Scorchy Smith Comic Strip

Scorchy SmithI must admit that while I have heard of Scorchy Smith, I was not around on this planet to enjoy any of his adventures when they first appeared.

Scorchy Smith was and is an aviation adventure comic strip that appeared in newspapers from 1930 through 1961.

Inspired in part by the heroics of aviator Charles Lindbergh who in 1927 performed the first solo aeroplane crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, Scorchy Smith was created by artist John Terry, who debuted the pilot-for-hire character in 1930.


Scorchy Smith – art by John Terry.

As a pilot-for-hire, Scorchy Smith‘s adventures would take him and the reader all over the world.


A panel of the Scorchy Smith strip from 1931, with art by creator John Terry.

John Terry was stricken by tuberculosis in 1933, and rather than have the popular comic strip fall by the wayside, he was replaced on his own strip by artist Noel Stickles.

Stickles is considered to be a better artist (subjective, of course) that John Terry, but at least at the beginning Stickles maintained Terry’s art style while slowing putting in his own artistic elements.

Stickles, however, was too good to kept down, and soon enough his art style took off in the strip, which helped make Scorchy Smith even more popular. Image at top of this blog is by Stickles.

In fall 1936, Sickles researched Scorchy Smith’s circulation, information that AP Newsfeatures never shared with their artists. Estimating that the strip was running in 250 papers across the country, Sickles determined that the syndicate’s monthly take approximated $2,500 a month, of which he, as both scripter and artist, received only $125. Sickles asked for a raise, and when his request was refused, he quit cartooning to become involved in commercial illustration for magazines.


Three Scorchy Smith dailies from March 11-13, 1935. If you were to compare this art against say… Superman a few years later, it’s easy to state that Noel Stickles artwork is far superior.

Allen “Bert” Christman, who co-created DC’s comics’ The Sandman and kid sidekick Sandy took over on November 23, 1936.

While Christman’s art was decent enough – Milt Caniff-like (he did Steve Canyon and the more famous Terry And The Pirates)… and subjectively, I never much cared for his art – especially when compared to contemporary comic strip creator Hal Foster who did Prince Valiant… Christman’s Scorchy Smith was technically sound.

Christman continued to draw Scorchy Smith until June of 1938, when he joined the US Navy as an aviation cadet… hmmm, I wonder where he got that idea?

I’m, unsure who did the strip between June 1938 and May of 1939.

Scorchy Smith 1938

June 3, 1938 daily strip of Scorchy Smith by Bert Christman.

As for Christman, he resigned his Navy commission three years later to join the American Volunteer Group (AVG) who were being recruited to fly for the Chinese Air Force.

China, at this time was besieged by Japan… and as we all know, the US did not enter WWII until December of 1941 after its Pearl Harbor military base was attacked by the Japanese.

Christman only flew for a very short while with the AVG (known as the Flying Tigers), as his airplane was shot at on January 23, 1942. He bailed out, but was strafed by the enemy, killed over Burma.

After Christman and the unknown by me art team, Robert Farrell (writer) and Frank Robbins (artist) took over Scorchy Smith on May 22, 1939.


Frank Robbins art on Scorchy Smith published July 6, 1942.

Robbins left sometime in 1944, and was replaced by Ed Good…

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Ed Good art on Scorchy Smith from June 11, 1944.

… then Rodlow Willard…


A June 4, 1950 Sunday page of Scorchy Smith drawn by Rodlow Willard.

Alvin C Hollingsworth… a Black American… and I only bring up his skin color because for the era, it was still incredibly rare for a Black man to work as a comic book or comic strip creator outside of publishers that catered to Black audiences.

The only other Black creator I can think of working on a “White” audience comic-anything, is Phantom Lady by Matt Baker, whose good-girl art on the book is some of the best the industry has EVER seen.

Hollingsworth was well into aviation-related comic book/comic strip material long before he took on Scorchy Smith.

He did a four-page war comic story called Robot Plane in Aviation PressContact Comics #5 (cover-dated March 1945). Throughout the rest of the 1940s, he also drew Holyoke Pubishing‘s Captain Aero Comics, and Fiction House‘s Wings Comics, where he did the feature “Suicide Smith” at least sporadically from 1946 to 1950.

I can’t find confirmation about when Hollingsworth worked on Scorchy Smith, but the page below is definitely credited to him – it’s from May 30, 1954.

AC Hollingsworth Scorchy Smith

May 30, 1954 Sunday strip of Scorchy Smith by AC Hollingsworth.

… then George Tuska …

Scorchy Smith George Tuska

February 21, 1955 daily by George Tuska.

… and finally Milt Morris from June of 1959 until the strip ended in December of 1961.


A Milt Morris strip of Scorchy Smith – date unknown (by me). Taken from, where there’s a biography of Milt Morris. I’m looking at the art and wondering when that insult will be hurled that will make a man out of Mac.

For those looking for a collection of Scorchy Smith strips, check out Amazon or e-Bay. There was a book issued back in 2007 called: Scorchy Smith And The Art Of Noel Stickles.

Posted in Aviation Art, Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #74 – Army Dirigible “Beta.”

74f 001.jpgHistory Behind The Card: Army Dirigible “Beta.”

Card #74 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut – Black-back issue

  • Major-General Sir John Edward Capper born December 7, 1861 in Lucknow, British India (now just India) – May 13, 1955 in Eastbourne, East Sussex, England, Great Britain;
  • Colonel James Lethbridge Brooke Templer born May 27, 1846 in Greenwich, Kent, England, Great Britain – January 2, 1924 in Lewes, Sussex, England, Great Britain.

Before I began writing this Pioneers of Aviation blog, I had no idea that 1) monoplanes were being flown successfully at the same time as biplanes, and 2) that aside from zeppelins, that dirigibles were being built as viable flying machines after the advent of the aeroplane.

I really thought that aeroplanes took the air out of the dirigible industry. While it’s true that they did, in the still early days of 1910/11 (and beyond), aeroplanes were still so much in their infancy that no one was sure if it would truly catch on as a viable flying device.

As such, before I started this blog, I had purchased cards from the Wills’s Aviation series… the first 50 cards were from 1910, with a 75-card and 85-card series published in 1911.

Card No. 74’s Army Dirigible “Beta” surprised me… as I thought the series’ first 25 cards had dealt with the past of aviation (non aeroplanes)… so why was the Beta deemed important enough to be included in a more “modern” series of 1911 cards?

The Beta, aka Beta 1, was a non-rigid dirigible built by Great Britain’s Army Balloon Factory in 1910 for the express purpose of experiments.

Dirigibles were, as of 1910, still a fairly new aviation concept (which I didn’t realize), and were called the “dirigible balloon” or “airship”.

From 1904-1906, Britain’s Army Balloon Factory was part of the Army’s School of Ballooning under the command of Colonel James Templer.

The school was moved from Aldershot to the edge of Farnborough Common in provide it with adequate space to inflate the new dirigible invention.

Although the Wright Brothers first flew in December of 1903, they kept their flight a secret.

By January of 1906, however, when full details of the Wright Brothers’ system of flight control had been published in l’Aerophile, people still hadn’t grasped just how important this discovery of heavier-than-air flight really was.

On September 13, 1906, aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont made a public flight in Paris with the 14-bis aeroplane, becoming the first non-Wright Brother to fly an aeroplane.

As such… the Army Balloon Factory could be excused for moving its balloon/dirigible facility.

While the school’s command changed with the move to Farnborough with Templer out and Colonel John Capper in, the Army Balloon Factory not only kept up with the new trend of dirigibles, it also experimented with Samuel Franklin Cody’s war kites and aeroplanes designed by Cody and J. W. Dunne. In October 1908, Cody made the first aeroplane flight in Britain at Farnborough.

Here’s the interesting stuff: in 1909, Britain’s Army work on aeroplanes was halted, as the Army Balloon Factory was renamed the Balloon Factory as it came under civilian control led by Mervyn O’Gorman.

