Jump to content

Recommended Posts

Top to bottom:

Panorama taken from the south gardens, June 21st, 1914.

Panorama taken from Palace of Machinery, June First, 1914.

Panorama showing south gardens, 3/20/14.

Panorama showing British site from the Presidion [sic] looking toward the Palace of Fine Arts and Palace of Horticulture.

Panorama from top, Education Bldg., looking east march 30 1914.

Art Smith and His Aeroplane on the Aviation Field.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

There were daily flight demonstrations at the 1915 PPIE- mainly barnstorming aerobatics kind of demos. This was still BEFORE World War II, and that kind of flying really stressed the early aircraft.

They flew repeatedly every day, both day AND at night after dark. Little was understood back in those days about the effects of repeated stress in causing structural fatigue and eventual failure to key airplane parts like longerons and 'backbones'.

The two most prominent pilots flying those demos at the PPIE were "Bird Boy" Art Smith and Lincoln Beachey.

Here is Art Smith circling the Tower of Jewels- theme building of the Exposition.


Ex-President Teddy Roosevelt- always the adventurer- visited the PPIE and asked for a demo ride with the obliging Art Smith


Here is a typical Art Smith flight at the Expo, where he was trailing smoke so the crowd could see his path, and the spirals and loops indicate that he was REALLY stressing that plane.


He did the same thing at night, with his trailing smoke lit up by huge naval searchlights. These flights drew huge crowds of World's Fair visitors.


The other very notable aviator at the PPIE was Lincoln Beachey. Beachey was known nationwide for his barnstorming flight demonstrations- very much in the dare-devil vein, between about 1909 and early 1914. He was the first person in the world to fly sustained upside down in level flight, and the first American to complete a loop the loop.


All of this was in biplanes. Like Art Smith's airplane, most barnstormer planes in those years were built by the pilot themself, in a garage or barn, with very little of advanced aerodynamics engineering that we think of today in aircraft design. The planes were all biplanes because they hadn't figured out how to get a single wing to hold up to the rigors of flight stress. And even those biplanes had LOTS and lots of connecting wire and cable to hold it together.

Then in 1914 the Germany company Taube, which had been experimenting with monoplanes (single wing) began to offer them for sale to the public with an 80 horsepower engine. They had a 'pylon' rising up from the fuselage, from which suspending cables went out to different points on the wing to give it strength.


Beachey couldn't resist and ordered one, his thought being that the 80 horsepower engine would be just strong enough for him to repeat his previous biplane stunts.. After flying it a few times, he decided to "come out of retirement" to fly it at the 1915 Expo in San Francisco, to show that he could do the same maneuvers he had done earlier in his homemade biplane.

Here is Beachey climbing into his Taube monoplane on March 14, 1915 at the PPIE, just before taking off for the last time in front of a crowd estimated to number between 50,000 and 75,000.


Unfortunately the Taube design, while extremely fast for aircraft of its day, still hadn't advanced to the point of standing up under extreme stress. The center pylon provided cable strength to the UPPER side of the wing when traveling in level flight, but no provision was made for similar strength when flying inverted. There was no pylon with cables sticking out from UNDER the plane, just a few cables connected to the landing gear struts, and those cables were a lot smaller diameter than the upper wing pylon cables. (see photos above- both photos are 1914 Taubes, but look at the comparitive lack of underwing cable support on Beachey's lightweight model). Many early World War I German aviators a year or two later discovered the same fatal flaw in Taube monoplanes that Beachey was about to discover. After completing a loop, Beachey flipped the Taube onto its back, but in focusing on doing so and maintaining a perfectly level flight path, he failed until too late to notice that his loop was leaving him at an altitude of only 2,000 feet over San Francisco Bay, far under the minimum he knew he needed. His plane was slowly sinking. When he pushed the stick hard to get the nose to 'rise' (from an inverted position), both wings snapped off, and the Taube plunged into the bay tail first.

Here is Beachey's Taube struggling to come out of the loop inverted on the fatal March 14th flight, a fraction of a second before the wings broke off.


There are conflicting reports about the cause of Beachey's death.

One newspaper account said that when the wings snapped off with the fuselage upside down, Beachey fell out and hit the ground, just before his plane smashed into the water in the Bay.

But the coroner's report said that the seat belt that he had begun wearing toward the end of his biplane barnstorming days worked VERY well, and dragged him down to a drowning death in the Bay. That report seems to be supported by another newspaper account that the body had to be recovered by Navy divers.

In spite of the horror of the tragedy early in the PPIE's season, Art Smith continued his daily flight demonstrations throughout the summer. That's why there are so many PPIE photographs of Smith, and very few of Beachey's single tragic flight.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

More information on Beachey's last flight.

Beachey had a contract to perform in both his biplane and the new monoplane. He made several demo flights at the PPIE in the biplane.

Here is Beachey with his biplane at the PPIE.


Then on March 14, he felt he was ready for the first monoplane "show flight".

It wasn't actually a Taube, but a "copy" of the Taube concept designed and built by Beachey himself, using the exact same engine- an 80 h.p. Gnôme Monosoupape ("single valve") rotary engine.

It was Beachey himself who eliminated some of the underwing cable support, to his detriment.


Starting the engine for the tragic PPIE flight.


The tires on the tricycle landing gear (it wasn't a tail dragger) leave the ground



"It was up and away... it climbed very fast..." Beachey's mechanic, Art Mix



The whine of the rotary engine stirred up pigeons...


A 1967 painting of Beachey's last PPIE flight, by Charles Hubbell


Film footage of Beachey passing over the top of his final "death loop"

[url=http://www.lincolnbeachey.com/monoflt.mov:3acwsj5p]Click Here[/url:3acwsj5p]

"His actions to recover broke the rear spars of the wings, and he hit the water near the U.S. Navy transport Crook" Beachey's mechanic, Art Mix


Personnel of the Crook lift the wreckage to the surface


Beachey's body being extracted from the wreckage into the rowboat on the left


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Incredible information! I did not know this story. You have provided a great tale and the photographs are remarkable. Many, many thanks for sharing all of this. Thos early avitors were most courageous. Climbing into those flimsy aircraft and doing all that they did with those machines places them in the ranks of true pioneers and explorers. Great history lesson!

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

I forgot to mention the other big reason for the prevalence of biplanes in the early days of aviation- besides engineering being not yet up to the task of designing strength INSIDE a wing instead of outside with cable bracing, TWO wings were also needed to provide enough lift to get off the ground to compensate for the comparitive weakness of the early engines. Those motors were just not spinning those propellers fast enough, so they needed more than one wing just to get enough aerodynamic lift to get off the ground. (Remember the Red Baron's Fokker TRI-plane- three wings!)

Once engines got stronger and more powerful, that helped with the advent of the single wing "monoplane"- higher speeds mean more airflow passing over and under the wing surface- and that's why that 80 horsepower engine on the Taube was so attractive to Beachey.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this