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  < Back to Table Of Contents  < Back to Topic: Create & Innovate Plus Home Made Gifts & Games

article number 577
article date 07-28-2016
copyright 2016 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
America’s Early Stunt Pilot: Lincoln Beachey. From Dare-Devil to Dead, 1905-1915
by Hud Weeks
   

From February 1967 American Modeler Magazine.

* * *

World famous, the daring Beachey was a tremendous show attraction. They said he could fly a barndoor. Then, on the afternoon of March 14, 1915, he waved to a crowd of 50,000 and headed out over San Francisco Bay . . .

. . . Between1905 and 1909, Beachey became a famous airman for his daring exhibitions throughout the United States in Curtiss motorcycle engine-powered Baldwin-type lighter-than-airships. By 1910, however, at the first Los Angeles Air Meet, Beachey’s airship race with Roy Knabenshue created lesser interest; the crowds flocked instead, to see Glenn Curtiss and Louis Paulhan race airplanes.

Beachey’s lucrative airship exhibition career having ended, at the age of 23, Beachey promptly associated with Curtiss and learned to fly.

By early 1911, Beachey was giving airplane exhibitions and on August 20, 1911, he gained his reputation as a number one airman at the great Chicago Meet. Against the cream of the world’s aviators from France, England and the United States, he demonstrated there a mastery of control and daring none could match.

Beachey flew an early Curtiss pusher in one uninterrupted climb until the tank was dry, then volplaned back to the show grounds on the shores of Lake Michigan with a world’s altitude record of 11,642 ft.

My favorite photo of the Curtiss pushers typical of Beachey’s 1911 exhibitions shows the dapper Beachey in a Homberg hat, and there is a superb Rembrandt quality image of a very old man sitting on the packing boxes in Dubuque’s (Iowa) Nutwood Park waiting to see this miracle of science, the airplane, fly in the hands of the master. A transitional model, this V-8 Curtiss-engined airplane probably had a front elevator but in this photo retains only a front vertical surface.

   
Beachey’s favorite picture of himself—at Chicago in 1914—was X’mas card.

During 1912, Beachey flew in air meets in Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago. He tested planes for Curtiss and gave exhibitions all over the U.S.—Elmira, Hamilton (Ohio), Peoria, Lawrence (Kansas), and Milwaukee, to name a few.

His license was suspended twice—once for lacking sanction; once for flying over Chicago’s Michigan Boulevard. He announced his retirement and entry into the real estate business at the end of the year.

One 1911 photo I have shows his low acrobatics at the spectator’s eye level. In this photo all the front surfaces are gone, tires are bigger, ship is sturdier, especially the landing gear.

In 1913 Aero & Hydro magazine had him working with Curtiss on the first Curtiss tractor, the forerunner of the Jenny. In September, 1913, the Frenchman Pegoud, finally executed the first true loop in a Bleroit, and at this news, Beachey fairly exploded with renewed activity to regain his mythical crown.

He immediately ordered a new heavy Curtiss, beefed up for looping. This special one cracked up in its Hammondsport tests, probably in October. The ship was a complete washout; a spectator was killed.

Beachey’s injuries must have been minor, for in November, at San Diego, with a 90 hp Curtiss OX engine in a new biplane, he demonstrated loops, spirals and 8,000 ft. dives. A small photo in my collection shows Beachey looping the Curtiss Pusher. His name was on top of the wing in large letters.

   
Lincoln Beachey in Curtiss biplane with Curtiss OX engine.

During the fall of 1913, in a series of California Air Shows ending December 27, at Tanforan Park, San Francisco Bay area, Beachey’s acrobatics and great exhibitions were the main topic of conversation in aviation circles everywhere.

When, in 1914, the well-known Early Bird Art Mix, wrote his article, “My 82,000 Miles With Lincoln Beachey”, he was referring to his trips as mechanic with Beachey that year. Mix wrote of special trains, jumps from Massachusetts to California, flights over 126 cities, 17,000,000 people entertained and regular advertisements—"Beachey flies 3 p.m. rain, shine or cyclone.” Other photos I have depict some of his activities in the spring of 1914.

