first U.S. airshows - the
air meets of 1910
Soon after the Reims
Air Meet of August 1909, three major airshows occurred in the United
States that profoundly affected the future of American aviation. In Los
Angeles, Boston, and New York, large crowds turned out to see their first
actual aircraft. Several pilots set new records in a variety of events at
each of the meets, and spectators got to view some dazzling aerial stunts.
The first American airshows created, as some scholars note, a sense of
"air awareness" among those who attended them. Many spectators were
suddenly conscious not only of the airplane's entertainment value but also
some of its utilitarian potential. Notably, the U.S. air meets of 1910
also motivated several would-be pilots, many who would become key figures
during the early exhibition era of aviation, to learn to fly.
Johnstone, a member of the Wright exhibition team, set a world record for
climbing to 9,712 feet in his Model B at Belmont Park. He consistently
competed against Arch Hoxsey
to set new records. Johnstone died in November 1910 in Denver while
putting on a demonstration flight.
The first major U.S.
airshow took place at Dominguez Field, just south of Los Angeles, from
January 10-20, 1910. The key participants included Glenn Curtiss (the
American hero who had won the prestigious Gordon Bennett Cup race at Reims),
Charles Hamilton (a future American daredevil aviator), Lincoln Beachey
(who was still flying dirigibles at that time, but who would become
America's greatest early exhibition pilot), and Louis Paulhan (a Frenchman
who had started working in a military balloon factory and eventually
taught himself to fly).
Paulhan dominated the
Dominguez meet. First, he set a new flight endurance record by carrying a
passenger almost 110 miles (177 kilometres) in his Farman biplane in 1
hour, 49 minutes. Then he went on to achieve a new altitude mark of
approximately 4,164 feet (1,269 meters). He also performed several aerial
feats during the week, and near the end of the show, carried U.S. Army
Lieutenant Paul Beck aloft to perform one of the first aerial bomb
dropping tests, using weights to simulate the bombs. Overall, Paulhan
ruled the skies over Los Angeles, winning as much as $19,000 in prize
Although the Frenchman
dominated the Los Angeles meet, spectators could celebrate at least a
couple of American victories. Glenn Curtiss set a new air speed record of
approximately 55 miles per hour (89 kilometres per hour), and took home
the prize for the best quick start. In all, he won approximately $6,500.
The Dominguez Air Meet
was highly successful. Spectator turnout numbered somewhere between a
quarter and a half-million people. The Los Angeles Times called it "one of
the greatest public events in the history of the West." Notably, the
Dominguez event also motivated at least one would-be aviator, Lincoln
Beachey, to learn to fly. Although Beachey had begun the meet as a
dirigible pilot, by its end, he had been so inspired by the airplane
pilots that he approached Glenn Curtiss and asked Curtiss to teach him to
fly. Within a year, Beachey would become America's leading exhibition
The next significant
American airshow -- the Harvard-Boston Aero Meet--took place at Harvard
Aviation Field in Atlantic, Massachusetts, from September 3-13, 1910. It
was the first major air event in the East and offered aviators more than
$90,000 in prizes and appearance fees. Both the Wright brothers and the
Glenn Curtiss exhibition teams made good showings, but it was the
Englishman Claude Grahame-White, who had become an aviator after being
inspired by Louis Bleriot's historic 1909 English Channel flight, who
ruled the show.
several contests at the Massachusetts show, including the speed race, and
won the prizes for the most accurate landing and the shortest take off. He
also gave a bombing demonstration by dropping plaster-of-Paris duds on a
mock warship. The most prestigious event he won was the 33-mile race from
Squantum, Massachusetts, around Boston Light, and back. The winner's purse
was $10,000. Grahame-White won approximately $22,000 in prizes in all
during the meet.
The Massachusetts show
stands out as important not only because it was the first major air meet
in the eastern United States and gave many New Englanders their first real
glimpse of an airplane, but also because it inspired Harriet Quimby, one
of America's most important early women aviators, to pursue her pilot's
license. Sadly however, while the Harvard-Boston meet originally inspired
Quimby to pursue flying, the same venue would take her life two years
Britain´s James Radley sails past the scoreboard in his BlÚriot during the
air meet at Belmont Park.
