Facsimile Masthead of The Missoulian newspaper on June 29, 1911
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Eugene Ely Flights at Fort Missoula

Missoulian Article June 29, 1911

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With a stiff breeze blowing from the west, Aviator Eugene Ely made three ascensions in his Curtiss biplane from the baseball park at Fort Missoula yesterday, giving to the 3,000 or more people assembled there an exhibition of aeronautics which excelled even that in Butte. The aviator dipped and turned and performed all of the wonderful tricks of his science for the wondering spectators. It was something well worth traveling miles to see. The first two flights were made by Ely alone, but on the third the aviator took with him his chief mechanician, William Hoff, a big man weighing easily more than 150 pounds. This flight, which was made apparently with all of the ease of the two preceding, established a record, for two men have never before flown at this altitude, 3,200 feet. It was the second ascent, however, which was the beautiful one of the whole show. Then Ely flew toward the mountains to the south until his machine was almost lost to view, and circled and swooped above the field.

Long before the time appointed for the flight there was a crowd on the field, watching the preparations for the exhibition, and long after 5 o'clock, when the first ascent was made, the people came hurrying to the field on street cars, by railroad and on the highway. When, with a thrumming of giant propellers, the machine shot across the field and then rose swiftly and gracefully into the air, there was a gasp of admiration from the crowd. The aviator rose high above the field, now dipping above the heads of the crowd, now wheeling and turning easily against the stiff breeze.

In the air.

The flight itself did not seem wonderful enough. the aviator handled the machine so easily that it seemed natural and simple. There was not a quiver or a flutter in the planes during the whole performance except perhaps on the turns when Hoff was in the machine. On the second flight Ely circled for a moment above the spectators and then headed straight for the mountains south of the city. With the wind behind him, he flew swiftly south until the aeroplane was lost to sight except for the flash of the sun on the planes or on the whirling propeller blades. Then he wheeled and made his way back. As he neared the crowd he dipped and came toward the earth, skimming a few feet above the heads of the spectators (Continued on Page Seven.) and sending them hurrying out of the way. Again he went into the air and again he dipped, this time making his landing.

On the third flight the addition of a passenger seemed to make the machine a little erratic on the turns, but otherwise it was as firm as ever. With Hoff aboard Ely swooped and dipped as daringly as when along and landed as easily before the stand.

It was a beautiful exhibition from start to finish and there was no one in the crowd who felt anything except satisfaction and enthusiasm. the spectators were certainly given their money's worth. The splendidly executed maneuvers of the bird-man gave new meaning to the words aviator and aeroplane to those who had never seen a flight before. Mr. Ely's work impressed upon all those who saw him the remarkable progress which a handful of daring men have made in the science of flying during the past decade.

The flat between the city and the field was dotted with people whose endurance had not equalled their curiosity and on Mount Sentinel and on Reservoir hill scores watched the flights. Near the field a small party of wandering Crees had pitched their tepees and from the backs of their ponies the stolid Indians, relics of the past, watched Ely fly in his most modern of machines above their heads. They did not move through the whole performance, but watched it spellbound and when it was finished went back to their camp fire.

Ely Pleased.

Mr. Ely was pleased with his day in Missoula. The flights were all satisfactory and the new record could not fail to delight him. Dr. Joseph Oettinger tried to buy his machine, it was reported. Mr. Ely said that some one asked him to sell it, but that he refused. "I would sell him one like it," the aviator said, "but not this one. I guess this machine has been in the air longer than any other in existence, and I have flown it so much that I have grown pretty fond of it. Today's flight made the machine's time in the air 109 hours and 20 minutes. I have had it since December last."

Mr. Ely left last night at 10:40 for Chico, Nev., where he is to fly on July 3. On the Fourth he will give an exhibition in Reno.

Ely's plane, weighing 1,585 when crated, will be shipped by express this morning, over the Puget Sound.

Reprinted with permission from the Missoulian.

Eugene Ely's Aviation Accomplishments

Eugene Ely will long be remembered as the first pilot to fly an airplane launched from the deck of a ship, and the first to land an airplane on the deck of a ship.

Eugene Ely in pilot's helmet

Flying as a test pilot for Glen Curtiss, Ely was given the opportunity to fly from a ship after Wilbur Wright refused the Navy's offer, feeling that such an attempt would be too risky. On November 14, 1910, Ely took off from a ramp hastily rigged on the forward deck of the cruiser Birmingham as it sat anchored off the Virginia coast. His plane dropped sharply and touched the water damaging his propeller before Ely regained control and landed at nearby Willoughby Spit. Ely showed incredible daring since he could not swim, feared the water, and took off in the face of a squall.

Two months later, Ely took off from San Bruno, California and flew to the armored cruiser Pennsylvania anchored in San Francisco Bay. Flying fifty feet off the ship's stern, Ely cut his engine and jammed the nose down landing firmly on a temporary "flight deck." Hooks under his plane caught weighted lines stretched across the deck making Ely the first to "trap" land a plane on a ship. Then below decks, Ely, his wife and other guests toasted the birth of naval aviation.

Several months later, on June 28, 1911, Ely piloted what was likely the first plane to fly in Missoula. His plane was shipped to and from Missoula in a railroad boxcar. Hundreds of people witnessed Missoula's birth of aviation at the parade grounds near Fort Missoula.

Later the same year, the personable young Ely was killed during a similar flying exhibition in Georgia.

Research by Don Spritzer, exhibited in "Celebrating 100 Years of Flight" at Missoula Public Library December 2003.

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