One shows a beautiful tractor biplane designed by Charles Willard while working for Glenn Martin. Ordered by Beachey without a horizontal stabilizer for looping, the airplane—quite like a Sopwith Tabloid—proved uncontrollable in acrobatics and landed in a tree.

Another (with this article) shows Beachey and his Curtiss inside Machinery Hall at the Pan Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. As I remember, Art Mix told me this flight ended in damage to the aircraft.

   
Beachey’s hop inside the 300-foot Machinery Hall at San Francisco damaged the plane. This photograph was posed on wires.

Another, also with this article, shows the famous Niagara Falls flight. Unfortunately, an earnest retouching artist destroyed some of the detail of this great photo.

   
Beachey flies under the Niagara Bridge in 1911. After quitting in 1913 with a bitter blast against morbid crowds out for thrills, he felt compelled to resume flying.

Some time after the 1914 flights, possibly in April, Beachey went to France and bought the latest model rotary engine obtainable, an 80 hp Gnome. Speeds were rising in Europe with these low-weight, aircooled rotary engines.

Though the Martin tractor had failed him as an acrobat, Beachey evidently liked its 50 hp Gnome powerplant. He commissioned Warren Eaton to build his most famous mount, the clipped wing Curtiss-type pusher known as “The Little Looper” or “Pocket Pusher” for the new engine. I believe Art Mix helped build this airplane in Chicago.

   
Dressed for his famous Madame X performance, Oakland, 1914. (M. L. Cohen photograph.)

In May, 1914, Beachey thrilled Chicago with loops and 80 mph speeds in The Little Looper. Embarking at once on an exhibition tour of the Midwest, he looped for Orville Wright at Dayton, flew fairs throughout Indiana, Illinois and Iowa (I have a fine, 75 ft., 35 mm. movie of his Iowa State Fair exhibition). He raced Eddie Rickenbacker in an auto at this fair. Closeup was a postcard.

Another closeup sold over 1,000,000 copies at 10 cents each. It shows Warren Eaton with the prime can, Beachey in checked cap and stiff collar, Art Mix at the propeller. It was taken at Elkhart, Indiana.

   
Low over an Iowa race track, Beachey displayed the ease and abandon which typified his flying. One picture of Beachey sold 1,000,000 copies at a dime apiece.

The view of Beachey, low over the crowd in the race track stands shows the ease and abandon that characterized his flying. Another picture shows the superb trim that Mix and Eaton obtained. Beachey flew hands-off, between poles almost touching the ground—this at the North Randall track in Cleveland.

In another picture in my collection, the Little Looper is shown with wing extensions which Eaton told me were tried in order to increase lift at high-altitude cities such as Denver. He also incorporated the ailerons into the wings.

Late in 1914, Beachey commissioned Eaton to build still another small fast ship—this time a light monoplane for his 1915 exhibitions. While the monoplane was under construction, Beachey and Mix were booked all over the West Coast by promoter Bill Pickens.

At Fresno, Sacramento and Oakland, crowds witnessed the famous Beachey-Oldfield plane car race, saw “Linc” loop up to 80 consecutive times; watched his sickening vertical drops from 5,000 ft. Thus ended his busiest exhibition year.

   
Beachy races Barney Oldfield in his Curtiss Pusher Biplane.

Beachey and Pickens staged a New Year’s Day show in San Francisco in 1915. With the papers full of war news, a mock-up wooden battleship, well planted with dynamite and fireworks was realistically “bombed” by Beachey to tie-in with the news.

Later in January, Beachey was in San Diego helping Curtiss test six army planes while awaiting the opening of the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in February. But only three weeks remained of the famous aviator’s life.

On February 21, 1915, he opened the Fair with a beautiful flight in the Little Looper, trailing white smoke through three loops and releasing a cage of white doves. Thereafter, he flew regular exhibitions at the Fair daily.