The last major U.S.
airshow of 1910 took place at a large racetrack on Long Island, in Belmont
Park, New York, from October 22-31. The Belmont International Aviation
Tournament offered approximately $75,000 in prize money and attracted one
of the period's most talented fields of pilots. Events ranged from
competitions for the best altitude, speed, and distance, to contests for
the most precise landing and the best mechanic.
Hoxsey was one of the aviators to appear at both the 1910 Los Angeles and
Belmont air meets.
He was killed on December 31, 1910, in Los Angeles, while trying to better
his own world altitude record.
More than two dozen of
the world's top aviators attended the New York meet. They came from
England, France, and the United States. The key pilots from France
included Count Jacques de Lesseps and Roland Garros. Claude Grahame-White
from England also attended, as did several Americans--Glenn Curtiss, John
Moisant, Arch Hoxsey, Ralph Johnstone, and Charles Hamilton among them.
Hamilton, a famous Curtiss exhibition pilot, flew at the 1910 Belmont air
He always flew carrying a loaded gun and was frequently drunk.
One of the meet's
highlights was an altitude duel between Ralph Johnstone and Arch Hoxsey.
Johnstone eventually won the contest by soaring to approximately 9714 feet
(2961 meters), a new record. Another highlight occurred when Charles
Hamilton won the precision landing event. For a while, it looked as if
Americans might sweep all of the contests, but then the prestigious Gordon
Bennett Cup event, or speed race, took place.
American Walter Brookins competed against Claude Graham-White in the
Gordon Bennett speed race on October 29, 1910,
during the Belmont Air Show, flying his Wright Model "R," known as the
"Baby Grand." He was taken out of the running when he crashed.
On October 29, Claude
Grahame-White flew his Bleriot monoplane to victory in the $5,000 Gordon
Bennett Cup contest in just a little over an hour. He had averaged 61
miles per hour (98 kilometers per hour) over the 100-kilometer race. In
the process, he beat nine other competitors, only three of which even flew
the entire distance. American John Moisant placed second but took more
than an hour longer than Graham-White because of mechanical problems.
Although many contemporaries considered the Gordon Bennett event
aviation's most prestigious race, another showcase contest at Belmont was
just as significant thanks to its $10,000 purse.
Johnstone crossing the finish line in air race, 1910.
The meet's final event
was a quick dash that took competitors from the Belmont Park Racetrack,
over New York City Harbour, around the Statue of Liberty, and back. On
October 30, some 75,000 people crowded around the racetrack to witness the
start and finish of the competition. Countless others viewed the contest
from various points around the city.
Once again, Claude
Grahame-White, piloting his 100-hp (75-kilowatt) Bleriot monoplane, put up
the best time and completed the course in 35 minutes, 21 seconds. He
seemed to have won the contest, but then John Moisant surprised him at the
last moment. Moisant had seriously damaged his own plane earlier in the
week and was busy trying to purchase another aircraft while Grahame-White
was winging his way to an apparent victory. At the last minute, however,
Moisant acquired a 50-hp (37-kilowatt) Bleriot and took off in pursuit of
Grahame-White's time. Flying a more direct route than the Englishman
thanks to a new navigational system, Moisant, much to the delight of the
crowd, bettered Grahame-White's mark by 43 seconds. Despite the
Englishman's prestigious victory in the Gordon Bennett race, Moisant was
the meet's hero.
protested Moisant's victory because the American had started the race 21
minutes after the close of allowable start times. Meet officials,
nevertheless, sided with Moisant. After appealing his case all the way to
the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (aviation's main ruling body at
the time), Grahame-White finally achieved his victory when the FAI
reversed the Belmont Park Meet officials' decision in 1912. Graham-White
collected the race's prize money and an additional $500 in interest. For
most of the people who saw the contest firsthand, however, Moisant was the
From Los Angeles, to
Boston and New York, Americans had flocked to the American air meets of
1910, gotten their first glimpses of aircraft, and started to contemplate
the future of aviation. In the process, they saw several record-breaking
events and some splendid daredevilry. These first significant American
airshows would prove important to the future of U.S. aviation.
October 1910, Claude Grahame-White won the Gordon Bennett speed race at
the Belmont airs meet.
The next month, he flew to Washington, D.C. and landed on a street next to
the White House.