Bridgeport, CT. – August 29, 1906

Bridgeport, Connecticut – August 29, 1906

 

Newark Evening Star & Newark Advertiser
June 10, 1911

     On August 29, 1906, aeronaut Fred L. Owens of Haverhill, Massachusetts, was giving a balloon/parachute performance at the Southport carnival.  His act included a triple parachute drop.  The first chute opened without mishap, and when he cut away from it, the second also opened as it should, but when he attempted to deploy the third chute it failed to open, and he plummeted  1,100 feet into an elm tree.  The tree miraculously broke his fall and saved his life, but he was knocked unconscious from the fall.  Owens was taken to Bridgeport Hospital where doctors were amazed to discover that no bones were broken.   Owens recovered from his ordeal and went on to become a well-known and successful aeronaut.   

     This wasn’t the only close call Mr. Owens experienced.  In August of 1913, while performing before 2,000 people at the University of Florida fairgrounds in Ocala, Florida, Owens fell 100 feet from his balloon and came down in a pine tree.  According to the Ocala Banner, he “arose calmly, lit a cigarette, and declared he was not hurt.”  

     Sources:

     The Old Town Enterprise, (Old Town, Me.), “Aeronaut Takes Tumble”, September 1, 1906, page 2

     Ocala Banner, “Ocala Looses To Gainsville”, August 8, 1913

Earle Ovington Fair Advertisement – 1911

Earle Ovington Fair Advertisement – 1911

     Earle Ovington, (1879 – 1936), was a pioneer aviator from new England.  The advertisement below is for an event that took place in Bridgeport, Connecticut, May 5, 6, 7, 1911.    

Click on image to enlarge.

Advertisement from the
Bridgeport Evening Farmer
May 4, 1911

The Lake Airships – 1908-09

The Lake Airships – 1908 – 09

 

     Christopher John Lake, (1847 – 1938), was an inventor, and father of Simon Lake, (1866 – 1945), the man who invented the Lake Submarine Boat. 

     On June 8, 1908, a short article appeared in The Hartford Courant, (Hartford, Ct.), announcing that Simon Lake, “inventor of the Lake submarine boat”, had patented a design for a new type of airship.    

     In the article Simon Lake was quoted as saying, “The new airship will be a combination of the dirigible balloon, the aeroplane, and the helicoppre.  I have been too busy with other work to devote the time that is necessary for building the new airship, and I will give a reward to the man who will build it and relieve me of the task.  I cannot go into the details of the invention at this time, but am satisfied it is one that has solved the problem of aerial navigation.”   

     It’s unknown if Simon’s airship was constructed, but the following article indicates that construction was begun in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on another airship designed by Simon’s father, Christopher Lake. 

     The following article appeared in the Norwich Bulletin, (Norwich, CT.), on September 28, 1909.

BRIDGEPORT AIRSHIP  

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Inventor Lake Hopes To Test It During October

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     Christopher J. Lake, the flying machine inventor, is completing the construction of his airship at Nutmeg Park, Bridgeport.  His force of mechanics are working daily, getting the invention ready for its first trials next month.  Just when the machine will be completed cannot be stated definitely, but Mr. Lake reiterated his statement that he expected to make his first flight during October.  

     He feels confident of having the machine ready for a trail flight before November 1, and within four weeks he ought to be able to give the first test of the machine.  He is working along novel lines and all of his theories have been demonstrated so that there should be no great question about the ability of the machine to fly. 

     There is a great deal of interest in this “Made in Bridgeport” flying machine which will be a combination of biplane and dirigible balloon.  When the airship is finished and private demonstrations made, Mr. Lake may give the public a chance to see it fly.  He is working now to demonstrate to his own satisfaction that his ideas of aerial navigation are correct.

     If he is successful, he will probably enter into the manufacture of the machines for sale the same as automobiles.  He says that no expert knowledge is required to operate an airship and that they can be manufactured for sale at reasonable cost.  Mr. Lake says that the time is not far distant when airships will be sold for pleasure purposes the same as automobiles, but perhaps not so numerously.  He is spending considerable money in the development of his machine and before the snow flies he may have other aviators at Nutmeg Park, the name of which would be changed to Lake Aerodrome.

