Thursday, December 4, 2008

Early Bird, Part 12

DeLloyd Thompson enjoyed the company of women, on the ground and above it. It was with Marian Tichner seated in front of him that he broke the air speed record on April 29, 1916, at New York City's Hempstead course. His plane traveled a mile in 33.2 seconds, or 108.4 mph.
Five days later, Thompson was seated in the passenger seat of a plane flown by test pilot Harold Blakely from Garden City Aviation Field when the craft went into a spin at 600 feet and plummeted to the ground. The right wing struck the ground first, shattering the heavy wooden frame. The 125-horsepower engine was buried a foot into the earth, and Thompson, riding in the front cockpit, was flung forward, his right leg catching in the passenger seat. Both men survived the crash, but Thompson's leg was broken in two places below the knee and his foot and ankle were badly crushed. He spent weeks in a Manhattan hospital and suffered from blood poisoning and other complications. Despite nearly constant pain, he was back at the controls of a plane while still walking on crutches.

Thompson never really recovered from the crash, however. He walked with a pronounced limp for the rest of his life, but just as importantly, other pilots and aviation technology seemed to pass him as he recuperated.

The United States was soon to enter the war in Europe, and Thompson would have liked nothing better than to fly planes for the military, but his injuries would make that impossible. He would serve as a lieutenant in the reserves, instructing American pilots in the U.S. Army Air Corps, but broken and disheartened, remained in that capacity only briefly. He had reached the apex of his magnificent career and had begun his descent.

The war made heroes of the new young pilots, and the planes they flew were now faster, more powerful and maneuverable than anything Dutch Thompson was flying at fairgrounds before diminishing audiences.
He had accumulated great wealth as a barnstormer, but Thompson would need to find other things to do with his time and money. And he would return home to do that.

No comments: