Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Early Bird, Part 7

(DeLloyd Thompson, left, and Max Lillie in Chicago, July 1913)

Max Lillie designed a massive flying boat meant to carry three passengers, and DeLloyd Thompson had planned to fly it in competition in July 1913, according to Carroll Gray, author of "Cicero Flying Flield." But there were some problems...

Gray quotes flier Otto Timm, who witnessed the test of the WALCO Flying Boat: "...(It) was a large amphibious monoplane finished in fine mahogany with deep leather upholstery. It was extremely heavy and powered with a 50 h.p. engine. A large crowd gathered to see the test flight. Four men were holding onto the fuselage as the engine opened up. When the signal was given to let go, the plane did not move, so the men pushed it and got it started. When they stopped pushing, however, it rolled to a stop. It not only wouldn't fly, it wouldn't even taxi."

Lillie and his good friend and assistant Thompson were busy all summer making passenger flights and giving flying lessons, and then, in September, disaster struck again.
Just before 2 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 15, Max Lillie, performing at an air show in Galesburg, Ill., was flying at 1,000 feet past the grandstand when the right wing of his Lillie-Wright Model B biplane collapsed, and the machine flipped over and fell like a spear into the ground. Lillie's wife was watching in the stands and was heard to cry, "My God, he's dead! He's dead."

An investigation into the crash would reveal that the airplane was poorly maintained and inferior metal parts had been used, a surprise given the climate of safety at Cicero.

Lillie's death must have been particularly hard on Dutch Thompson, who drifted away from the school by the end of the year. He would leave the "safe and sane" instructional aviation behind him and begin an odyssey that would propel him nonstop around the nation and lift him to heights man had never before reached.

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