The monoplane, probably finished in January or early February, had been tested on the ocean beach ten or 12 miles south of Seal Rock’s Cliff House where the Christofferson brothers had a hangar. In the photo shown here note the large elevators and ailerons, ordered by Beachey, for better control in low, slow flying at race tracks.

   
Beachey, famous today for his biplane-auto Races with Barney Oldfield, needed more action, commissioned Warren Eaton to build this fast mono with big ailerons and flippers for slow flight over race tracks.

All control surfaces were interchangeable; the left aileron could be a right elevator if turned upside down. The trim little monoplane looked ready to leap into the air.

The few Monoplane specifications I have been able to glean from Mix and Eaton are listed herewith. (neither of these pioneers retained a plan of the airplane):
- Weight — 585 lbs. with gas and oil, 21 minutes supply;
- engine — 7-cylinder Gnome “A” Model Monosoupape 80 hp.;
- propeller — Flotorp, 8 ft. diameter walnut;
- span — 26 ft.;
- chord — 5 ft.;
- landing gear — 20" x 4" wheels, axles extended for attachment of wing flying wires;
- brace wires — two cables to each wing top and bottom, 5600 lbs. test strength;
- speed — 104 mph.

In tests, the Monoplane was fast and a beautiful thing in the air. Art Mix tells me that it was disassembled and stored at Christofferson’s hangar after a few flights. Evidently, Beachey deemed it unsuitable for his acrobatics and low, close work.

Some time late in February or early in March, the Fair officials requested that Beachey use the Monoplane in his exhibition, explaining that they wanted to honor his ten years of flying airships, biplanes and now a monoplane, with a medal being struck for the occasion.

   
Beachey flies his tried-and-true Curtiss Pusher at San Francisco Pacific Exposition.

On March 3, 1915, a reporter to the ’San Francisco Examiner’ found Beachey at Christofferson’s and interviewed him. He learned that Beachey had been daily flying the Little Looper to the beach after the show where Mix, in one hour, transferred the Gnome engine to the Monoplane for further tests.

On this date, Beachey said: “I will loop the ship at the Fair, but I won’t say what date.”

Between March 3rd and 13th, Beachey made several trips between the Fair and Christofferson’s to practice and to prepare the plane for exhibition. The excellent near side view in a previous picture, gives a clear picture of the foot brake, a plate hinged to drag on the front wheel.

   
Foot brake, a plate hinged to drag on the front wheel.

On the 13th, the Monoplane was flown at the fairgrounds three times. Beachey looped three times on the first flight. The second flight was a speed run. In the afternoon, the third flight was an 18-minute practice in the rain.

March 14th was a nice spring Sunday in San Francisco. At 3 p.m. Beachey flew the Monoplane from the fairgrounds. This was a short flight and he returned and visited with some friends on the field, from Yellowstone National Park.

At 3:30 p.m., he took off again but the engine was misfiring and he cut it back and came down. At 3:40 Beachey, with repairs made, started on the flight that was to be his last.

The next photo shows the polo grounds and the crowd, estimated at 50,000, with Beachey off the grass on his last flight. You can see his right hand raised in his last wave to the public. The modifications to his craft now included aluminum fuselage covering back to the tail. This picture angle illustrates the trailing edge aileron that caused the ship to be identified as “Taube” in so many newspaper and magazine descriptions.

   

Beachey flew out over the bay and climbed to 5,000 or 6,000 ft. Coming back over Alcatraz, he started a series of loops, losing altitude with each, until he reached 3,000 ft.

After his last loop, he climbed back to 3,500 ft. at approximately 3:55 p.m. Pushing the nose over, Beachey, (against the prior advice of Eaton, Mix and all his friends), went into his famous vertical dive for 1,000 ft. with power on.

Pushing it over still further into 45-degree inverted flight, so the crowd could read BEACHEY on top of his wings, the little ship reached a terrific speed and lost altitude very fast.

   
Lincoln Beachey was practiced at flying in his Curtiss Pusher Biplane. He was not well practiced in the new Monoplane.

