This article appeared in Time magazine October 13, 1924
Monday, Oct. 13, 1924
Over a great, rolling plain near Dayton, Ohio, a winged creature appeared, skimming down low through the dust. As it alighted, another skimmer stole swiftly by--then another and another. The next day and the third day, more winged creatures came, swarming down into the field from all parts of the horizon or dropping hawklike out of the high heavens. They were not swallows nor blackbirds nor wild grey geese, these creatures, but flying men in all sorts and conditions of craft, migrating to Dayton’s fifth international air meet.* By the opening day the swarm numbered about 350 commercial, military and amateur or “gypsy” fliers. Thousands of groundlings flocked also, for there were to be exhibits to stare at, races to gasp at, “stunts” to make one marvel.
Exhibits. The name of the swarming place was Wilbur Wright Field; and the program of events was dedicated to both the pioneering Wright brothers! Orville Wright, on the scene, mused: “As I stand….where our earlier experiments were conducted and see how the principles of flight we used 21 years ago are still being used, I am extremely proud.” Nearby stood the first airplane hangar erected in the U. S.; and in it the machine, a biplane with a 12-horse motor and antique arm controls, in which the Wrights effected the first heavier-than-air flight at Kittyhawk, N. C., in 1903. Scores pilgrimaged to this aeronautical shrine, the door of which was blotted in the shadow of the huge three-winged Barling bomber, Exhibit Z in aviation history, the last work in size with its three Liberty motors and 43,000 lbs. of weight.
In other sheds, other curiosities. From Detroit had come Designer William Stout’s all-metal “Pullman” passenger plane, equipped with standard railroad Pullman seats convertible for sleeping, a bathroom, electric kitchen, facilities for seven passengers, pilot, baggage. There was a yellow “aircab,” of mien similar to its earthly cousin, with a taximeter for clocking the miles flown. Chicagoans are soon to see this type in daily service.
Races. Up to midnight before the opening day, late arrivals by air hurried to the judges’ quarters with their flight logs. There was a prize for the “On to Dayton” race (held to encourage civilian fliers), any one coming 200 miles or more being eligible. The log of Charles S. (“Casey”) Jones of Garden City, L. I., was judged to record the most efficient trip among 69 entered; he received $1,000 cash.
Whizzing around a triangular 90-mile course, Walter Lees of Dayton won the $1,000 in Liberty Bonds offered by the National Cash Register Co. for low-pressure commercial planes. Lees flew a Hartzell F-C-1, averaged 97 m.p.h.
Fourteen commercial passenger machines took off for a 120-mile race, soared about the pylons, were led home by the “On to Dayton” winner, a Curtiss-Oriole, averaging 125.05 m.p.h. Another $1,000 for Jones.
Eleven Army pilots, all in DeHaviland planes, competed for the Liberty Engine Builders’ Trophy. Lieut. D. G. Duke, the winner, averaged 130.34 m.p.h. for 180 miles.
Races the second day of the meet were for toy models, light commercial craft, large-capacity craft and light planes guided by civilians.
Robert V. Jaros, 18, Illinois University student, brought forth a model monoplane, driven by twisted rubber bands, that broke two world’s records by staying the air 10 min. 14 sec. and covering a mile and a half.
Basil L. Rowe of Alben, N.Y., drove his SV-A three-seater at 111.05 m.p.h. and won the Detroit Aviation Town and Country Club’s prize. Jones Curtiss-Oriole led this race until forced down near the finish. The Yellow Air Cab took second.
Seven huge Martin bombers raced, Lieut. D. M. Myers of Phillips Field taking the Dayton Chamber of Commerce Trophy with a speed of 109.85 m.p.h.
Five tiny pleasure planes, home-made and equipped with motorcycle engines, showed what can be done in the air at a low cost. J. M. Johnson of Dayton won, going 64.10 m.p.h. in a little yellow bug with a single, underslung wing on each side. Etienne Dormoy of Dayton flew his cherished “flying bathtub” 50.01 m.p.h. for second prize. H. C. Mummert of Garden City won another low-powered event with his 18-horse Harley-Davidson special.