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     Mr. Lake’s airship project was also mentioned in a publication called, Aeronautics – The American Magazine of Aerial Locomotion.  The brief article stated, “Charles J. Lake, of Bridgeport, father of Capt. Simon Lake, inventor of the Lake submarine boat, is at work on an apparatus of his own design and has secured an option from Stephen C. Osborne, owner of Hippodrome Park, where the new flying machine is to be built and tested.  Several men are now at work there to carry out the ideas of Mr. Lake, but their work is enshrouded in complete mystery, no one being privileged to give out any information in regard to it.

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     On September 16, 1909, it was reported in The Bridgeport Evening Farmer that an unidentified man had tried to break into the building where Mr. Lake’s airship was being constructed, but was driven off by a night watchman hired to guard the premises.   

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     Sources:

     Hartford Courant, “Lake Invents An Airship”, June 8, 1908

     Norwich Bulletin, “Bridgeport Airship”, September 28, 1909

     The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, “May Shoot Next Time”, September 16, 1909

     Aeronautics – The American Magazine Of Aerial Locomotion, “From Submarine To Airship”, September, 1909, page 111.

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daniel Mackney’s Flying Machine – 1911

     Daniel Mackney’s Flying Machine – 1911

     The following brief article appeared in The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, on March 7, 1911.  The man in the story, Daniel Mackney, lived on Colonial Ave. in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Boy Of 19 Has Novel Plan For Flying Machine 

     “Daniel Mackney, 19, who lives on Colonial Avenue, believes he has solved the problem of aerial navigation, and he will seek an opportunity to present his sketches and possibly a small model of his aeroplane to the Aero Club of Connecticut at its next meeting.

     Mr. Mackney’s plan calls for a machine with four planes driven by a propeller of 12 angles.  The lifting power is to come from air forced by the engine until it impacts against the planes from the underside.  The sketch also shows a novel form of brake, useful for holding the plane in position before it is ready to start, thus dispensing with the services of the four or five men now used to hold some machines back until things are ready for the flight.” 

 

Ernest Petin’s Connecticut Balloon Ascensions – 1852

Ernest Petin’s Connecticut Balloon Ascensions – 1852

 

    Early balloon with net Ernest Petin, (1812-1897), was a French aeronaut from Paris who experimented with various means of flight.  He came to America arriving in Boston in 1852, and furthered his research in Connecticut.   Like many aeronauts of his day, he hoped to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a balloon.

     The following news item appeared in The New York Herald on February 12, 1852:

     “M. Petin, the celebrated inventor of the theory of the aerial navigation, sailed from Havre for Boston, in the American ship Emperor, on the 14th instant, taking with him to the Unites States his three balloons, engines and machinery.

     It will be remembered that M. Petin was struggling with the Minister of the Interior and the Perfect of Police, to obtain their permission to produce his invention before the public.  This demand was finally rejected by the authorities, and the French aeronaut soon arrived at the decision to emigrate to America.  Perhaps before the end of the year, he will return to Europe, in his machine, across the Atlantic sea.”      

     It’s unknown when Mr. Petin made his first balloon ascension in the United States, but an advertisement in the New York Herald stated that Petin would make a “Grand Balloon Ascension” in one of his three large balloons at the Union Course on Long Island, New York, on May 21, 1852.  

     On July 4, 1852, large crowds had gathered at Bridgeport, Connecticut, to watch Mr. Petin make an advertised balloon ascension.  Unfortunately, as preparations were being made strong winds pulled the balloon loose from its moorings and sent it crashing into the eaves of a nearby home where the fabric was torn apart.  Petin suffered minor injuries.  

     On July 23, 1852, Mr. Petin made a balloon ascension from Bridgeport, Connecticut, with two companions with great results.  The Hartford Weekly Times pointed out that this was not the same balloon Petin was injured in on July 4th, which was described as “inferior” to the balloon utilized on the 24th.  

