By jim zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com

@$: America's fascination with aerial flight was in a fast climb during the summer of 1910.

Leading the popularity surge were the pioneers of flight, Wilbur and Orville Wright, who had achieved rock-star-like status around the world. The brothers, however, shunned the hero worship, especially from the well-to-do in society who sought their company.

The lead story in the May 11, 1909, edition of the Tamaqua Courier described the Wrights as "taciturn and impassive," that they would not "give New York society people an opportunity to lionize them" and that "they had no intention of filling social engagements."

After the International Air Meet of 1909 in Reims, France, enthusiasm for aviation skyrocketed in the United States. One of the largest spectator events of the year was a 10-day air meet held during January in Los Angeles which featured not only aeroplanes, but hot-air balloons and a dirigible.

Cash prizes were awarded to participants for altitude, speed, and endurance competitions. Attendance at that West Coast meet surpassed all expectations, attracting an estimated 226,000 spectators, and thousands of others also watched from the edge of the field.

Earlier in that same meet, J. Armstrong Drexel of Philadelphia broke the high altitude record for England.

The flight craze also hit the local scene. One of the highlight attractions at the Allentown Fair in 1910 was the sight of a Curtiss biplane buzzing over the grounds.

The entire year of 1910 was filled with aviation firsts. The more noteworthy dates included:

March 19 – Orville Wright opened the first commercial flight school – the Wright Flying School – at Montgomery, Ala. This site would later become Maxwell Air Force Base.

May 29 – Glenn Curtiss made the first city-to-city flight from Albany, N.Y., to New York City, a distance of about 150 miles. It could also be credited as being the first air-mail flight since he unofficially carried a letter from Albany's mayor to the mayor of New York City.

June – Charles W Hamilton made the first night flight over Knoxville, Tenn. Walter Brookins, also made a similar claim in 1910, for his night flight at Montgomery, Ala.

July 17 – Walter Brookins rose 6,234 feet into the sky over Atlantic City, N.J., in his new Wright Model A, to set a mile-high altitude record. He was awarded a $5,000 prize.

Aug 10 – Conversion from skids to a wheeled tricycle gear was made on a Wright brother's plane by the army's Lt. Benjamin Foulois and mechanic O. G. Simmons.

Aug 27 – James McCurdy, in a Curtiss, sent and received first air-to-ground radio messages. Also, during the year, Elmo N Pickerill sent what was claimed to be the "first air-to-ground telegraph message," during a flight from Mineola to Manhattan Beach N.Y.

Aug. 20 – The first gun was fired from an airplane. Two shots were fired from a Curtiss biplane at a ground target with a rifle by Lt. Jacob A. Fickel at Sheepshead Bay, N.Y. This event was closely watched by the military. By the end of the decade, aerial combat was to play a big part in which of the country combatants would dominate the skies over Europe during World War I.

Sept. 2 – Blanche Scott became the first woman to solo a powered airplane. It was never established, however, if her brief flight, measured in seconds, was intentional or accidental. Some witnesses claimed it was caused by a gust of wind. Although Scott was awarded her own U.S. postage stamp (1955) for that feat, Bessica Medlar Raiche is more often credited with the honor for her solo flight on Sept. 16.

Oct 11 – Theodore Roosevelt, although then out of office, became the first president to fly when he attended a St, Louis flying meet. The first president to fly while in office was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in 1943.

Nov. 14 – Aviator Eugene Ely makes the first flight from the deck of a ship – off an 83-foot platform on battleship USS Birmingham at the Norfolk Navy Yard in Virginia.

Amid all this buzz about flying, some enthusiasts from Northeastern Pennsylvania got into the act by building their own airplanes.

A June 22 article in the Tamaqua Courier stated that the flying craze was evident in the Scranton area.

"Aeroplanitis has gripped residents of this section of the state and while none has as yet sailed the vast seas of the sky in this vicinity, people may expect almost any day to see three or four mysterious-looking machines cavorting about in the upper currents for there are five now under course of construction, one or two of which are ready for launching," the article stated.

Another builder, Harry Budwesky of Pittston, was said to be working "day and night" in hopes of becoming "the first man to sail the skies over northeastern Pennsylvania."

Col. L. A. Watres reportedly had a monoplane with an engine capable of generating 400 horsepower, and Frank Mincoka, a mine engineer, was building his own biplane.

It was noted that each man carefully guarded the blueprints in hopes of being first in the region to conquer the skies.