Then the big events—the Pulitzer Cup race and the John L. Mitchell Trophy race. Eleven army pilots competed for the latter, flying Curtiss PW-8 planes with 480-horse engines. They went in a roaring bunch around the triangular course, flirting about the turns so closely that one man’s wingtip severed a guy wire supporting a pylon. Lieut. Cyrus Bettts, winner, made 175.43 m.p.h. for the 124.27 miles raced.
Only four entrants set off, at intervals of 10 seconds, to fly the Pulitzer speed test. The Navy, winner last year, went unrepresented, having had no appropriation from Congress. Lieut. W. H. Mills in a Verville-Sperry racer, Lieut. W.H. Brookley in a Curtiss R-6, and Lieut. Rex Stoner in a Curtiss PW-8-A were the first three to fly to a point ten miles behind the start and ascend in the customary “tower” from which the racers plunge down to the starting pylon at maximum speed. Last to leave the ground was Captain Burt E. Skeel, his 520-horse Curtiss R-6 leaping up with a great burst of power. Said the crowd: “There goes the winner!”
With the fliers out of sight, the crowd watched the west. The broadcaster droned: “Here comes Mills.” Then: “Here comes Skeel. Note his speed.” Down from a great height swooped the plane, catapulting toward the starting line in a wide arc. Then tragedy. The machine was seen to disintegrate, like a cardboard toy. A wing broke completely away, fluttered down. The crippled fuselage spun, dove precipitately behind a row of trees. Flying sticks and clods of earth, visible to the crowd a mile and a half away, told of Skeel’s instant death—the first fatality in all five years of the Pulitzer velocity tests. Lieut. Mills’ time of 216.55 m.p.h. was 27.12 miles slower that the Navy’s 1923 time. The Navy kept the Trophy. The meet was over
Stunts: Between races, trick flying and aerial feats were performed. Two Army planes maneuvered with a length of ribbon connecting their wing tips. Though they looped the looped and performed other acrobatics, the ribbon was unbroken when they came to earth.
A small Army dirigible ascended with a little Sperry model slung beneath it. At 2,000 feet, the Sperry was released, flew off under its own power. Never before had this feat been accomplished, though it had been demonstrated before that the plane could return and be attached again in midair. Major General Mason M. Patrick, U. S. Air Service Chief, called it “a new chapter in aviation,” explained that advantage gained for bombings and message-sending.
Lieut. John A. Macready, of transcontinental flight fame, took up “an old bundle of bamboo sticks wrapped around with a bedsheet”—the second plane the Wrights built, 20 years old. He got it up 350 feet, flew several miles, landed perfectly.
Significance. The meet was held, as is an automobile show, to stimulate interest in the progress of aviation, to encourage improvements and invention. No speed records resulted; but speed was only one of many aims. The ease with which a cheap 18-horse plane stayed up, going as slowly as 35 miles an hour, and as fast as 100, getting as much as 50 miles to a gallon of fuel, indicated an advance towards Henry Ford’s dream of “a plane for every man.” The cutting of operation costs in commercial types, such as the Chicago-built Yackeys and Lairds, hinted at an era of aerial taxis.
People. The National Aeronautical Association dined together, voted that Godfrey L. Cabot of Boston succeed Frederick B. Patterson of Dayton (National Cash Register man) as President.
The world-fliers—Smith, Wade, Nelson—arrived by train from the Pacific coast in time to go to McCook Field (also in Dayton), climb into planes, appear over Wilbur Wright Field in formation just before the Pulitzer race.
Ezra Meeker, aged 94, returned from Puget Sound to the Middle West, which he had not seen for some time. Alighting from the clouds in Dayton, said he: “It was just 72 years ago that I crossed the Missouri at Omaha and started for the Oregon country. It took me six months to reach Puget Sound. And I made the return trip to Omaha in 15 hours’ flying time. You bet it was flying!” Going West, a lad, Ezra had goaded his ox team. Coming East, a patriarch, he had sat comfortably with Lieut. Oakley G. Kelly, U. S. A., in the latter’s plane; had pointed out landmarks—where he had hunted buffaloes, where fought Indians—along the Oregon Trail.
Absentee. Though his works were everywhere present, his name on every man’s lip, the face and figure of Glenn Hammond Curtiss were not in evidence at Dayton. At least every other plane of those assembled bore a Curtiss motor. Not one plane but bore some evidence to the contributions he has made to mankind’s knowledge of the air and his agility in it.
In 1905, it was Glenn Curtiss who designed the motor of U. S. dirigible No. 1 and assisted Captain Thomas Baldwin in trial tests. In 1907, Glenn Curtiss collaborated with Dr. Alexander Graham Bell (telephone man) in the work of the Aerial Experiment Association, as motor expert and director of experiments. His June Bug, designed and built in 1907, received The Scientific American’s trophy of 1908. He won the Gordon-Bennett speed trophy at Rheims, France, in 1909; and in 1910, was recipient of The New York World’s $10,000 prize for a flight from Albany to Manhattan. His was the world’s first amphibious plane, which went from land to water and from water back to land in 1911. The multi-motored seaplane was his invention, beginning with the America (1914), culminating with the NC4 (1919), first craft to make a transoceanic flight, going from Rockaway, L. I., to Plymouth, Eng. During the War, his company built large numbers of planes--after 140 different models—for the U. S. and other governments. His flying rating is suggested by the fact that he holds license No. 1 of the Aero club of America and license No. 2 of the Aero Club of France. He is active today as head of the Curtiss Corporations at Garden city--sky-writing being one of his recent departures.
In Hammondsport, N. Y., where Curtiss was born, they used to call him “handy at fixing things.” Also they would say: “I knew he could do it.” Ingenuity, mechanical skill, persistence, enterprise, daring—these were Glenn Curtiss’ qualities as early as the days when his bicycle was the speediest, his sled coasted farthest, his motor-cycle a wonder of the day, his skate-sail unique, his birds’-egg collection largest and rarest of all his comrades. His appetite for speed has always been insatiable. Now 46, he still ponders engine construction, streamline, weight reduction in hopes of letting man move faster.
Detroit was first among U. S. cities to see the possibilities of the automobile and to bring the new industry there. Now, however, Mr. Ford’s city has gone forward to conquer fresh worlds, by adopting the slogan: “Bring the Aircraft Industry to Detroit.”
Commercial flying, says Detroit, will be the next business sensation. And Detroit is not satisfied with merely discussing the subject. A large all-metal dirigible the first in this country—is nearly completed in a Detroit factory shed. Promoters are already planning air lines and quarreling over passenger and freight rates. Not only the numerous automobile interest there, but bankers and even the municipal Government are interested in the new movement. Particularly active in it have been Edsel Ford, the Hudson Motor Car Co. and the Packard Motor Car Co.
Experiments are taking the form of all-metal dirigibles. The Stout Metal Airplane Co. has already built an “air Pullman,” christened it Maiden Detroit and put it into passenger work over the city. The vessel is built entirely of a new metal called duralumin, said to be lighter than aluminum yet stronger than steel. Another builder was the Aircraft Development Co. Edsel Ford donated a Dearborn flying field to the two pioneer companies; while the Common Council of Detroit has started to acquire a municipal landing field on the Detroit River.
*International air meets began in 1909, on the plains of Bethany, Belgium, near Rheims, to decide among the nations who had the speediest airplanes. Thereafter the meets lapsed for eleven years. In 1920, the Pulitzer brothers of New York, owners of The New York World, instituted a speed trophy, asked the National Aeronautic Association of America to administer it. The meet, however, is no longer properly termed “international.” At Dayton this year, no foreign nations entered planes; were represented only by aviation attaches.
Wilbur Wright, died of pneumonia May 30, 1912.