In 1912, the Balloon Factory was renamed something you might recognize: the Royal Aircraft Factory, aka the RAF.

Interesting stuff… but still nothing about Beta… what happened to Alpha, by the way?

Uh… this is just a guess because there was no Army Dirigible “Alpha”.

The Beta is considered to be a rebuild of “Baby” which was also known as British Army Airship No. 3… featuring a new envelope.

Before that… Nulli Secundus II was a rebuild of 1907’s Nulli Secundus No. 1, which was also designated as British Army Dirigible No. 1.

Ergo, Beta… the second letter of the alphabet, IS the second Army dirigible… with Nulli Secundis being the non-named Alpha.

So… the airships are:

British Army Dirigible No.1

  • Nulli Secundis;

British Army Dirigible No. 2

  • Nulli Secundis II, rebuilt from Nulli Secundis – but still actually the “Alpha” airship.

British Army Dirigible No. 3

  • Baby;
  • Beta, rebuilt from Baby;
  • Beta II, rebuilt from Beta (and Baby);
  • HMA No. 17, simply a rename from Beta II.

If Beta and Beta II were designated as Army Dirigible No. 4 or 5, I don’t know. But they were both rebuilds of Baby, Army Dirigible No. 3.

Holy crap…

So, per above, we know that Beta 1 (at the time of its issue in 1911, Card No. 74 did not know there was going to be a Beta II, and that’s why the dirigible is simply called Beta) had used the gondola of British Army Airship No.3 aka Baby, using a new envelope made of a rubberized fabric.

Per Wikipedia:

It had rectangular horizontal stabilizers fitted on both sides of the tail assembly. It had a fixed fin with a rudder mounted on the trailing edge below the tail.

A long uncovered framework suspended below the envelope held the 35 horsepower Green water-cooled engine, which drove a pair of 5′-9″ (1.75 meter) diameter two-bladed propellers.

An elevator was mounted on the front of this structure to provide pitch control. As first built, the engine drove a pair of propellers which could be swiveled to provide vectored thrust, but this arrangement was later replaced with a more conventional chain drive to fixed propellers.

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Beta was first flown in April 1910 at Farnborough, after which the engine was removed to make some handling experiments, during which its gondola was damaged.

So they fixed it up… and took it up for a second test flight on April 8, 1910 staying aloft for about 70 minutes before landing safely.


British Army Dirigible Beta

I’m unsure why they decided to do this at night, but the Beta was taken up again on a flight beginning specifically at 11:39PM on June 3, 1910, flying from Farnborough to London and back to Farnborough returning on June 4, 2910 at dawn.

The next flight was done on June 12, 1910 with Captain W. P. L. Brooke-Smith at the helm, leaving Farnborough at 3:40PM and, flying against a 12 mph (19 km/h) headwind, reaching central London around 6PM. After circling St Paul’s Cathedral, Beta returned to Farnborough, after making a slight flight plan deviation to fly past Aldershot where British King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.

Under the command of Colonel John Capper, Beta was flown in the British Army maneuvers on Salisbury Plain in September of 1910 where it was used to observe “enemy troop” positions, and even dropped a map of the enemy positions to General Horace Smith-Dorrien.

In 1911 the first trials with radio communication were made after a return flight from Farnborough to Portsmouth.

(Did you know that the sandwich could have been called a portsmouth? The first Earl of Montagu was going to take the title of Earl of Portsmouth, but changed his mind at the last moment to instead honor the town of Sandwich in Kent, England where the fleet he was commanding happened to be offshore from. This Earl’s great-grandson, the 4th Earl of Sandwich John Montagu, did in 1762AD spent 24 hours at a gaming table… at at some point in between requested the establishment’s cook prepare a meal that would allow him to continue playing with one hand, while allowing him to eat with the other. While no one knows the cook’s name, the repast of cold, sliced beef presented between two toasted slices of bread became known as a sandwich rather than a portsmouth.)

Anyhow, while they were able to make contact between Beta and the ground, communication back and forth was less than convenient owing to the very loud noise of the dirigible’s engine… maybe next time they could place the radio further away from the engine?

Beta I specifications:

  • Crew: 3;
  • Length: 104 feet inches (31.7 meters);
  • Diameter: 24 feet 4 inches (7.42 meters);
  • Volume: 33,000 cubic feet ( 934.5 cubic meters);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Green C.4, 35 horsepower engine;
  • Maximum speed: 25 miles per hour (40.23 kilometers per hour);
  • Endurance: 5 hours

Then what happened? Nothing special actually. The Beta continued its experimental flights until 1912, when it was decided to tear it down in a redesign to construct the Beta II.

The airship’s redesign included a new enlarged envelope, had its length increased to 108 feet (33 meters), providing the “balloon” with a capacity to 50,000 cubic feet (1,400 cubic meters).

The gondola was also rebuilt, and new Clerget 50-horsepower engine was added to power the craft’s dual four-bladed propellers.

The Beta II made many successful flights, participated in the 1912 army maneuvers, during which it was fitted experimentally with a machine gun.

On June 20, 1913 the Great Britain’s Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) was taken for a 30-minute flight in the Beta II.


British Army Dirigible Beta II – moored to a mast at Farnsborough.

It was used for the first experiments in mooring airships at a mast at Farnborough, and was also used for experiments with aerial photography.

In fact, it was during a royal inspection of Farnborough in 1913, that a photograph was taken of the royal party from the air (aboard Beta II). The photographic plate was parachuted to the ground where it was developed and printed in a mobile darkroom.

Perhaps in anticipation of the start of WWI, all airships were taken over by the RNAS in January of 1914, with the Beta II officially designated as HMA No.  17.

HMA stands for His Majesty’s Airship… and by 1914, His Majesty was King George V.

During December 1914 and January 1915, HMA No. 17 it was based at Firminy near Dunkirk as part of the Dunkirk Squadron and was used for artillery spotting. It was then used for training at RNAS Kingsnorth.

The dirigible, in all its many incarnations and name changes was finally retired by the RNAS in 1916, with its gondola now part of the collection of the Science Museum in London, Great Britain. And yes, it is on display.

Posted in Airfields, Balloons, Motors and Engines, Tobacco Card, Zeppelins & Dirigibles | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Africa’s Flying And Invisible Warrior – The Story Of Kibaga

Through the Dark Continent.jpgIn a western society, one often gets caught up in all things Europe or North America, and tends to ignore the rest of the world. Mea culpa.

I have on occasion written about and published stories about Japan – because I lived there – and sometimes about Australian and New Zealand (because I like the beer and women, not in that order)… but have ignored a lot of other places on this planet… which I will do my best to rectify.

So… what I have for you here, is a myth… a myth about Africa’s first flyer… or at least the one we all assume to be the first. Since I assume you all read the headline, you are aware that I am talking about Kibaga. The thing is… he’s not a pilot. He is a man who had the ability to fly.

I can’t give you a “date” for when the following adventure took place.

While most representations of Kibaga simply refer to him as an African, Sir Henry Morton Stanley recorded the story of Kibaga in his 1871 book “Through the Dark Continent“, calling him a Uganda warrior.

Sir Henry Morton Stanley 1872.jpg

Sir Henry Morton Stanley, 1872.

For those wondering why the name Stanley seems familiar, note that Sir Henry Morton Stanley, GCB (Knight Grand Cross – knighted in 1899) was a Welsh-American journalist and explorer who was famous for his exploration of central Africa and his search for missionary and explorer David Livingstone. You know: “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?”… though that in itself may not have actually been the words of their initial contact, and may have been concocted later as a “selling point”.


You should, at the least read the Wikipedia entry on Livingstone, where you might learn that it wasn’t his real name.

He was born John Rowlands on January 28, 1841 in Wales, dying on May 10, 1904 as Sir Henry Morton Stanley.

Rowlands aka Stanley was a journalist and explorer,  who was famous for his exploration of central Africa and his search for missionary and explorer David Livingstone, finally finding him on November 10, 1871.