     The article gave no details of the July 4th accident, but research has uncovered a small news items that may shed some light.  On June 26, 1852, about eight days before the accident, a Virginia newspaper, The Daily Dispatch, reported the following: “Mons. Petin, the inventor of a new aerial machine, has announced his intention to make a balloon ascension on horseback during the celebration of the 4th of July.”   

     A Pennsylvania newspaper, The Weekly Lancaster Gazette, carried the same basic statement, however added that the event was to take place in New York.    

     In August of 1852, Petin made another balloon ascension from Bridgeport, Connecticut, in a balloon measuring 25 feet long and 70 feet in diameter, with a boat attached underneath.  With him were Gustave Regnard of France, and a Mr. Wood of Bridgeport.    

     64 men reportedly held the ropes securing the balloon until the signal to release was given.  The craft quickly rose to an altitude of 10,000 feet and began drifting towards Long Island Sound.  While passing over the Sound it rose to 22,000 feet where the temperature was recorded at 9 degrees below zero. 

     The cold was intense, and one of the men, it was not stated who, was “benumbed”, and “fell into a profound sleep”.  With great difficulty, Petin managed to open the release valve and descend rapidly to 13,000 feet.

     The balloon landed without incident at Riverhead, New York, a village on Long Island, New York.      

     On September 6, 1852, Petin and three companions made another ascension from Bridgeport in what was said to be the largest balloon ever used in the United States.  It measured 100 feet tall and 72 feet around, and contained 3,500 cubic feet of gas. 

     It rose to an altitude of 23,500 feet as it was carried over Long Island Sound, and then Long Island itself before coming down in the Atlantic Ocean six miles from shore.  Petin and his companions were rescued by members of the Coast Guard Lifesaving Station in Bridgehampton, Long Island.     

     On October 14, 1852, Petin made yet another ascension from Bridgeport which ended with similar results as the previous trip made a month earlier.  This time the balloon hit the water two miles from shore off South Hampton, Long Island, and once again Petin and his companions were rescued by the Coast Guard.  

     The following year Mr. Petin began making ascensions in New Orleans, La.

     Sources:

     The New York Herald, (Morning Edition), (No Headline) February 12, 1852

     The Daily Dispatch, (Richmond, Va.) “Balloon Ascension On Horseback”, June 26, 1852

     The Weekly Lancaster Gazette, July 1, 1852

     New Orleans Daily Crescent, “A Collapse” , July 15, 1852 

     Hartford Weekly Times, (CT.)  “Balloon Ascension”, July 24, 1852

     Jeffersonian Republican, (Stroudsburg, Pa.), “Great Balloon Ascension”, August 19, 1852

     A History of the Town of Stratford and the City of Bridgeport, Part II, by Samuel Orcutt, Fairfield Co. Historical Society, Bridgeport, Ct. C. 1886

     Weekly National Intelligencer, (Washington, DC), “Narrow Escape Of Ballonists”, October 16, 1852 

Earl L. Ovington – Early New England Aviator

Earl L. Ovington – Early New England Aviator

   early monoplane illustration

     There’s evidence to suggest that Gustave Whitehead was the first to fly an airplane in Connecticut – in 1901 – which pre-dates the Wright Brothers flight at Kittyhawk, North Carolina, in 1903.  However, could it be that Whitehead’s accomplishment was relatively unknown in 1911?  If so, it might explain the following headline in The Bridgeport Evening Farmer on May 6, 1911; “Ovington, First To Make Successful Flight In Connecticut, Has Narrow Esacpe As Plane Drops Into Air Hole”.  

      Earl L. Ovington, (1879-1936) (Also spelled “Earle” in some sources.) was a pioneer aviator from Newton, Massachusetts, who’d worked as an assistant to Thomas Edison prior to starting his aviation career.      

Advertisement from the
Bridgeport Evening Farmer
May 4, 1911

     The Bridgeport Evening Farmer article referred to a harrowing flight Ovington made on May 5, 1911 at Steeplechase Park (On Steeplechase Island) in Bridgeport, Connecticut. 

     The article began, “At Steeplechase Island yesterday afternoon Earl L. Ovington wrote his name deep into aviation history by making the first really successful aeroplane flight in the state of Connecticut.”

     The article went on to describe how Ovington’s Bleriot aeroplane dipped in “a dreaded air pocket” while at 2,000 feet over a crowd of spectators, and narrowly missed slamming into the ground.   As a point of fact, he’d had three brushes with death on the same flight.

     The first involved his take-off where he narrowly missed crashing into a building.  The second was when the plane hit the so-called “air pocket” and experienced a sudden dip.  During the dip, Ovinton remained in his seat due to his “life belt” holding him securely in place, thus saving him from being pitched to the ground.

     “These lifebelts are great things.” he joked later, “I don’t see why they are not included in the fashion plates of all aviators.”    

     As the plane’s right wing suddenly dipped when it entered the “air pocket”, the aircraft began falling from the sky, and it seemed virtually certain that Ovington was going to crash, but he recovered control of the plane just in time.  

        In an exclusive interview with a reporter from the The Bridgeport Farmer, Ovington described what happened that day.  

     “I certainly thought for a moment at the start yesterday that there was going to be a big dent in that ball room, with a wrecked machine and probably a wrecked aviator beneath it.

     That Steeplechase track is certainly the smallest and worst field I ever arose from or attempted to alight into.  I had great difficulty in getting a proper start over that sub-soil of sand.  The small wheels loaded down with the heavy motor, sank into it and retarded badly.

     When I got into the air I pushed down the tail of the machine and started to rise.  My Machine didn’t respond the way it should, and I saw that I wasn’t going fast enough.

     I had a fraction of a second in which to make up my mind: to come down and start over again, or make an attempt to get over the buildings upon which I was sweeping.

     I find that my mind works automatically in such cases quicker than I can think.  I realized instantaneously that to come down would mean that I would plough right into the fence and the spectators at (the) speed I was traveling.

     So Instead, I straightened out the tail and shot straight ahead, plumb for the buildings.  It must have looked as thought I was going to crash right into them with terrific force.  I took that course on purpose, in order to get sufficient speed .  Then I lowered the tail hard, and the monoplane lifted up nicely and just cleared the flag pole of the ball room.

     Over every building of that kind there is a heavy stream of air when there is a wind blowing.  As soon as I had cleared the ball room, my wings struck the stream of air and I went directly up then at a sharp angle.  But I owe my life and the safety of my machine to the splendid way in which my engine worked in lifting me over that building.  If it had failed, there would have been a great wreck. 

     Once in the air, my machine asserted its right to be what it is – the fastest climbing machine in the world.  I went up at an angle of 30 degrees.  There isn’t another machine in America that can do it.

     When I was making my second turn over the Sound (Long Island Sound) at a height of about 2,000 feet, I experienced what I consider to be the narrowest shave of my career as an aviator.

     Without warning, my right wing dropped into an “air pocket” or calm space, and immediately sank down, tilting the machine at a sharp angle.  There is only one way to save yourself in a case like that.  I lowered the machine quickly, and the downward plunge gave me sharp acceleration.  At the same instant I jammed over as hard as I could and the machine just righted itself.”

     When he was safely back on terra firma, Ovington kissed his new bride of two weeks, who had watched the entire event unfold.

     Ovington flew again at Steeplechase Park on May 7th, and once again he nearly died when his airplane hit another “air pocket” and almost crashed in the same manner as before.   

     On June 15, 1911, slightly more than a month after his flights at Steeplechase Park, Ovington’s fame grew when became the first man to pilot an airplane over the city of Boston. 

