Chicago’s Contributions to the Development of Heavier-Than-Air Flight
INTRO Chicago’s Aviation Pioneers
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 Examiner September 28, 1910
The first real exhibition of an aeroplane in actual flight under ordinary conditions was seen in Chicago yesterday. As light as a feather blown before the wind, Walter R. Brooklns, the twenty-two-year-old pupil of the Wright brothers, gave two displays of his skill as an aviator th the very heart of Chicago before a fascinated crowd of 250,000 skyward-gazing spectators. From the spectacular point of view the second flight, which started at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, was the most successful, although nothing occurred during either that marred their perfection.
Starting exactly at 5 o’clock, Brookins mounted into the air at the north end of Grant Park after a run along the ground of scarcely more than 100 feet and then came a series of curves and sweeping arcs which kept the crowd turning first one way and then another in entranced silence. Not a sound could be heard from the concourse, and the popping of the motor of the flying machine, which at times looked no morn than a mere speck ln the sky, was distinctly audible. Here and there could be heard cries of wonder or fear as the forty-foot mechanical bird tilted from one side to the other as it took the turns.
Mounts Higher at Turn.
Flying low at first. Brooklns guided his machine as far south as Tan Bnren street. where he made his first turn back towards the north, all the time mounting higher. A second time the same course was gone over when a height of approximately 1,000 feet was reached. A final turn beaded the machine south at an upward angle and a course was taken around the Illinois Central depot. By this time the height and distance was so great that the big biplane seemed to be poised in thin air without motion.
The climax of the performance came when Brooklns turned almost imperceptibly and hended west toward the loop district while more than 2,500 feet ln the air, according to the calculation of James E. Plew, president of the Chicago Aero Club, who acted as official recorder. The crowd sent up a cheer of encouragement.
At what seemed a snail’s pace the airman flew ont over the skyscrapers along Michigan avenue, and continued until be had completely circled the postoffice-bullding. Then, heading again for the lake front, he made another wide detour out over the lake and around tha Held as far south as Twelfth street.
Here the aviator determined to end the flight, and tilting the planes of his machine to what seemed a dangerous point he coasted toward the ground at an angle of 30 degrees. It looked for a moment that the second successful flight was about, to be completed.
The above diagram shows the route taken by Brookins in his second flight yesterday. He started at the foot of Randolph street at 5 o’clock, describing a series of curves and arcs. He flew to Van Buren street, circled back halfway to starting point, then south almost to Twelfth street, back again and south again, circling the Illinois Central depot facing Park Row; then he flew northwest over Michigan avenue, Wabash avenue, State and Dearborn streets, circling the federal building tower, thence back around the Illinois Central depot again and to the aviator’s tent. Below at left is the postoffice tower, and at right, Walter B.Brookins, the airman.
Soars Like Wild Bird.
When about 150 feet from the ground the boy in the machine, with a sudden change of mind, made a quick turn, and mounted with amazing speed, exactly like a wild bird which has spied an enemy. Another turn and the real descent commenced. It looked for a minute as though nothing could save the aeroplane from being dashed to pieces. When only five feet from the ground Brooklns tilted the lateral planes and skimmed the ground as lightly and daintily as a lark, and after coasting foe
fifty feet came to rest. The aviator leaped to the ground and was immediately surrounded by a group of admirers, who smothered Bim with their congratulations.
It required a large detachment of mounted police, acting under the command of Captain Charles Healey, to restrain the throng that insisted on breaking through the police lines about the aviator’s tent. The biplane would have been crushed like an egg had the curious been able to get near it.
Of equal interest was the flight made in the morning and probably afforded the first opportunity to thousands of seeing a man coasting about the air in a mechanical contrivance. To the uninitiated the sight of the white expanse of canvas and wood, as the aeroplane rested on the grass of the aviation field, did not suggest the possibility of the marvelous display that followed. To have seen an automobile suddenly rise from the ground would not have caused more wonder than what actually occurred.
Start Made on Time.