Returning to his vertical drop at 1,000 ft. Beachey prepared to recover to normal altitude. At this point, his excessive speed and loss of altitude in the clean monoplane must have shaken him momentarily for he whipped the stick back abruptly to regain level flight.

At 500 ft., there was a loud sound as the left, and then the right, wing broke upwards. The stricken ship fell immediately into the bay.

The crash site was just off the fairgrounds between the Army Transport vessels ’Crook’ and ’Logan’, docked at Fort Mason in 35 ft. of water. On impact, Beachey’s safety belt must have held momentarily before tearing loose on the right side, he suffered only a broken right leg, one scalp cut, a black eye and bruises.

The metal cowl, however, crushed back over the cockpit, trapping Beachey within. Art Mix, Warren Eaton and Hillary Beachey, Lincoln’s brother started running for the dock area when they saw Beachey use power in the dive.

Leo Weeks (uncle of the writer), a Petty Officer with the mid-day watch on the battleship ’Oregon’, which was then at anchor in the bay, ordered Seaman Grace, the Oregon’s diver, and his gear into the motor launch and shoved off with the crew for the crash scene. At 4:15 p.m., just 20 minutes after the crash, Grace made his first descent alongside the Crook at a spot where sailors and spectators were pointing. He surfaced in three minutes reporting little visibility in the murky water and soft mud bottom.

During his second dive, the motor launch crew saw bubbles and smelled gasoline in another area. A grappling hook was thrown at this location and held. Grace was signaled to arise immediately. On his third dive, he used the grappling line as a guide and felt the wreck immediately. He tied the grappling line around the fuselage at the tail and surfaced.

Warren Eaton was consulted and it was decided the empennage would stand the strain of recovery. A lighter with a crane then raised the Monoplane swinging it against the Crook. It was now 4:30. Beachey had been under water 35 minutes.

When the wreck cleared the water, Oregon sailors in the motor launched pulled back the smashed cowl and lifted Beachey clear. He was wrapped in canvas and hoisted aboard the Crook by deck-hands. Within seconds, the thousands of persons present removed their hats in silent tribute. Aboard the Crook, doctors pronounced the death by drowning of the great Lincoln Beachey.

Thus, San Francisco, Beachey’s home and birthplace. became his final resting place.

   
Beachey and his new Monoplane.

On March 22, 1915, the Pacific Aero Club received the following accident report (condensed by the author):

“Mr. Guy T. Slaughter, President, Pacific Aero Club, San Francisco, Calif.—Dear Sir: In accordance with your telephone request of Monday, March 15, 1:15, we, the undersigned, constituting a special committee, investigated the cause of the fatal accident to Aviator Lincoln Beachey, March 14th, while flying at the Panama Pacific International Exposition, and submit the following conclusions and report:

"We are convinced that Aviator Lincoln Beachey met his death by reason of collapse of his Monoplane, accounted for by coining out of a vertical drop too suddenly.

“It is our opinion that Mr. Beachey misjudged his speed by reason of the fact that his body and face were protected by enclosed fuselage and windshield, in all previous vertical drops, he had used a Curtiss-type biplane (pusher) where he was exposed to the full force of air pressure which aided him in judging his speed;

"he came down closer to the ground than he intended and then over-controlled in an effort to resume normal line of flight, before descending so low that he could not reach his landing place.

"The Committee is of the opinion that Mr. Beachey had attained a speed of 180 mph when he endeavored to resume a normal line of flight. According to the consensus of opinion of numerous eye-witnesses, including members of your Committee, Mr. Beachey made a preliminary vertical drop prior to his upside-down flight from an altitude of about 3,500 ft.; it is estimated that from this altitude he made a dive of 1,000 ft. before beginning the upside-down flight.

"It is estimated that he flew in the upside-down flight at an angle of about 45 degrees, losing about 1,500 ft in altitude before beginning the last vertical drop.

