Tamaqua native sat under Wright Brothers' tutelage
After making history with the first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C., on Dec.17, 1903, brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright were treated like modern-day rock stars wherever they went.
The brothers had come a long way from their days of running a bicycle repair shop and factory in Dayton, Ohio, and by 1908 and 1909, they were literally on top of the world. After travelling to Europe, attention was riveted to their new flying machine in France, Italy, England, and Germany.
A mechanical malfunction involving one of the propellers caused a crash on Sept. 17, 1908, claiming the life of Army observer Lt. Thomas O. Selfridge and severely injured Orville Wright, but the accident did not delay or deter the young flyers.
The brothers resumed their Army flight trials in the summer of 1908 at Fort Myer, Virginia, a military post just outside Washington, D.C. The final one was a cross-country flight of 10 miles with a passenger.
This flight also served as the official speed trial. The contract stipulated that they would receive a 10 percent bonus for every full mile per hour above 40. Their average speed was 42.5 miles per hour, which rewarded them with a $5,000 bonus and brought the final purchase price of the airplane to $30,000.
After the Wrights met the last specification of the government's contract at Fort Myer, Virginia, the military formally accepted Signal Corps Airplane Number 1 on August 2, 1909.
Thus, the world's first military airplane was born.
One of the first members of the Army flight crew was Kenneth Kintzel, a Tamaqua native, who had rapidly advanced as a second class electrician in the Signal Corps after having enlisted in the Army in April of 1908. After enlisting he was sent to Fort Wood, N.Y., where he studied electricity.
Owing to his "practical knowledge" of electricity, he was one of 10 men selected to the "aeroplane detachment to care for the Wright aeroplane and study aviation," the Tamaqua Courier reported on Oct. 26, 1909 edition.
He was immediately sent to Fort Myers where he assisted in the Wright Brothers tests during the summer of 1909.
"The test was a grand success and the government immediately purchased a flying machine and issued orders to have the members of the corps learn the art of flying and what improvements can be made to the bird of the air," the Courier writer said. "This the men have been doing. When the weather gets too cold, the members of the corps will have to study wireless telegraphy in order to be able to operate this system if called upon by the government."
Since Wilbur Wright did the instructing, Kintzel found himself sitting under the world-famous aviator himself.
Under the Signal Corps specification, the plane carried at least two people and had a range of 125 miles, at a speed of 40 mph and could remain in the air for one hour.
It was decided to move the plane to a warmer climate in Texas, which was more conducive for flight. The flimsy aircraft was no match for bad weather and flying in the cold was more than uncomfortable for the early pilots. The Wright Brothers refused to fly under less than ideal conditions.
There was no safety equipment and stalling or falling out of the sky was a constant fear. A catapult was required to propel the machine down a monorail since it had no wheels. The only instrument in Airplane Number 1 was a piece of string about eight inches long with a weight attached to the horizontal crossbar between the front ends of the two skids. This string monitored sudden changes at speed and served as a curve indicator as well as a stall predictor.
Landing was the most difficult task. The pilot had to cruise slowly above the ground with a dead motor until the skids made contact. The Texas winds made control even more difficult.
The engines were not powerful enough to maneuver in flight.
As the star of the famous Wright Brothers continued to rise during the first decade of the 20th century, so too did those team players associated with the string of aviation successes. The Tamaqua Courier announced to its readers that the Washington Star ran a full page article, along with a picture of young Kintzel.
A Courier writer said Kintzel's many friends "are delighted with his success" and were hoping that "he will take a fly to this town and give an exhibition of his skill."
By the end of 1910 Airplane Number 1 went through a face lift before being retired in April of 1911, replaced by the Wright Model B.
Signal Corp Number 1 was restored to its original condition and was then donated by the army to the Smithsonian Institution.