Almost on the schedule time of 12 o’clock—Brookins boasts that he always starts at the appointed time— he sailed into the air. The fluttering and motion of bird flight was entirely lacking and, except for the sound of the motor, the machine ieemed to be moving without power. The big blades of the propellers revolved so rapidly that only an occasional reflection as they were caught by the sun gave evidence of their existence. Back and forth, up and down, the airman steered his course. When at a height of 1,200 feet he attempted to fly over the loop, but after reaching the Railway Exchange Building the wind grew so treacherous that he gave up the effort and awaited evening for its successful accomplishment.
Two more exhibitions are planned for to-day at the same time as those of yesterday and will form the last of the series of preparatory flights that will take place before the start of the endurance race to Springfield from Washington Park.
So interested were the persons in Judge Eberhardt’s court on Michigan avenue yesterday during Brooklns’ first trial that orders were given that the proceedings adjourn temporarily until the flight was over.
In foreground is the Art Museum; in center, the Peoples Gas Light & Coke Company Building; at extreme left, the Marquette Building, and on the right of this structure the Pullman Building; to the. right of the Peoples Gas Building is the Municipal Court Building, the Illinois Athletic Club and the University Club. Below are a few of the privileged within the lines watching flight.
FLYING is my profession, and I love the sport or I would be doing something else. Iaiu often asked the question, “Aren’t you afraid when you are up in the air?” and I always truthfully answer “No.” The absence of the sense of fear is the flrst qualification of an aviator, for he must have all his faculties alert to cope with every emergency. If I felt my hand so much as quiver with a trace of nervousness I would forego auy attempt to get into the air, for the chances would be too great.
The aviator must cope not only with treacherous air curreuts and his motor,
but with himself as well. He must become a part of the machine and with no more emotions, for to become panic stricken would mean a false move and instant death. The barking of my motor, the whirr of the propeller blades and the action of the wind are the only thiugs that I am conscious of when in the air.
I consider both my flights on the lake front yesterday successful. Iwas disappointed that I could not stay in the air longer thau I did, but the wind was high and gusty and longer flights were not practical. I am hoping for better conditions in the morning, when I will try to circle the city and incidentally take in a part of the lake.
I am enthusiastic over the prospects of the Chicago-Springfield flight and barring unforeseen accidents hope to make the entire run without a stop and capture the .10.000 prize. Chicagoans have shown themselves enthusiastic over the most recent of sports and I feel happy at the reception accorded me here.
The Inter Ocean, September 28, 1910
Chicago Examiner September 29, 1910
The secoud day of Chicago’s flrst aviation carnival came to a brilliant conclusion last evening as the shadows fell between the tall sky-scrapers. The giant mechanical bird that had been playing in thc upper air soared gently to its white tent-nest in Grout Park.
The grand master and veteran in the art of flying, Wilbur Wright, grasped the band of his young pupil,Walter Brookins, and congratulated him on his achievements that promise to outrival those of his patron and teacher. Tho watching multitude gave vent to a rousing cheer, heaved a sigh of satisfaction and wonder, and then turned slowly towards home, each one discussing the miracle that he had seen.
More than thirty years ago. when the dream of conquering the air in a heavier-than-
air machine was looked upon as an impossibility aud aeronautics was as yet in its fledgling stage, Chicago had an aero show on the lake front, where Walter Brookins yesterday frolicked abont at will in his Wright biplane.
An unknown balloonist, acting as the pioneer, made a balloon ascension and took with him his sweetheart. The crowds then, as now, were dumb with wonder.
Speeds 56 Miles an Hour.
A strong wind blew up from the west, the balloon and its two ill fated passengers drifted out over Lake Michigan and were never heard from again. To conquer the heavens was pronounced by the wise heads as au impossibility.
Yesterday a youth of twenty-two. on the same spot, in the sight of another generation,
drove a canvas bird, unsupported by anything but the pressure of the air that was pronounced unconquerable, at the rate of fifty-six miles an hour against the wind.
Only a few who witnessed the remarkable flight by the young aviator yesterday wereable to make the comparison, and the question that suggested itself to them was,
What will be accomplished next?
