Let’s remember when Charles Hamilton flew the first plane in Washington state, on this day in 1910 (March 11)
A little over six years after the Wright Brothers’s famous first airplane flight, air travel came to Washington state. The first flight was from notorious pilot Charles K. Hamilton.
On March 11, 1910, Charles K. Hamilton (1885–1914) takes off from The Meadows Race Track, located just south of Seattle, making the first heavier-than-air flight in Washington. Hamilton is touring the country as part of a nationwide tour sponsored by aviation pioneer and airplane manufacturer Glenn Curtiss (1878–1930). The air show in Seattle does not go well.
How bad was it? Well… Hamilton’s Wikipedia page gives us a few clues:
Charles Keeney Hamilton (May 30, 1885 — January 22, 1914) was an American pioneer aviator nicknamed the “crazy man of the air”. He was, in the words of the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission, “known for his dangerous dives, spectacular crashes, extensive reconstructive surgeries, and ever present cigarette” and was “frequently drunk”. He survived more than 60 crashes.
Oh. Tell me more.
Hamilton became the first to fly in the state of Washington, when he piloted the Reims Racer over Seattle on March 11. The very next day, he went up again, drunk, and “Swooping like a rapacious bird from a height of 500 feet [150 m], the Curtiss biplane, with Charles K. Hamilton, dived into the newly formed lake at The Meadows”. He had to be fished out of the lake, but suffered only minor injuries.
Undaunted, he flew at Tacoma, Washington, and crossed the border to become the “First Air Visitor to Vancouver, B.C.” on March 25. The next day, he flew to New Westminster and back, covering 20 miles (32 km) in 30 minutes. He participated in an air meet in Spokane, Washington between April 1–3. On April 9, he flew over Mercer Island and Lake Washington.
The whole story is incredible. I recommend reading more about it. I’ll quote another passage from HistoryLink, though I want to post the entire thing here.
From about 500 feet, the aviator dove his craft toward the small pond, hoping to skim along it as he had done the day before. On his first attempt, his wheels didn’t enter the water, so he circled around to try it again. This time, his wheels hit the water hard, flipping the plane over in a spectacular crash.
The audience gasped and screamed, thinking that the aviator had been killed. But Hamilton, who was beneath the wreckage, made his way to the surface and tried swimming for shore. Stunned from the accident, he yelled out “I can’t make it,” and several bystanders jumped into the cold water and dragged him out. He was quickly taken by automobile to Providence Hospital.
Fortunately his injuries were not severe; according to the press, he only suffered bruises and slight shock. From his hospital bed, Hamilton told reporters that on his second descent a wire had come loose on his plane and he was trying to tighten it before he reached the water. He wasn’t able to accomplish this, and couldn’t steer the craft as he had wanted.
Al Crofton, his manager, assured everyone that the aviator would be well enough to fly the next day, and Hamilton apparently agreed: “I’m as good as ever. My only regret in connection with the incident is the alarm caused to the spectators” (The Seattle Times, March 13, 1910). Meanwhile, mechanics were busy making repairs to the aircraft.
For further reading:
On March 11, 1910, Charles K. Hamilton (1885-1914) takes off from The Meadows Race Track, located just south of…historylink.org
Aviation burst upon the American public in 1910 through a frenzy of air meets, contests, daring flights and maneuvers…generalaviationnews.com