"The last vertical drop is estimated at 500 ft., bringing him down to within approximately 500 ft. of the ground, at which point he attempted to resume normal line of flight and both wings collapsed, folding against the sides of the fuselage.

"Mr. Beachey’s motor was running the last two-third’s of the upside-down, which was contrary to his usual practice, and continued to run until he struck the water.

“The Monoplane used by Mr. Beachey was designed by Mr. Warren Eaton, who designed the two biplanes used by Mr. Beachey during the season of 1914. The monoplane was intended for a speed of 103 mph in normal flight, the factor of safety being 7-to-1 at that speed; in practice it developed a speed of 105 mph.

"Your Committee, however, figures that the plane would have been absolutely safe up to a speed of 150 mph. Your Committee examined the wreckage and found all control and stay wires intact, and that all materials used in the machine were well selected and the workmanship excellent. Furthermore, we find that both wings broke at practically the same distance from the fuselage.

“The autopsy surgeon is of the opinion that Mr. Beachey actually lost his life from drowning.

“Mr. Beachey had previously executed loops in public with this monoplane, but as stated before had never either in practice or publicly attempted to do his vertical drop and upside-down flying in this machine or in any other monoplane.

“Your Committee greatly appreciates the assistance rendered by Mr. Warren Eaton, designer, and to Mr. Arthur H. Mix, Mr. Beachey’s mechanician.” (Signed) Robert Fowler, Aviator, Chairman; Roy
N. Francis, Aviator; Carl T. Sjolander, Aviator; Chas. H. Paterson, Manufacturer of Aeroplanes; L. A. Wallace, Aeronautical Draughtsman; Jay Gage, Aeroplane Designer and Manufacturer, of Los Angeles, serving at special request of Chairman.

   
Beachey and his new Monoplane.

The following notes were made on the accident report by Warren Eaton:

1. Factor at 180 mph equal 2.16. Controls twice oversize needed for normal flight. Built oversize for Beachey’s fast use when near ground at 100 mph. Square of speed x twice control equals wreck. (Later his speed was actually calculated at 240-250 mph.)

2. Factor 7-to-1, calculated at 100 mph. Factor at 150 mph—3.1-to-1. Factor at 250 mph—1.1-to-1. Any over-control would wreck plane.

   
Close-up of Lincoln Beachey flying his monoplane.

The following comments were published in ’Aeronautics’ magazine, 4/15/1915 issue. These are excerpts, the reporter an eyewitness:

“The ship was an excellent job, one of the neatest planes I’ve ever seen, staunch in every detail. His death was due solely to the aviator’s inexperience in flying such a light monoplane.

"The machine dropped fully 250-300 mph. No monoplane or biplane could have withstood the strain of such falling force.”

Some final quotes on Beachey: Bill Pickens: “Beachey was a professional daredevil. He retired four times but professional daredevils never quit.”

Glenn L. Martin: “Beachey was hardened to hazard.”

James R. Hickey: Yellowstone Stage Company, last friend to chat with him: “I dared not mention his apparent apprehension before the last flight; he was too dauntless.”

Beachey himself, to a ’Bulletin’ reporter at Emoryville Racetrack. “If I get killed, it will be in a monoplane, but I’ll tame one some day.”

Regarding the disposal of Beachey’s equipment—Katherine Stinson bought the wreck and the Little Looper. She hired Art Mix and went on a successful tour with a Partridge Tractor powered with Beachey’s famous Gnome 80.

Mix put a 50 hp Gnome in the Little Looper, which was sold to Cliff Cook, who promptly cracked it up in the South on a tour.

Beachey’s 80 Gnome is safe in private hands today, pickled and ready to run.

Credits: The writer wishes to thank the following for photos and/or eye-witness impressions, advice, etc.: Art Mix, Warren Eaton, Leo Weeks, Willis Nye, Ernie Hall, Charles Willard, Mrs. Ruth Solbrig Adams, Bert Dudek, George Shane, Harold Morehouse and Fred Howard.

   
Lincoln Beachey, 1887-1915.
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