As perfect as those of the day before, four separate flights were negotiated by Brookins, and on one of them, merely to show that it was possible, he carried Grove Sexton, a newspaper man, a distance of four miles at a height of 1,200 feet and brought him safely back to within twenty-flve feet of where they started.
Only a little more than a year ago the Wright brothers, inventors of the flying machine that was used yesterday, entered into a contract with the United States government to sell them a biplane that would carry the driver and a passenger. For weeks before the preliminary tests were carried out the newspapers heralded the event.
Exhibition Is Marvelous.
For several days after the appointed time the feat was postponed until conditions were suitable, and when finally an army officer was carried into the air a distance less than that of yesterday, the world marveled. Now the same thing is done easily and repeatedly
Brookins gained the reputation of a joker yesterday and incidental!y gave ona of the most wonderful exhibitions of his skill in managing an aeroplane. In his first flight of the afternoon. Just before his sail with Sexton, be gave his machine a preliminary try-out.
The weather conditions were ideal. Not a breath of wind seemed to be stirring. The big flag hung limp and listless from the tall pole in the late front park.
The start was made from in front of the aviation tent in full view of the crowd. The motor worked like a watch. Brookins took his seat in the machine, while two mechanicians held on to the tail of the contrivance with might and main.
“Go!” shouted Brookins, and with a run of scarcely more than fifty feet he shot up into the air. Straight across the field he went until he came to the edge of the lake, and then he circled back directly over the crowd.
Makes 300-Foot Plunge.
Then came a series of plunges that made the crowd gasp. First up to a height of perhaps 500 feet, then a sheer drop directly into the throng. Men and women screamed, pushed and scattered, and then, with probably a smile, away the aviator would dart into the air again, reminding one of nothing so much as a hawk that causes consternation in a chicken yard. Growing tired of this sport, the aviator descended and (sic)
The crowds were even larger yesterday than the day before. Every available place was taken in buildings and on the field. Even trees were occupied by the ever-present small boy. To the spectator on the lake front the sky-line of the buildings on Michigan avenue presented a grotesque appearance.
Every roof was filled to the limit and the heads and shoulders that lined the edges gave the appearance of a statuesque Cornice.
Among those who viewed the exhibition and who showed a lively interest in the biplane were Mayor Busse, Chief of Police Steward and wife. Fire Marshall Horan, Commissioner of Public Works Mullaney and Deputy Commisloner Hewitt.
No exceptional altitudes or distances were made yesterday. Every precaution was taken that no accident should occur that might interfere with the start of the crowning event that will take place this morning.
With the same promptness that has marked his previous flights Brookins will mount into the air from the meadow in Washington Park at 9 a. m. to-day and then will start the race to Springfield against time for a cash prize of $10,000.
Not only is Chicago aviation mad, but at all points along the proposed route country and village people are preparing to catch a sight of the man bird as he files south. If the cheers that will greet him along the line are audible to him, Brookins’ trip will be in the nature of an ovation.
Watcher Falls Into Chimney.
So absorbed was Roy Smith in the gyrations of Aviator Brookins thnt he lost his footing on the edge of a tall chimney, which formed his vantage point, and plunged sixty feet to the bottom. The fact thnt a quantity of soot had collected inside it the only explanation that he did not lose his life.
A companion who was with him heard a scream and was horror-struck when he missed Smith. He notified the police, who cut through the bricks. The building is at 232 Randolph. Tbey rescued Smith just in time to save his life. Another minute and he would have been smothered. Although
unconscious when picked up. Smith escaped with only a few bruises and cuts.
That even aviation is not interesting enough to keep some persons from plying their craft was evidenced when F. W. Brooks, nearly ninety years old, had his pocket picked yesterday afternoon while watching the aeroplane near the Van Buren street viaduct.
Interest continues to increase in the other big aviation event which has for its object a Chicago-New York flight. Augustus S. Post, secretary of the Aero Club of America, yesterdav signified his intention of entering the $30,000 prize contest.