     On July 28, 1911, Ovington crash-landed a borrowed airplane in Mineola, New York.  On July 29th the Bridgeport Evening Farmer reported that the aviator “had the most remarkable escape of his life” when he took off in anew monoplane belonging to William Evans.  Not long after becoming airborne the engine quit, and the plane crash-landed and flipped over near a roadway construction project not far from the airfield.  Ovington was pinned beneath the wreckage for ten minutes before rescuers could extricate him.  Despite the damage to the aircraft, he escaped with minor injuries.  

     In August of 1911, Ovington  entered the International Aviation Meet held in Chicago, and won the 12 mile race for monoplanes with a time of 13 minutes and 30.92 seconds,  winning $400.  

     In September of 1911 he entered the Harvard-Boston Aero meet where he raced other well known airmen, Tom Sopwith, and Claude Graham-White, 15 an 1/2 miles to Boston Light and back. Ovington placed third with a time of 16 minutes 15.25 seconds. 

     One Sunday in October of 1911 Ovington was nearly arrested on Long Island, New York, when three deputy sheriffs appeared at the Nassau Boulevard field and told him and another aviator, Miss Mathilda Moisant, they couldn’t fly their airplanes due to it being the Sabbath.  This was due to a New York court ruling which determined that Sunday airshows where admission was charged were illegal.  

     This left both pilots in a predicament as they would be forced to leave their airplanes overnight, and make arrangements for guarding them.  Both aviators flew anyway, with the deputies in hot pursuit via automobile.

     As both took to the sky the deputies were forced to make a choice as to which one to chase.  For unspecified reasons they stuck with Miss Moisant who flew from the field to her hangar in Mineola, which was located on her brother Alfred’s property.  Once on the ground she ran towards her car where her chauffer was standing by, and secured herself inside. The three deputy sheriffs arrived in short order and attacked the chauffer with billy-clubs when he tried to prevent them from extricating Miss Moisant. 

     Miss Moisant was taken into custody, but was later released with all charges dropped because the deputies didn’t have a warrant.   

     Meanwhile, Ovington fared better, and landed near Belmont Park when he encountered a squall that nearly wrecked his aircraft.  By then the deputies had no idea where he’d gone and he escaped arrest.   

     Another interesting story about Earl Ovington occurred in the summer of 1919 when he flew two New York men,  J. O. Colt, and L. W. Hutchins, six miles out to sea in a seaplane so they could fish for sea bass.  It was reported that they returned with a string of fish. 

     In November of 1919, Ovington took part in an airborne search-and-rescue operation off the coast of New Jersey.  On November 7th, two 16-year-old youths, John Ledbetter, and Raymond Iszard, went duck hunting in a small boat and were carried out to sea.  When the boys didn’t come home a search was instituted.  In addition to water craft, two seaplanes from the Cape May Naval Air Station, and Earl Ovington’s personal aircraft, took part in the search.    

     The boat with the youths still inside was found by one of the navy planes about three miles off Cape May.  Unfortunately both had succumbed to exposure.

     More information about Earl Ovington can be found at www.earlyaviators.com

     Sources:

     The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, “Ovington, First To Make Successful Flight In Connecticut, Has Narrow Escape As Plane Drops Into Air Hole”, May 6, 1911 

     The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, “Ovington In Flight Over Steeplechase” , May 6, 1911, page 7

     The Bridgeport Evening Farmer, “Earl Ovington’s Narrow Escape”, July 29, 1911, page 7.

     Burlington Weekly Free Press, “Aviators Speed Mile-A-Minute”, September 7, 1911, Page 9

     The Daily Missoulian, Photo and caption, August 14, 1911, Page 3 

     (Rock island Ill.) Rock Island Argus, “Third Day Results In Aviation Meet”, August 15, 1911, page 3

     Arizona Republican, “Miss Moisant Is called Aviatrix”, October 9, 1911, pg. 1

     (Ocala, Florida) The Ocala Evening Star, “Struck A Woman To Save The Sabbath”, October 10, 1911 

     The Washington Times, “Fish From Plane Six Miles At Sea”, July 12, 1919, final edition

     New York Tribune, “Bodies Of Two Boys Found Drifting In Boat”, November 11, 1919, Page 3

 

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