when she heard a series of yells from the street. High overhead she saw a 125 foot dirigible balloon, in which were two men yelling a little louder than the 200 in the street.
Mrs. Smith saw by the frantic gestures of the balloonists that the performance was not being staged for her benefit. A moment later she saw a heavy cable, hanging from the dirigible, come dragging over the fence directly toward her roof garden. The balloonists redoubled their yells.
Mrs. Smith promptly laid the baby on the floor, rubbed her hands briskly, and when the cable reached her roof garden made a jump for it. The 2,700 pound balloon dragged her kicking and scrambling, across the shed until she landed with a thud against the picket fence at the side. That would have been about enough for most people, but it only made Mrs. Smith mad.
She Drags Balloon Down.
She caught a fresh grip, braced both feet against the fence, and yanked the rope with all her 185 pounds. Something gave, and she fell to the floor with another thud. She caught another grip, gave another yank, and the balloon dropped easily down into a nest of telephone wires.
About then the 200 shouting spectators decided it was safe to offer their assistance, and came running into the yard to hold the balloon down. The woman was before them, and helped the badly scared men, Horace B. Wild, and his engineer, John De Courcey, to extricate themselves. They had lost control of the big ship and were in danger of colliding with a building, with unpleasant consequences.
Mrs. Smith looked them over casually, saw they were not hurt, and returned to her baby, picked it up, and walked into the house as if pulling down a seven passenger dirigible, with 37,000 cubic feet of gas, was one of her every day diversions. The men she rescued hurried after her and overwhelmed her with thanks.
Woman Saves Unmanageable Craft.
The balloon, believed to be an advertising stunt for a south side amusement park, left its hangar at Sixty-third street and South Park avenue at 5:55 o’clock and met what probably would have been its finish if the brave woman hadn’t come to the rescue. It was bound for the loop, where the crowd was thickest. At Forty-fufth street and Indiana avenue a water manifold on the radiator blew out and about fifty of the seventy-eight pounds of water needed as ballast was spilled. Immediately the craft shot upward from an altitude of 800 feet to 1,240 feet (these figures the authentic marks on the gaugeboard), and Wild let out about 5,000 feet of gas to bring it down to safety, and about 800 feet above the street.
Wild and De Courcey began picking a soft place to land. They headed for the roof of the traction barn at South State and Thirty-ninth streets, but their aim was bad. They had taken precautionary measure to throw out their 375 feet of trail rope, but observers, evidently fearing to be carried off their feet, preferred to let it trail.
The rope dangled through back yards and pulled off loose chimney bricks here and there until Mrs. Smith stopped its mad flight. A broken rudder was the extent of the damage, and this will be repaired at the break of the day.
Craft’s Rudder Only Smashed.
“It’s the first flight we have attempted since we brought the craft from Europe and I blame a rotten rubber connection for the accident,” explained Wild after thanking Mrs. Smith profusely for the rescue. “My engineer, De Courcey, a Frenchman from Cork, behaved admirably. It simply got a little beyond us and it became essential to select a nice soft place to land. How we missed the roof of the traction barn I don’t know, but it was fortunate, too, because there was no Mrs. Smith on that roof.
“We were at Indiana and Forty-fifth when the manifold blew off and the loss of our water ballast sent us upward like a shot. Well, common sense taught me that the higher up we got the harder we bounced and I immediately proceeded to counter balance the loss of the ballast with the release of the gas.’
Miss Landing on Roof.
“The board showed that we had come down the extra 400 feet and were traveling in our course of 800 up when we sighted the roof of the traction barn. But we missed it.
“The engine had been idle for three or four months, and the rubber connection rotted. It is something we must have overlooked when we examined it on starting. It’s funny, isn’t it, that some of the thousands of men who watched us galloping and darting through space didn’t grab our rope. Then some fellows try to tell us that women haven’t any nerve. I’ll bet Mrs. Smith keeps things steadied up around her home. I expect to steer the craft on the traction roof in the morning and replace the torn rudder. The damage isn’t worth mentioning. There was an awful heavy overcurrent of air.
“Weren’t you afraid of the thing?” a reporter asked Mrs. Smith.
“Just a bit shaky for an instant when it lifted me off my feet, but when I got a strangle hold by winding my feet around that fence post I felt safe,” replied the heroine.
“It dragged you a bit, then?”
“Sure, it pulled me all the way across the porch, but I knew the picket fence would stop me. I simply held on. I guess I supplied the ballast lost through spilling the water. Noting extraordinary about it, was there?”
Chicago Tribune July 14, 1914
For the first time in the history of aviation in America a dirigible balloon and a hydroplane maneuvered together over the lake yesterday. Roy Knabenshue with four passengers in his airship flew north to Clarendon beach. The dirigible was sighted by the hydroplane flyers at the hangars of Harold F. McCormick and “Jack” Vilas in his hydro set off to greet the visiting craft. The hydro with two men aboard was guided under and over the dirigible and circles it several times . The maneuvers were similar to those conducted recently in Vienna when an army dirigible was rammed by an aeroplane undertaking to pass over it.
The original eight-minute film showing Chicago in 1914, recorded from a dirigible piloted by Roy Knabenshue.
Wingfoot Express Disaster, July 21, 1919.