He arrived in Chicago yesterday and registered at the Hotel Ln Salle. It is his plan to engage in several tryonts before the beginning of the big contest, which commences October 3 and continues until October 8.
CHICAGO, viewed by an aviator in a flying; machine, ia a different city from the one that the person sees from the street. The imaginings of the “bird’s-eye” artist are not to be compared with >£ the actual sight. Every building is visibile as far as the eye can see, and each has its quota of upturned faces, which follow the movements of my machine.
To me they look like mere white specks, and they seem to crawl about like ants. Each different portion of the city has its distinctive coloring’. Black, brown and gray blends into the blue and red of the sky.
Not all of my time, however, can be spent in gazing. What to the spectator on the ground seems an almost motionless flight is really full of excitement.
The turns, which are apparently made without effort, are really accomplished with incredible rapidity. The wind blows with such force that Iam almost blinded at times, and when I am flying with lt I often make a speed of seventy-flve miles an hour. On the other hand though, when going into the teeth of a gale, I barely make progress.
When an eddy or sudden gust ls encountered then comes the greatest danger. Sometimes the biplane drops with such suddenness that I can feel the seat falling away from me, but a quick turn of the rudder always brings it back into balance again. I do not enjoy all of my flights, but they at least are exciting and when I am expected to go up I will do so in short of anything but,a hurricane.
OTHER EARLY AERIAL FLIGHTS OVER CHICAGO.
Chicago Tribune, June 4, 1914
Clarendon Beach on the north side has become the terminal passenger station for Chicago’s first hydro-aeroplane transit line.
It was announced yesterday that Jack Vilas and C. C. Wilmer, hydro-aviators, will begin carrying passengers over the lake and the north shore for a distance of thirty miles, round trip, fare $10. The flights start at the hangar on the beach. The route extends several miles out over the lake and thence northward. Each flight lasts approximately forty minutes.
Pilot Charles C. Witmer, Cameraman Harold Fowler McCormick
Lincoln Park Hydroplane Harbor
Cornelia Street and the Lake
Chicago Tribune, June 15, 1914
Chicago had three centers of aerial navigation yesterday.
The first hydroaeroplane harbor under city management was opened with a series of flights off the foot of Cornelia street at Lincoln park. A girl aviator flew at Grant park before several thousand spectators. Roy Knabenshue, aviator and dirigible balloon pilot, planned a flight in his airship at White City, but decided not to take his passengers until today, awaiting complete inflation of the balloon.
Vilas and Girl Fly.
Jack Vilas was the first aviator to fly out of the Lincoln park haven after iut had been declared open, and Miss Jessie Whyland of 4322 Sheridan road was the first passenger to be taken on a regular trip.
Mrs. G. H. Waters of San Diego, Cal., was the first passenger to land in the harbor. She was in the Harold McCormick aeroplane. Charles C. Witmer was the conductor.
A large tract of the new made land at the north extremity of Lincoln park has been set apart by the park commission for a hydro-aeroplane haven. The McCormick and the Vilas hangars are the first that have been installed. Others are contemplating additional hangars.
Crowds began to gather around the new hangars early in the afternoon. Automobiles nearly blocked the driveway along the lake shore.
Girl Bags for Trip.
When Vilas had his machine ready for the flight Miss Whyland, who stood in the shadow of the hangar, trembling with eagerness, ran up to Vilas and begged to be taken as the first passenger. She was provided with a hood, goggles, and a heavy coat.
“O, it’s grand, simply wonderful!” she exclaimed when she stepped out of the boat a little later. She gave her name as Miss Whyland.
Miss Katherine Stinson, the 19 year old girl who learned to fly in Chicago under the instruction of the late Max Lillie, made three flights from Grant park yesterday afternoon. The flights were made as an exhibit of the Exposition and Congress of Woman’s Achievements, now at the Coliseum, to continue to June 20.
Miss Stinson uses a Wright biplane. In one of her flights she remained aloft for nearly ten minutes. During the exposition Miss Stinson will instruct a class of boys from the public schools how to make an aeroplane.