TexasEscapes.com HOME Welcome to Texas Escapes
A magazine written by Texas
Custom Search
New   |   Texas Towns   |   Ghost Towns   |   Counties   |   Trips   |   Features   |   Columns   |   Architecture   |   Images   |   Archives   |   Site Map

Columns
History/Opinion

Books by
Michael Barr
Order Here:
Texas | Columns

"Hindsights"

Looking back at:

Those Crazy Flying Machines

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

The high-pitched whine of an aircraft engine, straining to gain altitude, is a familiar sound at Gillespie County Airport, but a hundred years ago mechanical noises of any kind were unusual in rural Texas. Most folks in Fredericksburg had never heard or seen a flying machine until 3 biplanes landed in a field southwest of town on Christmas Day 1919.

The planes left Kelly Field in San Antonio that morning bound for El Paso. The pilots, Lt. St. John, Lt. Penney and Lt. Peabody, were all experienced aviators and instructors at Kelly. Each pilot carried a mechanic in the second seat.

The trip had 2 objectives. The pilots and mechanics were part of a nationwide project to map and photograph air routes between cities. Another purpose of the trip was to encourage an interest in air travel.

The stopover in Fredericksburg wasn't exactly encouraging.

The planes left San Antonio at 9:45 am. The weather was good, but soon after takeoff the pilots hit a 30 mph headwind.

The planes could only fly 60 mpg, and after 90 minutes of hard flying they had only gotten as far as Fredericksburg. By then they were low on fuel and needed a place to land.

But there was a problem. Recent heavy rains had soaked Gillespie County. When the pilots looked for a place to touch down, they saw pools of water standing in every field. The moisture glistened in the sunlight.

After spending 35 minutes buzzing the countryside around Fredericksburg, Lt. St. John, the commander of the expedition, selected a field southwest of town as the best spot to attempt a landing.

One by one the planes came in. All landed safely. A crowd of country folk soon gathered to get a closer look at the noisy contraptions that scattered their cattle, spooked their horses and scared their chickens half to death. Children thought the airplanes carried Santa Claus.

The pilots and mechanics hitched a ride into town where the people of Fredericksburg, after learning of the aviators' friendly intentions, treated them as heroes.

The Red Cross entertained the fliers with Christmas lunch at the Nimitz Hotel. There was another event at the Dietz Hotel.

Later that afternoon a group of townspeople escorted the pilots back to their planes, now fully loaded with gasoline. But the air had turned cold, and the pilots had trouble starting the engines.

Finally the engines started, and after warming up for a few minutes, the pilots positioned the planes for takeoff. Spectators crossed their fingers as the planes attempted to get back in the air. The ground was so soft there was fear that the planes could not get up the speed required for takeoff.

Lt. St John was the first to go. He gunned the engine, released the brake and sloshed across the soggy field, gaining speed until he slowly climbed into the air. Lt. Peabody followed and was soon airborne. But Lt. Penney's plane couldn't get up enough speed. His machine plowed into the barbed wire fence at the end of the clearing.

No one was injured, but the plane was a wreck.

Seeing the fate of his traveling companions Lt. St. John came around and landed again, but when he tried to take off the second time, he could not clear the fence.

Then Lt. Peabody landed in a nearby field. After making sure his companions were not injured, he managed to take off successfully a second time although he missed by a whisker some oak trees along the fence line. He landed safely at Kelly Field 65 minutes later.

Lt. St. John, Lt. Penney and their mechanics caught a ride back to San Antonio, probably on the train. Two army trucks hauled the mangled planes back to Kelly Field.

Soon other planes flew over Fredericksburg continuing the job of mapping and photographing air routes.

As to the part about promoting air travel, the people of Fredericksburg might be forgiven for wondering if travel by airplane was all it was cracked up to be.


Sources:
"Three Airplanes at Fredericksburg," Fredericksburg Standard, January 4, 1919.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" September 17, 2019 Column


More Texas Aviation & Aviators


"Hindsights" by Michael Barr

  • Last Dance at Pat's Hall 9-3-19
  • Lange's Mill 8-16-19
  • Krauskopf's Gun Cap Factory 8-1-19
  • Superior Hospital Care Didn't Happen Overnight 7-15-19
  • Drinking Beer Under the Trees at Albert 7-1-19

    See More »

  • Related Topics:
    Texas Aviation & Aviators

    More Columns

    "Hindsights" by Michael Barr

  • Last Dance at Pat's Hall 9-3-19
  • Lange's Mill 8-16-19
  • Krauskopf's Gun Cap Factory 8-1-19
  • Superior Hospital Care Didn't Happen Overnight 7-15-19
  • Drinking Beer Under the Trees at Albert 7-1-19

    See More »


  •  

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


    Texas Escapes Online Magazine »   Archive Issues » Home »
    TEXAS TOWNS & COUNTIES TEXAS LANDMARKS & IMAGES TEXAS HISTORY & CULTURE TEXAS OUTDOORS MORE
    Texas Counties
    Texas Towns A-Z
    Texas Ghost Towns

    TEXAS REGIONS:
    Central Texas North
    Central Texas South
    Texas Gulf Coast
    Texas Panhandle
    Texas Hill Country
    East Texas
    South Texas
    West Texas

    Courthouses
    Jails
    Churches
    Schoolhouses
    Bridges
    Theaters
    Depots
    Rooms with a Past
    Monuments
    Statues

    Gas Stations
    Post Offices
    Museums
    Water Towers
    Grain Elevators
    Cotton Gins
    Lodges
    Stores
    Banks

    Vintage Photos
    Historic Trees
    Cemeteries
    Old Neon
    Ghost Signs
    Signs
    Murals
    Gargoyles
    Pitted Dates
    Cornerstones
    Then & Now

    Columns: History/Opinion
    Texas History
    Small Town Sagas
    Black History
    WWII
    Texas Centennial
    Ghosts
    People
    Animals
    Food
    Music
    Art

    Books
    Cotton
    Texas Railroads

    Texas Trips
    Texas Drives
    Texas State Parks
    Texas Rivers
    Texas Lakes
    Texas Forts
    Texas Trails
    Texas Maps
    USA
    MEXICO
    HOTELS

    Site Map
    About Us
    Privacy Statement
    Disclaimer
    Contributors
    Staff
    Contact Us

     
    Website Content Copyright Texas Escapes LLC. All Rights Reserved