The story of Kibaga describes the warrior as being able to turn invisible as he flies over his enemies to first do aerial reconnaissance, and later return to drop rocks upon them (first possible mention of aerial bombardment). Kibaga was killed when the enemy shot their arrows up into the air, killing him with blind luck.

Like many such cautionary tales, it was meant to discourage humans from getting too close to god and heaven… like the story of Icarus… for some it is a cautionary tale, for others a tale of inspiration.You can read about Icarus HERE… in my second ever article written for this blog.

Here’s what Stanley had to say about Kibaga:

“One of the heroes of Nakivingi (one of the ancient kings of Uganda, whom Stanley calls the Charlemagne of Uganda) was a warrior named Kibaga, who possessed the power of flying.

“When the king warred with the Wanyoro (I believe this is a family name in Uganda… of the Kingdom of Bunyoro – part of the Bantu peoples), he sent Kibaga into the air to ascertain the whereabouts of the foe, who, when discovered by this extra-ordinary being, were attacked on land in their hiding-places by Nakivingi, and from above by the active and faithful Kibaga, who showered great rocks on them and by these means slew a vast number.

“It happened that among the captives of Unyoro, Kibaga saw a beautiful woman, who was solicited by the king in marriage. As Nakivingi was greatly indebted to Kibaga for his unique services, he gave her to Kibaga as wife, with a warning, however, not to impart the knowledge of his power to her, lest she should betray him.

For a long time after the marriage his wife knew nothing of his power, but suspecting something strange in him from his repeated sudden absences and reappearances at his home, she set herself to watch him, and one morning as he left his hut, she was surprised to see him suddenly mount into the air with a burden of rocks slung on his back.

On seeing this she remembered that Wanyoro complaining that more of their people were killed by some means from above than by the spears of Nakivingi, and Delilah-like, loving her race and her people more than she loved her husband, she hastened to her people’s camp, and communicated, to the surprise of the Wanyoro, what she had that day learned.

To avenge themselves on Kibaga, the Wanyoro set archers in ambush on the summits of each lofty hill, with instructions to confine themselves to watching the air and listening for the brushing of his wings, and to shoot their arrows in the direction of the sound, whether anything was seen or not.

By this means on a certain day, as Nakivingi marched to the battle, Kibaga was wounded to the death by an arrow, and upon the road large drops of blood were seen falling, and on coming to a tall tree the king detected a dead body entangled in its branches.

When the tree was cut down, Nakivingi saw, to his infinite sorrow, that it was the body of his faithful flying warrior Kibaga.”



Now… Stanley’s story is pretty interesting, but I’ve heard a slightly different version of it.

Kibaga was the legendary chieftain of some African tribe – a great warrior who could make himself invisible by wrapping a cloak about himself.

If the cloak of invisibility wasn’t enough, he could also fly.

So, whenever some tribe would get it in their heads to cause trouble, Kibaga would don his cloak, and fly invisibly over the lands of his enemies and throw down spears, arrows rocks and more.

But, one day, a tribe hearing about Kibaga set a trap for his invisible flying self.

Using a men to act as decoys, other men of the tribe watched as rocks would suddenly appear in the sky to fall upon their brethren.

Some stories say that Kibaga was flying around and around, others say he perched himself up in a tree… regardless, the enemy tribe that was watching figured out where Kibaga was and fired their arrows up at him, killing him, eventually finding his body up in a tree after his cloak became dislodged.

So… is this the African version of stealth aerial warfare?


Which story is more correct? It doesn’t matter too much.

Stanley’s version gives names to the Uganda warriors and enemies and seeks to make a woman the downfall of the superhuman Kibaga.

The other version is more sparse, but provides greater detail as to how they figured out something invisible was above them.

Perhaps the “truth” of the myth depends on who is telling the story, and who and how it is retold.

Mayhaps that in the retelling, facts and stories get turned into something more fantastic.

Perhaps Kibaga was simply an expert of stealth… a regular human warrior who climbed a tree within an enemy camp while wearing a green leafy cloak to blend in. Once high up in the tree, the sunning Kibaga threw rocks and other projectiles down onto his enemy… who eventually figured out that there was someone hiding up in a tree raining destruction down upon them, and counter attacked by simply firing arrows up into the tree to kill their “invisible” enemy.

Or… maybe there really was a magical Uganda warrior who could fly and did wear a cloak of invisibility.

By the way… you think I would be able to find at least one drawing of Kibaga somewhere on the Internet… but no… not a single representation of this wonderful African story.

If I could draw, I would create one myself.


Posted in Myth, People, Stories | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wills’s Aviation Card #74 – M. Jules Vedrines

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History Behind The Card: M. Jules Vedrines

Card #74 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Vice Regal Mixture – Green-back issue

  • Jules Charles Toussaint Védrines on December 21, 1881, Saint-Denis, Seine-Saint-Denis, France April 21, 1919, Saint-Rambert-d’Albon, France;

One of the few times that Wills’s has not added a proper accent to a French aviator’s name, though it does maintain the tradition. However, it does maintain the FRENCH aviator tradition of adding  an “M.” in front denoting “Monsieur”.

I am, however, adding the appropriate French accent above the first ‘e’ in Védrines.

If you glance up at the death date of Védrines, you’ll note that he is young… survived WWI, which means he was probably  involved in some sort of daring-do aviation accident.

Was it exciting? Was it stupid? Did it lead to any innovation? I don’t know… I’m writing this even before I read up on Védrines!

Actually… I know a bit about Védrines, considering I wrote about him within the copy for Card #69 HERE.

Okay… so Védrines… first pilot to fly at more than 100 mph (160 kilometers per hour) and for winning the 1912 Gordon Bennett Trophy Race.

I’m taking a short cut here considering I spent a great deal of time writing up that #69 blog… doing a copy and paste… but here’s it’s at least all Védrines.

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Jules Védrines was a pilot… and not just any pilot, but a test pilot… and a test pilot in the days when aeroplane’s had less power than some modern-day lawnmowers.

Born in Saint-Denis in Paris on December 21, 1881, he was brought up in what would have to be considered one of the “tough” parts of the city… a place that helped him develop a bit of a rough-and-tumble personality… which would actually help him in later years as a pilot, as being someone the common man could identify with.

He worked at the Gnome engine manufacturing factory before moving to England to work as aviator Robert Loraine’s mechanic in 1910.

Loraine, while primarily a stage actor, does have some claim to fame within the aviation (and video game industry). Flying a Farman biplane, in September of 1910, he achieved a measure of fame for being the first to fly from England to Ireland… except he actually crash landed in  the water about 60 meters (200 feet) from the shore… that’s close enough, right?

Later that same month, Loraine was a pilot of one of two Bristol Boxkites which took part in the British Army maneuvers on Salisbury Plain, during which he sent the first radio signals to be sent from an aeroplane in Britain.

Who was the other guy? Well… that would be Bertram Dickson, who was just featured in Pioneers of Aviation – HERE.

Loraine, by the way is famous… thanks to his personal diary that is cited in the Oxford English Dictionary for containing the first written example of the word joystick to describe aircraft stick controls.


Far more dapper than his Wills’s card.

Back to Védrines. After returning to France, Védrines earned his pilot’s license (No. 312) on December 7, 1910.

Globally, when newspapers couldn’t get enough news on aviation, Védrines was a media darling. That love affair began when in April of 1911 he flew over a Catholic religious procession known as Mi-carême dropping bouquets of violets as the people entered the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Classy… like an angel from up on high…

In May of 1911, Védrines won the 1911 Paris to Madrid air race flying a Morane-Borel monoplane. You can read all about that confusing bit of aviation history HERE, where I have attempted to present the facts in a cohesive manner, but admit that I was stymied a few times by even the most basic of things.

On July 22, 1911, he came second in the Daily Mail Circuit of Britain race (held annually between 1911-1914) – a circular route with 11 compulsory stops covering a distance of 1,010 miles (1,630 km).

You can see a video on YouTube featuring photo stills and some live motion picture work along with THE aviation song by clicking HERE. It won’t let me embed – even when I type it in character by character.If the link doesn’t work search YouTube by typing in: “Round Britain” air race in 1911.

He also came third in the 1911 Circuit of Europe race, a race with a total of 990 miles (1,600 kilometers) flying from Paris-Liège France to Spa-Liège in France to Utrecht Netherlands to Brussels Belgium to Calais France to London England.

In 1912, flying a Deperdussin 1912 Racing Monoplane built by the Société de Production des Aéroplanes Deperdussin, he was the first person to fly an aircraft at more than 100 mph (160 kph) and he also won the 1912 Gordon Bennett Trophy race in a Deperdussin Monocoque aircraft.

In January of 1912, Védrines, a politically active fellow, flew a plane over the Chamber of Deputies in Paris, dropping political leaflets demanding they provide more aeroplanes for the French Army.

Later that year, Védrines  ran for and lost a seat on the Chamber of Deputies for the constituency of Limoux. He ran as a Socialist, which wasn’t a bad thing in 1912.

In 1913 he flew from Paris to Cairo in a Blériot monoplane. But upon arriving in Nancy, France, but officials were adamant to let him proceed, because they figured he would fly a short cut over German airspace.

Now I don’t know why a Germany a mere one year away from WWI would not want anyone flying over their country – oh… right – but Védrines felt that up in the sky, there were no boundaries… that aviators should be able to fly anywhere and everywhere – screw international boundaries.

One hundred years later… despite his good intentions… a couple of global wars, more in Asia, and every nation on the planet becoming very protective of itself, airspace is rigidly controlled, and more or less observed unless you are China (in Japan) or Russia (also in Japan).

At that time, however, Védrines took off from Nancy pretending he would not fly over German airspace, but would change course for Prague when out of sight from the airfield. Sounds like a plan…

All well and good, but Védrines seems to have forgotten that he would be visible to the Germans in Germany whose airspace he was flying in.

He was tried in absentia by the Germans and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment… which essentially means he should not go back to Germany. But he did…

Still on the same race, he pleases the Sultan of Constantinople (Istanbul) by dropping a Turkish flag atop the Imperial Palace.

Things went downhill again when in Cairo, Védrines became embroiled in an argument with a Mr. Roux, after Védrines accused him of some unpatriotic French behavior.
Roux asked for a duel… but Védrines wisely said he wasn’t brave enough.

To resolve the dispute, the French Ligue Aerienne president Mr. Quinton told Védrines that the issue could only be resolved by the duel or him leaving Cairo.

So…. Védrines left Cairo, returned to Paris and then challenged Quinton to a duel in place of Roux. I’m guessing he found out that Roux may have been an established veteran at duels (IE he wins), whereas Quinton may have been a paper pusher. Always pick your battles, is the lesson here, I guess.

Védrines wanted to duel with pistols at 10 paces – and was all the rage in the Paris media of the day – but dueling experts quickly determined that Védrines had no right to issue the duel, and it was called off, probably with an apology… but I can not confirm that.


Védrines and his Blériot XXXV Ibis he called La Vache (The Cow) ,  August 31, 1914

Jules Védrines’ Last Flight
When WWI broke out, Védrines performed clandestine missions— landing behind enemy (German) lines to drop or pick up agents in his Blériot XXXV Ibis aircraft La Vache (The Cow) – pictured above. He flew some 1,000 hours of reconnaissance missions and was awarded Order of the Day for it in July of 1915.

The aircraft had a picture of a cow on it (not seen in the photo), but it was meant to be an homage to his family’s roots in the Limousin region of France.

With the war over, on January 19, 1919 he landed his Caudron Airplane Company  G.3 on the roof of the Galeries Lafayette department store in Paris, winning a 25,000 franc prize which had been offered before the war. After his death a stone commemorating the achievement was placed there.

Three months later, on  April 21, 1919, he was killed when attempting to fly a Caudron C.23 long-range twin-engine night bomber after flying from Villacoublay, France to Rome, Italy, when the aeroplane’s engine conked out. He and his mechanic Guillain died on the forced landing near Lyon.

Posted in Firsts, Heavier-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, Pilots, Races, Races & Contests, Tobacco Card | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

GoFly Contest To Create A Working Personal Flying Device

Adam StrangeIn my much younger days scientists promised us jetpacks. I want my jetpack! I want to fly!

Sadly, jetpacks and rocket suits a la Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Adam Strange, The Rocketeer, IronMan and other comic book characters remain a mostly scientific curiosity and out of the hands (and backs) of the general public.

But that’s where GoFly comes in.

The contest wants someone to create a working personal flying device.

This contest—offering US$2,000,000 in total prizes over the course of the 24-month competition—is calling on the world’s greatest thinkers, designers, engineers, and inventors to make the impossible possible—and who’s to say that isn’t you?

As GoFly states: “Today we look to the sky and say, ‘That plane is flying.’ We challenge innovators around the world to create a device that makes us look to the sky and say, ‘That person is flying.’

Someone get me my jetpack or personal flying vehicle a la George Jetson or Marty McFly hoverboard (with real hovering!!!) before I get too old!

GoFly is a Boeing-sponsored competition to build on the fantastic visions of the above named comic strip and cartoon shows, as well as the fantastical stuff of Icarus, and combining the primitive dreams with modern-day thinking and technology to take (finally) humans further than just one giant leap for mankind.

GoFly wants participants to develop a safe, quiet, ultra-compact, near-VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) personal flying devices capable of flying 20 miles while carrying a single person without refueling or recharging.

The invention should be user-friendly and, of course, provide the thrill of flight. Outside of these requirements, the function and design are up to innovator teams.

What’s cool about the GoFly contest, is that along with the nice financial prize, and getting one’s name glorified in greater fashion than the Barney-copter, is that participants will have access to global automation experts to help bring their ideas to life, without the worry of someone stealing their idea.

Boeing, the world’s largest and most forward-thinking aerospace company, has partnered with GoFly to turn dreams into reality.

Since its founding more than a century ago, Boeing (read about an early misadventure with Boeing founder William Boeing HERE has been at the forefront of innovation and exploration, pushing the limits of what is possible through game-changing technologies that impact the world and meet the needs of the global community.

Through GoFly, Boeing will help empower the next generation of dreamers and thinkers to take on one of the most ambitious and exciting opportunities of our day. As the Grand Sponsor of the GoFly competition, Boeing is sponsoring tomorrow.

Here’s what GoFly has to say:

Do competitors keep their Intellectual Property?
Yes, Teams will keep all of their intellectual property, except that teams will grant limited media rights to GoFly so that GoFly can publicize and promote the Competition and the Teams.

How much money can you win?
GoFly is offering US$2,000,000 in total prizes over the course of the 24-month competition. This purse will be spread out over three prize phases. Phase I will include 10 $20K prizes awarded based on written technical specifications; Phase II will include four $50K prizes awarded to Teams with the best VTOL demonstration and revised Phase I materials; and Phase III will unveil the Grand Prize Winner, awarded at the Final Fly-Off in the fall of 2019.

In Phase II, the actual building begins, and innovators will have the opportunity to learn from and work with some of the world’s leading experts in aircraft design, systems engineering, fabrication and testing, and finance and funding.

With one-on-one guidance and monthly seminars, teams will have unprecedented resources to help bring their ideas to life. At the end of Phase II, we’ll award four prizes at $50,000 each based on a VTOL demonstration and revised Phase I materials.

Who are the experts? Holy crap… I get goosebumps looking at the names and companies involved:

  • Dan Wolf, Cape Air founder;
  • Chris Van Buiten, Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation vice-president of innovations;
  • Dr. Steven H. Walker, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency acting director;
  • Stephen Welby, US Department of Defense Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering;
  • Dr. Marilyn Smith, Vertical Lift Research Center of Excellence, Director;
  • Dr. Patricia Stevens, Boeing Phantom Works, program manager – rotorcraft technology program;
  • Tony Tether, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, but LinkedIn says he is former director of DARPA 2001-2009, but a current research professional;
  • Dr. Kenneth M. Rosen, Aero-Science Technology Associates, LLC, Principal Partner;
  • Suna Said, Nima Capital, Founder and CEO;
  • Marc Sheffler, American Helicopter Museum and Education Center, Chairman, Board of Trustees;
  • Boris Popov, BRS Aerospace Inc., founder;
  • Will Porteous, RRE Ventures, General Partner & COO;
  • Dan Ratmer, Conceptual Research Corporation, President;
  • Kristin Little, Boeing, Associate Technical Fellow, Crew Systems, Human Factors Lead;
  • Dan Newman, Boeing, Senior Technical Fellow for configuration development, and chief engineer of Phantom Works Rotary Wing Aircraft;
  • Daryll J. Pines, Clark School of Engineering, dean and the Nariman Farvardin Professor of Aerospace Engineering;
  • Vijay Kumar, University of Pennsylvania, dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science;
  • Dr. John S. Langford, Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation, founder Chairman and CEO;
  • Earl Lawrence, Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Director of the Office;
  • Mark Hirschberg, AHS International, executive director;
  • Emily Howard, Boeing, Senior Technical Fellow;
  • Dr. Greg Hyslop, Boeing chief technology officer;
  • Matt Desch, Iridium Satellite, Chief Executive Officer;
  • Fernando Dones, Boeing, Boeing Technical Fellow – Flight Critical Systems;
  • Richard Golaszewski, GRA, Incorporated, Executive Vice President;
  • Dr. Inderjit Chopra, University of Maryland, University Distinguished Professor & Alfred Gessow Professor in Aerospace Engineering & Director Alfred Gessow Rotorcraft Center at University of Maryland;
  • Roger Connor, Smithsonian Institute National Air and Space Museum Specialist/Curator at Smithsonian Institution;
  • Blanche Demaret, ONERA, Programme Director for Rotorcraft;
  • Akif Bolukbasi, Boeing, Senior Technical Fellow;
  • Pete Buck, Lockheed Martin, lead engineer;
  • Aditi Chattopadhyay, Adaptive Intelligent Materials & Systems (AIMS) Center, Director;
  • Dr. Shane Arnott, Boeing, Director of Phantom Works Australia;
  • Dr. Paul Belivaqua, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, aeronautics engineer;
    Mark Bezos, DemoMode Marketing, founder.

Interested in making your dreams a reality? Visit

Good luck.

Posted in Firsts, Heavier-Than-Air, Lighter-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, News, People, Pilots, Research | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Of Bees And The Wright Brothers

Gleanings In Bee Culture.jpgWhat we have here, is an item at the Swann Galleries auction site offering what it calls the most unlikely scoop in journalistic aviation history.

What we have here is: Gleanings in Bee Culture, which, as far as anyone can determine, features the first eyewitness report of the Wright brothers in flight.

Featured within 14 unbound issues of Gleanings in Bee Culture, is the description of a flight taken by the Wright Brothers on September 24, 1904.

The Wright Brothers first flew an airplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, U.S. on December 14, 1903. While no reporters were there that day, a telegraph operator spread word of the flight to a Virginia newspaper. Unfortunately, the details were a third-hand account and suffered from inaccuracies. Still… it did receive some global press.

In May of 1904, reporters were present for the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, but the Wright Flyer failed to perform as advertised.

But, on September 20, 1904, the boys were able to complete their first-ever circular flight—and this time there was a witness, one Amos Ives Root of Ohio, who was actually invited by the Wright’s to buzz around.

Amos Ives Root (1839–1923) was an Ohio entrepreneur who developed innovative techniques for beekeeping during the latter 19th century (how to harvest honey without destroying the hive).

This was around the 1860s, and Root’s technique helped him beecome (sp) (sorry) an internationally-renowned expert in apiary. At this point in time in American economics, beekeeping was a big part of local economies. A company formed by Root exists today as Root Candles.

Anyhow, Root back in 1904 was asked to write an article on the Wright Brother’s flight for Scientific American… but they rejected it.

So Root decided to write about it in a column he had called Our Homes in HIS company’s Gleanings In Bee Culture magazine.

You can see a page of it below:

Gleanings in Bee Culture 2.jpg

Expected auction price is between US1,500-$2,000.

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Wills’s Aviation Card #73 – Lieut. Jean Conneau (Beaumont)

73gf 001.jpgHistory Behind The Card: Lieut. Jean Conneau (Beaumont)

Card #73 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut – Green-back issue

  • Jean Louis Conneau (aka André Beaumont) on February 8, 1880 in Lodève, Hérault, France – August 5, 1937, Lodève, Hérault, France.

This is another Card No. 73 within the 75-card cigarette trading card set.

The other No. 73 was Card #73 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Vice Regal Mixture – Black-back issue (see HERE) … this blog is about the Capstan Navy Cut GREEN back issue.

While I applaud Wills’s for having the real name of the aviator on this cigarette card, we should note that Jean Louis Conneau (in the day) was best known by his pseudonym of André Beaumont… which is WHY there’s a bracketed name under his real name on the front of the card.

One hundred years removed, I had no idea just why “Beaumont” was bracketed, and assumed it was some sort of aeroplane.

So… why did Conneau have another name… a more famous name?

The card’s front provides the main clue.

Lieut. Jean Louis Conneau. Lieutenant. His was a military man…

Jean Louis Conneau.jpg

As an aeroplane pilot who enjoyed flying in various events and races of the day to earn a few extra dollars, because Conneau was a Lieutenant in the French navy.

I can’t find a lot (any) information about Conneau’s childhood—which I have found CAN explain why some people became interested in aviation or aerodynamics…


Google Translate says: The Blériot XI of the LV Jean-Louis Conneau (aka Beaumont) after its cowling on the ground of Reims-Betheny – Postcard of time. I assume it means: Lt. Jean-Louis Conneau (aka André Beaumont)’s upside-down Bleriot XI, after crashing at  Reims-Betheny… Image from:

Here’s what we know… on December 7, 1910, Conneau earned The Aéro-Club de France pilot’s license No. 322.

He earned his French military pilot’s license (No. 4) one year later on December 18, 1911.

Of course, in 1911, Conneau was entered in all sorts of aviation meets, and it is during this time that he utilized the pseudonym André Beaumont, as he was still in the Navy… even though he did not have a military pilot’s license at that time… no biggie… as you can see, being No. 4 for a French military license just meant that one wasn’t required within the military until late in 1911.

So… what is Conneau famous for?

Well… that would be his winning (or rather André Beaumont’s winning) of the Paris-Rome aeroplane race.

The race, which began on May 29, 1911, was originally supposed to have been a longer race, and was to be from Paris-Rome-Turin… but organizers cut the Rome to Turin leg, making it a separate race to be run one week after the Paris-Rome event.

During the Paris-Rome race, an aviator was allowed to stop, fix a plane, and even exchange an aircraft—though the pilot had to let race officials stationed throughout the race if this action was undertaken.

Beginning on May 28, 1911, Conneau (Beaumont) arrived at the race’s end-spot of the Parioli racetrack on May 31, 1911 in a time of 82 hours and five minutes

The quick pace set by Conneau surprised race organizers who had estimated the race would take about one week to complete.

In fact, second place winner Roland Garros (Eugène Adrien Roland Georges Garros) arrived in Rome in 106 hours and 15 minutes, having crashed two aircraft.

(Editor Note: Garros, by the way, was reported to have been involved in the first air-battle ever when his plane rammed a zeppelin, killing him. The only problem here is that Garros was still alive when that 1914 claim was circulated, and he denied being involved in the suicide run… especially since he was still alive.)

Third place was achieved in 156 hours and 52 minutes by André Frey in a Moranes; while the only other aviator to complete the journey was René Vidart in a Deperdussin at 195 hours and eight minutes.

Conneau landed like a rock star, as men knocked over women to have the honor of hoisting Conneau upon their shoulders, showing you just how different a world it was.

You can get a full-blown read on the Paris-Rome race at the website by clicking HERE.

Conneau also won the Circuit d’Europe (Tour of Europe), a route that took it from Paris-Liege-Spa-Utrecht-Brussels-Calais-London-Calais-Paris, winning on July 7, 1911.

Conneau/Beaumont also won the Daily Mail Circuit of Britain Race (England and Scotland) on July 26, 1911, flying a Blériot XI.

He also participated in the 1911 Paris to Madrid race beginning May 21, 1911. The race is infamous only because of the injuries and deaths that occurred upon the race’s beginning. See Wikipedia HERE – for a brief outline on that.

73gr 001.jpg

In 1913 he co-founded the Franco-British Aviation (FBA) to build flying boats known as a hydroplane (or in French as a Hydravions) 

The FBA was headquartered in London, England, Great Britain, maintained a factory in Paris, France, and thanks to its set-up, serviced both the French and British.

Conneau flew as a flying boat pilot during WWI, commanding squadrons at Nice, Bizerte, Dunkirk and Venice.

Between 1915-1919, Conneau was the guy in charge of perfecting the hydroplane on behalf of the French Navy.

After the war, Conneau continued to work in the hydroplane industry, taking up the position of technical director for the French firm Donnet-Lévèque.

Despite living until the age of 57, dying in France on August 5, 1937, the memory of Jean Louis Conneau aka André Beaumont has faded into the hangar with time.

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Wills’s Aviation Card #73 – “Willows II.” Dirigible.

73f 001.jpgHistory Behind The Card: “Willows II.” Dirigible.

Card #73 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Vice Regal Mixture – Black-back issue

  • E.T. (Ernest Thompson) Willows, born in Cardiff, Wales, Great Britain on July 11, 1886 – August 23, 1926 at Kempston, Bedford, England, Great Britain.

Ernest Thompson Willows was the first person in Great Britain to earn a pilot certificate for an airship of any kind then Britain’s Royal Aero Club awarded him Airship Pilots Certificate No. 1. And yup… that’s the most exciting thing I could find on him.


E.T. Willows.

So what makes Willows and his Willows II dirigible worthy of their very own tobacco collector’s card?

Being British in the brand new flight of fancy known as aviation certainly earns one entry into a British tobacco manufacturer’s line-up on the subject.

After gaining entry in 1896 to Clifton College in Bristol, Great Britain, Willows left the school at the age of 15 in 1901 to further pursue a career as a dentist. Interesting… if this was a blog about dentistry… and no, that doesn’t make me an anti-dentite.

Willows was simply following in the footsteps of his father’s profession.

However… after reading the 1903 newspaper exploits of one Alberto Santos-Dumont, and perhaps of the South African (living in England) Captain William Beedle, our man Willows became fascinated with aviation and the dirigible.

He completed his first dirigible in 1905, and lacking imagination but not ego called it the Willows No. 1.

If you happened to glance at Willow’s birthdate, however, you will note that he built his first dirigible at the tender age of 19. I’m pretty sure I was sneaking beers and trying to get a woman – any woman – to look at me when I was his age.

All of the five dirigibles built by Willows were considered to be pioneering, as they were the first (or among the first) to not have a rigid frame… they were semi-rigid.

Willows No. 1


Willows No. 1 (1905) drawing from “D’orcy’s Airship Manual” from 1917

First flown on August 5, 1905 in a flight lasting 85 minutes over the East Moors of Cardiff, Wales, the Willows No. 1 was a small semi-rigid dirigible with a capacity of 12,600 cubic feet (354 cubic meters).

Its envelope (balloon) measured 74 feet (22.55 meters) long and 18 feet (5.5 meters) in  diameter, and was made of silk, holding a visible framework gondola for the crew suspended beneath it.

At the rear of the gondola framework was a twin-cylinder seven-horsepower Peugeot motorcycle engine fitted with a two-bladed 10 foot (three meter) pusher propeller. (Since the propeller is at the rear of the machine, it “pushes” the vehicle forward.

All in all, Willows took the Willows No. 1 on total of six flights, with the longest lasting two hours.

Willows No. 2

Willows No 2

Willows No. 2 1909 – Photo credit from Rosebud’s Early Aviation Archive,, Public domain

73r 001.jpg

The Willows No. 2 was designed and piloted by Willows, first flying on November 26, 1909.

No. 2 was 86 feet (26.2 meters) long and 22 feet (6.7 meters) in diameter, with a envelope (balloon) volume of 29,000 cubic feet (820 cubic meters) volume.

The Willows No. 2 was powered by a JAP 30-horsepower, air-cooled V8 engine and had two swiveling propellers mounted either side of the suspended car. It was also fitted with a rudder for directional control.

On June 4, 1910 the Willows No.2 semi-rigid dirigible landed outside of Cardiff City Hall before it was flown back to the dirigible shed back on the East Moors.

On July 11, 1910 Willows No.2 was flown from Cheltenham in southwest England to Cardiff, with a return back to London on August 6.

That initial flight was the longest such flight of a Great Britain cross-country flight at 122-miles (196 kilometers).

Records being what they were Willows himself s considered to be the first aviator to cross the Bristol Channel in a powered aircraft.


Circa June 1910, Willows No.2 is about to land near Cardiff city hall.

Willows No. 3 – City of Cardiff

Willows No. 2 was re-built as Willows No. 3 and renamed by Willows as the City of Cardiff.No.3-postcard

The rebuild mean the new dirigible was now 120 feet (36.56 meters) long, 40 feet (12.2 meters) in diameter, with its envelope volume being 32,000 cubic feet (905 cubic meters).

Willows No. 3 utilized the same JAP engine to power its two 6 foot (1.83 meters) long propellers.

The airship first flew on October 29, 1910 over White City in London, England.

A few days later on November 4, 1910, Willows renamed Willows No. 3 the City of Cardiff, before flying that day from Wormwood Scrubs near London for France.

The successful flight gave Willows the glory of being the first person to cross the English Channel from England to France, as well as the first to cross at night in an airship.

The journey had its fair share of problem, what with the maps being accidentally dropped overboard during the night or the fact that there was leaking within the balloon’s envelope which meant a wee emergency landing at 2AM… but what the heck… French aviator Louis Breguet as around and helped repair the aircraft allowing it to continue its epic flight to land in Paris on December 28, 1910.

Willows then celebrated his achievement by flying around the Eiffel Tower on New Year’s Eve.

Willows No. 4 – His Majesty’s Naval Airship No. 2
Willows moved to Birmingham to build his next airship, the Willows No. 4. First flown in 1912, it was sold to the Admiralty for £1,050 and it became His Majesty’s Naval Airship No. 2. His Majesty being Britain’s King George V.


His Majesty’s Naval Airship No. 2 on the ground in 1905, it is known by its builder as Willows No. 4.

Willows No.4 was smaller than the No. 3, and was completed in 1912. It had a balloon capacity of 24,000 cubic feet (680 cubic meters), and a length of 110 feet (33.5 meters). On its keel was a single 35 horsepower Anzani motor tat powered two four-bladed steerable propellers, enabling it to reach a maximum speed of 50 miles per hour (80 kilometers per hour). Below the keel hung a two-person gondola.

After the aircraft was purchased by the Navy and renamed as His Majesty’s Naval Airship No. 2, its balloon envelope was enlarged to 39,000 cubic feet (11,000 cubic meters).

A year later in 1914, the original gondola was replaced with an enlarged three-seater version with dual controls… however, it only made a single flight with its latest configuration.

The British Navy decided to make a bigger and better balloon, but decided to re-use components.

Taking the balloon/envelope of His Majesty’s Naval Airship No. 2, it was used to become part of the new SS class (submarine scout) of aircraft used to hunt German u-boats during WWI.

Willows No. 5


Willows No. 5 dirigible – Photo credit: from Rosebud’s Early Aviation Archive .Caudron.jpg

When No. 4 was sold to the British Navy, Willows created a spherical gas balloon school at Welsh Harp, Hendon near London.

He then began to build Willows No. 5 in 1913, a dirigible with a rubberized fabric and a volume of 50,000 cubic feet (1,415 cubic meters). It was 130 feet (40meters) long, and featured a gondola capable of carrying four people.

It achieved first flight on November 27, 1913.

Barrage Balloons
Barrage Balloons.jpg

During WWI, at Cardiff, Willows built barrage balloons.

These were actually kindda cool.

Used often around London, the idea was to have several of these barrage balloons strung together via a steel cable in place over the city lifting a giant net.

They were used to mess up German aircraft or dirigible pilots who could not easily avoid being snagged within the netting.

By 1918 the barrage defenses around London stretched for 50 miles (80 kilometers).

Willows continued to build balloons after WWI, but died on August 23, 1926 when  balloon accident occurred at Hoo Park in Bedford England, killing himself and two passengers.

As of 2017, on the very same spot where Willows had his airfield, Willows High School stands… with a nearby pub called The Ernest Willows reasonably close by.


Posted in Balloons, Lighter-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, Tobacco Card, Zeppelins & Dirigibles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Leona Dare In The Air Up There

Leona Dare poster 001.jpg

There are a lot of “maybe’s” and “postulating” within this particular article.

I was glancing through the August 2017 magazine edition of Smithsonian, spying the cover story on “The New American Circus” but was more caught up in the “poster art” in the story for some of the world’s greatest human circus performers – not its sideshow attractions – I mean its performers.

One of the newly created poster art was for a woman named Leona Dare… an American trapeze artist who was once famous for hanging suspended from ascending hot-air balloons. Now we’re talking aviation!

Born in 1854 or 1855, Leona Dare was actually born as Susan Adeline Stuart (or Stewart) – in that classic “parts unknown” kind of way. We just know she was American… and in her later years she lived on Staten Island, NY, as well as Spokane, Washington – where she died.

The Smithsonian “poster” above states that Dare’s father was a Confederate General and that her mother had been killed by a stray bullet during the siege on the infamous Battle of the Alamo… but I have found no other article stating those two interesting facts.

I’m not calling the Smithsonian magazine into question… I’m just stating what I know and don’t know.

For one… didn’t the Battle of the Alamo occur between February 23, 1836 – March 6, 1836? I mean, I’m not American so maybe you guys use a different calendar system than Canada…. 

If Dare’s mother died at some point in time during the battle in 1836… how the heck did she give birth to Leona in 1854 or 1855? Forget the long pregnancy or thoughts of necrophilia. Oh… now I can’t. Dammit.

I won’t question the Confederate General stuff… except that it is possible he (her father) was involved in the U.S. civil war in the 1860s when Leona was 10, and when his wife had been dead for almost 30 years… Maybe a first wife died at the Alamo… and a second wife was actually the mother to Leona? That makes more sense…

Or… maybe Leona’s mother WAS killed at the Alamo… just not during the Battle of the Alamo. You or I could easily have been shot at the Alamo too, if someone pointed a gun at us during a 21st century tourist visit… and while I’m providing the Smithsonian with ample excuses to award me a No-Prize, I’m unconvinced that the information provided on that “poster” is 100 percent correct.

However… (another attempt at a Marvel Comics No-Prize), it is also possible that the Smithsonian created the data on the poster to mimic circus-era excitement and provide a laugh to the sharp-eyed Canadian visitor to the magazine – a mix that ensures a sucker is born every minute to those who didn’t notice it…

Still… one might assume that the magazine would have stated there was an “inside joke” at some point within the article.

leonaWhere did the Dare name come from, and why don’t we believe her surname to have been Stewart? Well, she learned acrobatics from brothers Tomas and Stewart Hall… who sometimes billed themselves as the Dare Brothers.

However… to be fair, there was a James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart who was originally a  United States Army officer from Virginia, who later became a Confederate States Army general during the American Civil War. History is cool, eh kiddies?

Stuart? Stewart? See – J.E.B. Stuart and or Stewart Hall, one half of the Dare Brothers…

See… Stewart is in there, as is Dare. It all sounds like an “acquired” name to me.

In 1871 Susan married Thomas Hall (one of the Dare boys)… in either New York City or New Orleans…  I love Circus folk… that whole “from parts unknown” stuff… of course, maybe people just never saw the need to brag about such things on Twitter back in 1871…

U.S. president Trump says his father was never arrested in the 1920s at a KKK demonstration. Maybe such things such as being a circus performer weren’t talked about much around the family dinner table. If my father had ever been arrested, I wouldn’t know – because such talk has never come up.

However… for anyone running and becoming president, you can bet every purported dark corner of their past has been rundown and checked out. It’s just not talked about.

My best guess as to Dare’s wedding location would be New York, simply because she appeared in a circus there later that year… but that’s neither here nor there, so to speak.

Leona Dare was an acrobat and trapeze artist who, wait for it, would utilize a trapeze that was hung down from a rising hot air balloon.

While I suppose many of the day considered her to be hot, she was indeed considered to be a beautiful woman who was a daredevil… and yet, in none of the photos I saw of here could you ever see any ankle. Her hair could also have used some conditioned to tame those wild locks.

During the 1870s and 1880s, Dare performed with many traveling circuses (is that the plural, or is it circusii?) (Kidding.)

Another one of her specialties was the “iron jaw” routine, where she would hang from a wire just by the strength of her teeth/jaw, and spin around… I’m sure you’ve all seen something similar from modern acrobats.

In August of 1872, Dare was in Indianapolis, Indiana, US of A performing for the first-time ever, a stunt where she was suspended under a hot air balloon, lifting her husband (and performance partner off the ground, holding him by his waistband with her teeth. If you look at the image at the very top of this blog, you can see just what it is I am talking about. As you can see, the person being held needs to be as stiff and straight as possible, which is not as appreciated as the iron jaw part, but in my mind just as difficult.

In another spectacular display, Dare was apparently some 5,000 feet above the ground and doing her personal suspension act with her teeth over Crystal Palace in London, Great Britain in June and July of 1877.


If you look at the poster above and compare it with what is written on the Smithsonian “poster” at the very top, we can see that the Smithsonian has rounded off the size of the crowd in a manner that could make a president flip his lid.

As well… the Smithsonian “poster”  mentions that Dare ascends to a height of 10,000 feet… which is double what other websites featuring Miss Dare have dared state.

The poster mentions balloon aeronaut Eduard Spelterini (born June 2, 1852 – June 16, 1931) who took Dare up to perform the stunts.

Spelterini was a Swiss pioneer of ballooning and of aerial photography.

Born Eduard Schweizer, he originally hoped to be an opera singer, but after a bout with pneumonia weakened his lungs at the age of 18, he looked around for other avenues, becoming licensed in 1877 by the Académie d’Aérostation météorologique de France as a balloon pilot.

During the 1880s, Spelterini took his balloon solo up in the air up there, and then comfortable enough he began selling rides to customers.

Though he had used balloons built by others, the first one he had a hand in “designing’ was in 1887, when the Parisian company Surcouf manufactured his “Urania” with a volume of 1,500 cubic meters. It first flew in Vienna, Austria on October 5, 1887.

After that, Spelterini moved to Great Britain, meeting Leona Dare in 1888. Their ascents in June and July 1888 at the Crystal Palace in London (see poster above) made them world-famous.

While Dare and “Urania” provided the vehicle for Dare, the balloon basket also provided a ride up for various local journalists, who were given a spectacular view of Dare’s acrobatic exploits which helped create her level of fame via the social media of the day (newspapers).

They toured together through Britain and then continental Europe including Moscow, Russia… with their very last performance together thus being in October of 1889 in Bucharest, Romania.

Spelterini took his Urania balloon from Bucharest to Saloniki (Thessaloniki) in Greece, and then Athens before moving to Cairo, Egypt.

After flying over the pyramids of Giza in early 1890, he traveled to Naples, Italy and then Istanbul, Turkey.


Eduardo Spelterini – August 12, 1912.

