Story Walk: flight

Story Walk: "flight"

First Flight in Rochester by William C. Emerson

In 1910 the first flight ever made in Rochester took place at Crittenden Park (near today's Strong Memorial Hospital). The pilot was Eugene Ely, a member of the famed Glenn Curtiss Exhibition Team. Ely, only 23, had been touring the country and had already demonstrated flight in many cities for the first time. For his flight here he brought a new 39 horsepower Curtiss pusher biplane he had just procured in Hammondsport and he named the craft Valkyire.

There was great anticipation in Rochester for this event, with many newspaper advertisements and articles- even one about a young woman who would have liked to ride aloft with Ely except that her mother disapproved! The first flight had originally been scheduled earlier in the week but Ely was forced to cancel due to dangerous wind gusts. Disappointed attendees were issued "wind checks."

Finally on Saturday, August 6th 1910, the big event occurred. The afternoon wind had eased sufficiently that just after 6 PM Ely took off from the very bumpy grass field. His 3/4-mile flight was made before a crowd of 3000, as reported by the Rochester Herald. The newspaper further added that no one was disappointed. The following day Ely took off twice more, travelling over Genesee Valley Park each time on flights of some 3 miles.

Ely gained worldwide acclaim the following November when he made the first take off from a ship, using a specially built platform at the bow of the cruiser Birmingham. Then in January 1911, he made the first shipboard landing, alighting on a similar platform on the stern of the cruiser Pennsylvania, then taking off again. Thus the age of the aircraft carrier was launched. The Navy has recognized Ely's accomplishments by installing him in the Aviation Hall of Fame.

Those early days of flight were risky and few retired before being killed. Tragically, Ely died in a plane crash in Georgia just over a year after he flew the first flights ever in Rochester - just 2 days before his 25th birthday. Not surprisingly, he was doing what he loved, exhibition flights before a large crowd.