Thursday, November 20, 2008

Early Bird, Part 4

Aeronautical happenings were big news in Washington, particularly in the weeks following the Centennial air show at Arden. Several of those events did not immediately involve DeLloyd Thompson but would have profound effects on his career.

It is likely that Thompson was at Kinloch Park in St. Louis on Oct. 12, 1910, when Col. Theodore Roosevelt decided to hop on a biplane for a ride. Arch Hoxsey (right), one of Thompson's fellow Wright pilots, assured the former president that he would be completely safe, and Roosevelt delighted the crowd, waving to them from above on his 3-minute jaunt.

Meanwhile, the plane that flew at Arden had been shipped to Belmont Park, N.Y., for an international air show that would go on through the end of October. It was there, on Oct. 25, that Walter Brookins, in an attempt to break the altitude record, crashed and was slightly injured. Unable to compete for the grand prize, the $10,000 would go to Chicago aviator John B. Moisant (left) for flying around the Statue or Liberty. Moisant shocked reporters, predicting that "within a few years we may expect to fly from America to Europe in aeroplanes, we will soon have metal airships which will fly at the rate of 100 miles an hour."

On Nov. 1, Ralph Johnstone would fly his "baby" Wright roadster to a world record 9,714 feet.

It seemed to an excited public that there was no limit to what these daring birdmen could do, reaching record heights nearly every week. But the higher and faster they went, the greater the peril. Just 17 days after setting the altitude mark, Johnstone, while performing with Brookins and Hoxsey in Denver, died when his damaged aircraft plummeted from 500 feet. His death stunned the nation, but it would become just one in a dismal series.

On Dec. 30, in Los Angeles, Hoxsey coaxed his biplane to 11,474 feet to set the world record. The very next day, trying to top his own feat, Hoxsey's plane fell 7,000 feet, ending his life at age 25.
And on that same day, in New Orleans, Moisant would die in another crash witnessed by thousands of spectators.

Dutch Thompson's day was arriving, by the ghoulish process of elimination.

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