In 1891, Spelterini returned to Switzerland, considered then to be “famous” for his aeronaut efforts.On July 26, 1891, Spelterini flew in Switzerland, starting at the Heimplatz in Zurich… and thanks to the crowds that always appeared to see him soar, scientists also took notice, asking if he could take them up so they could conduct atmospheric tests and experiments. Physicians wanted to travel with him to study human blood cells at low atmospheric pressure, while geologists simply wanted to study what the Earth looked like from high above.

In 1893, Spelterini began to take aerial photography. According to one article I saw, the camera equipment weighed anywhere from 40 to 60 kilograms (~88 to 132 pounds), with each photograph requiring a minimum exposure of 1/30th of a second, which doesn’t seem like much despite our modern day ability to snap 100 photos in a couple of seconds via portable telephone of all things… but consider Spelterinin (and other such aerial photographers) were traveling in a balloon… being buffeted by winds…

Perhaps patience is key, but Spelterini became known as one of the premier aerial photographers of his day, winning numerous awards in Italy, France, Belgium and Germany.


Photo by Eduardo Spelterini circa 1903… exact location…. not sure, so I’m not guessing. Okay… Swiss alps?

Spelterini continued to balloon and photograph until The Great War (aka WWI) began in 1914—no one wants a balloon flying overhead when they are at war… as such, Spelterini stopped flying all together, retiring in Switzerland with his wife.

While his aviation exploits had made him comfortably rich, the war and a lack of new income ate into his savings… and the post-war inflation continued to beat at him and others across Europe.

To make matters worse, with the advent of the aeroplane, ballooning fell out of the public’s eye as something spectacular, and everything Spelterinin had accomplished in the past was simply that – the past.

While money is money, he dug out his Urania balloon in 1922 and worked at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark, taking people up in the balloon and posing for photos… which you might understand was something he no longer found as much fun as when he was taking photos of the world.

Having enough of the sour limelight, Spelterni retired again – this time in Austria with his own 300 hen chicken farm, meaning to survive off the sale of their eggs.  I’m unsure how that is better than taking people up in a hot air balloon, but by 1926 he agreed with my sentiments at the beginning of this sentence…

Spelterini borrowed some money and rented a balloon in Zurich, Switzerland – hoping to have fun in the air by transporting paying customers for a view. The captive balloon was anchored to the ground with ropes.

Now in his 70s… and while not an ancient age for the 21st century, he was considered pretty old in 1926. His body agreed, as he passed out during a passenger jaunt, forcing his passengers to somehow bring the balloon down themselves in a crash-landing. At least no one was hurt.

That was the last time Speltirini flew… dying in 1931 as an old man with a chicken farm… poor and no longer recalled for his aviation exploits.

As for Leona Dare, who had parted ways with Speltrini in October of 1889… we should back up a week bit.

As mentioned earlier, in 1872 Dare was performing acrobatic feats alongside her husband and former teacher Thomas Hall.

Depending on who you can still find alive to ask (no one, except the Hall and Dare family might have a proper answer), Dare left Hall in 1875, or Hall left Dare… either way Dare was no longer living with Thomas Hall.

She appears to have suffered some sort of physical injury at around that time, and was unable to perform much through the rest of that decade (1870s).

In June of 1880, Dare married Ernest Theordore Grunebaum in London, England… whose family were rich toffs from Vienna, Austria.

Traveling back to Chicago later that year, Dare found out (or was conveniently reminded) that just because one’s husband leaves, or because she left him… a divorce that makes not.

So… since she was still legally married to Thomas Hall, her marriage to Grunebaum was not technically legal. So, after gaining a divorce from Hall in absentia on November 15, 1880, she then legally (this time) re-married Grunebaum in Chicago on November 17, 1880.


A set photo at a studio of Dare and a trapeze… not something taken from this hot babe’s boudoir. Look at that… you might not see an ankle, but you do see a whole lotta leg… no wonder the media and the public loved her. Uh… those boots look pretty tight on the leg…

So… after finally recovering from her accident in the 1870s, the early part of the 1880s was spent using a trapeze and iron jaw skills – but not using a balloon.

Despite the lack of a balloon at this time, in 1884 Dare dropped her partner during a show in Valencia, Spain… he died.

However… I found another reference to another similar occurrence, which has me wondering if it’s the same issue, but with different facts, or two different incidents.

The other story says that in 1884 while suspended by her feet from the roof of the Princess Theatre in London, she held a trapeze bar in her teeth. A male performer was holding on to the trapeze bar with his hands… apparently some newspapers (so the story says) say she had a nervous fit and her mouth released her tooth grip on the bar… and down went her partner. The story continues that it is unknown if the performer survived the fall, but the incident caused Dare to suffer a nervous breakdown of her own.

Which horrific incident is correct? The first, the latter – both? Spain or London?

The first story which declares the partner died is referenced in the Leona Dare Wikipedia entry citing the New York Times, November 23, 1884; and second story is in The (London & Provincial) Entr’acte, December 13, 1884.

Okay… if the accident occurred in London, England… why did the The (London & Provincial) Entr’acte newspaper only report on it some two weeks after it was reported on by the New York Times newspaper an ocean away?

Let’s just say that Dare dropped a partner… she felt like crap for a while… eventually got better and renewed her career.

Since the show must go on, Dare found and trained another partner and continued her act and all was status quo until she teamed up with a Swiss balloonist in 1888.

We’ve covered that aspect of their act and life up above…

In 1890, and with another balloonist, after a balloon she was attached to began to drift away, she apparently purposely lost her grip of the trapeze and fell a distance to the ground, breaking her leg.

Since details are sketchy at best, I’m going to hypothesize that the balloon Dare was attached to lost its pilot… perhaps he himself fell out of the balloon from a low height… and seeing that, Dare released her trapeze grip and fell to the ground rather than be swept up pilotless into the sky.

Does anyone else have any idea of why Dare would have dropped from a balloon drifting away?

By 1894 or 1895, Dare gave up her acrobatic craft and retired to Staten Island, New York, US, though it is reported she died after moving out west to live with her daughter in Spokane, Washington state on May 22/23, 1922.

Her death date is a perfect bookend for Leona Dare… was it the 22nd or the 23rd? It doesn’t matter in the long-run, I suppose…

When I saw that “poster” of Dare in the Smithsonian, I figured it would be a quick couple of paragraphs and done with an easy-peasy article.

Like Leona Dare and every single blog I have done here, nothing is as simple as it seems.

Posted in Air Shows, Aviation Art, Balloons, Lighter-Than-Air, People, Pilots, Stunt Flying | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Intricate Airplane Model Built From Paper

I don’t know about you, but I now have clumsy hands.

I’ve had my run as a kid building model kits of spacecraft, cars and airplanes and even didn’t do too badly constructing ancient sailing vessels that needed intricate rigging.

Then, as I got older I gravitated towards painting Dungeons and Dragons figurines, doing some pretty good work. The way I was able to accomplish that was me picking up the 25mm high figuring in my left hand, which would then shake… I would pick up my paintbrush in my right hand, which would then shake… and the only way I could paint was because both hands shook at the same vibrational speed and distance.

Now… maybe because I got physically bigger from working out, and then getting older and fatter, I now lack that delicate touch I had as a kid. Hmm… maybe getting older is legit. It could explain why when my mother dusted my model kits such as my old Phoenician boat, she would wreck them worse than any Tyrian (Tyre) military force could, with rigging being undone by her kindness. I don’t even want to tell you what happened to my old Viking ship.

Which brings me to the following video of a young man, who when he was 16 years old, began building a very intricate model kit from scratch of an Air India Boeing 777 jet of all things.

He used manila folder paper cut to size, and… here’s the best part… he made the model functional… IE, landing gears go up and down, fan blades in the GE Aviation GE90-115B engines move… filled it with seats, cockpit materials… and again… all made from paper.

He still has to complete the wings, however.

Watch the YouTube video of the now 25-year-old Luca Iaconi-Stewart, as he shows off his amazing work of art – nine years (and counting) in the making.

My hands are shaking just watching him manipulate the airplane. This guy is amazing.

Posted in Aviation Art, People | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment