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INTRODUCTION

I'm an aviation nut and always have been since my youth. Anything that flies gets my attention. As an artist, I have a wide world of aviation subjects to choose from, an unlimited choice of locale, aircraft type and the time period, from early ballooning to current jets. So what dictates the subject? Many aviation artists have chosen certain time periods, such as World War I or II, the Vietnam war, the golden age, modern fighters, airline history, modern airline, etc and, conversely, many well known artists cover a broad range encompassing aircraft flight of any nature. The early bird period, the time frame from the Wright Brothers first flight to the beginning of World War I, probably gets the least attention from aviation artists and it is the subject on which I've concentrated most of my painting efforts. Rich with historical content and intrepid flyers, machines which defy many aeronautical design principles and events deserving of remembrance, the flyers, men and women, and their craft are an engaging theme for an aviation painting.

I enjoy recreating early historical aviation scenes on canvas; many of the early bird events were captured by photographs (think Wright Brothers) but the black and white film and lack of long lens restricted the coverage along with the usual inability to take aerial pictures. If there was a camera on site, it was on the ground or a hillside, so documentary photos inevitably show side or bottom views of the aircraft. The photos greatly assist an artist to be able to confidently construct an accurate configuration of the aircraft on a given day, particularly those shots taken near the airplane. In addition, on site photos help nail down the background; places can be greatly altered by time so contemporaneous photos are an aid which can't be minimized. I believe that truth and honesty are dictums that cannot be ignored when approaching an historical subject; this can cause some artistic concerns when creating the composition. Classic art practice would omit those objects in the composition that don't complement the subject; the "less is more" style. Furthermore, the less intrusive background would be artistically preferred. Yet, if the scene of the event requires accurate depiction of the site, even if the site is "busy" with many details, to define what was going on, then truth requires inclusion. I would like an ancient viewer to be able to say, "Yes, that's the place." You can place any aircraft in a clouded background but that doesn't define the locality nor the time period.

A narrative painting should be able to tell the story without ancillary aids; the "truth" of an event is evident in a well done composition. I hope that viewers of my work grasp the tenor of the piece even though the scene may be unfamiliar territory. Robert Storr, in a lecture at the Pratt Institute, had this to say on the subject: "Once a work of art leaves the studio and arrives in the larger world, your sincerity is a weak predictor of the work's success. Outside of the studio, your work must stand on its own and reveal itself without your being present to defend or explain it. A sincere artist can make weak work, and an insincere artist can produce masterpieces. Don't try to defend a work's shortcomings with protestations of good or sincere intentions. It isn't part of the larger world's criteria of judgment." Consequently, I'll leave it to your judgment whether the works on this page tell the story that I attempted to portray - evaluate the painting before reading the description.

A painting of an early bird scene can only be a generalization of the event; no artist will declare that the scene represents an actual and error free pictorial presentation. Hopefully the viewer will sense the intent of the artist which, in most cases, is an attempt to capture the overall "feel" of an historical event through reasonably accurate drawings and rendering.

I use fast drying oils (also known as "alkyds") on stretched Belgian linen for most of my paintings. The method of arriving at a scene is described in the text relating to the painting First to Avalon shown on this page. I paint for my own pleasure and the joy of sharing the work with others and sometimes for promotional use for events along with the pleasant experience of occasionally having one of my paintings juried into an art show. I am an Artist Member of the American Society of Aviation Artists (joined in 1988) and owe the organization much credit for any painting ability that I have. The ASAA's ongoing educational efforts at forums and through the quarterly magazine, Aero Brush, are a valuable tool for any artist, regardless of ability. You can access ASAA information at their ASAA website. I welcome any comments and criticism relating to my paintings.

Artist Biography (short version!)
Steve worked as a helicopter flight test engineer for the first fifteen years of his life-long aviation career. His love of aviation prompted him to start his own business in San Jose in 1965 which, for 35 years, was involved in nearly all phases of the general aviation business including flight operations as an FBO, maintenance, and engineering of helicopter accessory products. He began an aviation art gallery in 1987, relocated to Santa Barbara, California and ran it until 2015 at which time he closed it. Steve has elected to focus his efforts on painting and also maintains an aviation website; he and his wife Casey share a studio in their Santa Barbara home.





SHARED AIRSPACE - OYSTER BAY - 1934
BELLANCA AIRBUS P-200A

This painting depicts a Bellanca "Airbus" as it departs Oyster Bay, Long Island in the summer of 1934. The painting was done in fast drying oil on stretched linen canvas. This piece was in the juried ASAA art exhibition at the San Diego Air & Space Museum during the summer of 2010 and was awarded the Aviation Week first place for the Commercial Aviation category.

Arguably the most efficient airplane design ever built, the Bellanca "Airbus" P-200A floatplane NC 785W was used as an aerial commuter from the wealthy enclaves of Long Island to Wall Street's East River float, commencing July 16, 1934 as the New York-Suburban Air Lines. Airline use ceased that year as regulations prohibited single engine transports. Only four of the civilian Airbus examples were built and about 14 delivered to the A.A.C. as the C-27-A to -C. The later "Aircruiser" model, with more muscle, was used extensively in Canada as a bush airplane. The White Pelican can be found in eastern bays and estuaries during the summer months breeding season. I am pleased to report that this painting was included in an American Society of Aviation Artists (ASAA)Retrospective Art Exhibition at the Art Center of Battle Creek, Michigan in 2012.

Stretched linen size 18" x 30".

Giuseppe Bellanca built his first airplane in Brooklyn and moved it to Mineola, Long Island in 1912 for its first flight. Bellanca operated a flight school at the Hempstead Plains from 1913 to 1915. Many of the famous pilots, both U.S. and European, flew in the Hempstead Plains area, Belmont Park to Garden City, prior to WWI; Glenn Curtiss, T.O.M. Sopwith, Roland Garros, Earle Ovington, Harriet Quimby, John Moisant, Lincoln Beachey, Blanche Stuart Scott, Henry Walden, Charles Willard, Claude Grahame-White, Orville Wright, Ralph Johnstone, George Beatty, and dozens and dozens of fellow "early birds" tested their wings on the plains. It was an international scene where American and foreign pilots flew together in competitions and exhibitions. French and British airplanes were as common as American flying machines. Matilde Moisant, during her short flying career in 1911 and 1912, met most of these airmen - it was a community of the intrepid. You can meet some of these aerial pioneers on the Matilde Moisant link on this website (see left column for page links).




A CALIFORNIA CENTENARY EVENT
First to Avalon - Glenn L. Martin - May 10,1912

Glenn L. Martin began his aviation career by manufacturing Curtiss knock-offs in an old Santa Ana cannery in 1911; selling airplanes and flying on the exhibition circuit called for promotion which came with his successful attempt to fly to Catalina Island from Balboa. He built several Model 12s, one of which he equipped with a pontoon and other modifications to make the record setting, over water distance flight of over thirty miles, besting Bleriot's Channel flight record. Flying at noon above an overcast sky, Martin luckily found Avalon Bay.

This painting features Glenn L. Martin making that first flight to Avalon, Catalina in his aircraft #12 which was for the most part patterned after a Curtiss. Fortunately there are several photos taken at Avalon on that grey May day in 1912; interestingly, photos appearing of #12 prior to the event, and afterwards, show significant differences from the configuration used for that record setting flight. The old airplanes allow little use of color in their depiction which doesn't exactly delight an artist's soul. Very few machines were painted with anything but clear dope or varnish; many airplanes used Goodyear rubberized fabric, with no descriptive color but "blah", which was applied to the structure with no dope or paint required. No bright color schemes, no nose art, no insignia, no camouflage but occasionally some advertising signage and even that was usually in black. Paint just added weight and complexity when fixing the inevitable and frequent damage.

Holly Hill House and the Island Incline Railway funicular are lee shore structures illuminated by the dull grey, spring marine layer. The Hill House remains today in a somewhat updated form; the bluff is still there, mostly unchanged by time, although the shoreline is now developed with numerous piers.

My usual process of creating a painting typically involves research on the particular event to be painted, gathering as much material as possible (normally from many sources) and then followed by drafting the mundane, but necessary, elements such as three-views and topographic map contour lines of the intended background. Three-views for early airplanes, particulary those prior to 1914, are not readily available; the best sources are the many aviation magazines printed during the earlybird era but those don't always represent the actual airplane that existed on a given day in history and sometimes are very inaccurate. The early airplanes frequently crashed and were rebuilt with any changes the owner decided to make. Engines were replaced, modifications made and documentation was normally non-existant unless some photos were taken. Photos taken at historic events are the key to obtaining accurate configurations. Fortunately photos can usually be found (sometimes with much digging) but the photographers didn't do "walk arounds" in those days and long lens weren't available so in-flight photos are relatively tiny and generally taken from the ground (lots of airplane bottoms). The three-view is used to input to a computer program that I favor which was originally conceived by Joe DeMarco as a conventional drawing board perspective method in 1943. Artists` Perspective Modeler (APM) applied to a computer uses mathematical equations based upon Joe`s proven Geometric Projection Method. It instantly outputs 2-D Picture Plane plot points in correct perspective from the 3-D input data of length (x), width (y) and height (z) for various points on an object measured from a common datum or Origin 'O' in each of the 3 views in a scale General Arrangement drawing. The points can be plotted out as a guide for the drawing or a wire-frame image can be generated for the same purpose (shown in example below). Once a length, width and height "Math Model" is created for an object and saved to File, it is always available for the generation of a different image aspect when different parameters are applied. Unlike CAD programs, APM does not do the drawing for you. It leaves the artist "in the loop" to enjoy the pride and pleasure derived from a well executed, hands on, drawing. APM is available through a website, http://www.aviart.info/, maintained by Peter Nield in England. Thumbnail sketches of various compositional ideas, along with much doodling, lead to a desired drawing which is then transferred to canvas.

Stretche linen size 20" x 30".

Worksheets for "First to Avalon".



Glenn L. Martin plaque at Naval Aviation Museum. CollectAir photo 2011.




SURREY TIGER - DH.82C

The old Canadian Museum of Flight and Transportation was located on a family farm at Crescent Road in Surrey, B.C. Formed in 1970, primarily by Ed and Rose Zalesky, the somewhat funky but highly interesting museum with scattered airplanes, helicopters, parts, wrecks and artifacts managed to survive until the Surrey Municipality elected to expropriate the site and finally evicted the museum in 1995. The museum found a new home on the Langley Airport, but Ed withdrew from museum affairs and sold his personal collection. The old farmhouse was the visitor center and museum office with Rose presiding. The forlorn DH.82C Canadian Tiger Moth on floats graced a stagnant farm pond when I stumbled upon it in 1986. A lovely airplane consigned to such an indignity!

Fast drying oil on stretched linen, 11" x 17". Completed in 2014.




FIRST FLIGHT IN HAWAII
Bud Mars in a Curtiss - Dec. 31, 1910

Four members of the Curtiss Exhibition Company arrived in Ohau in December 1910 along with two brand new Curtiss biplanes. Agent Whipple Hall, experienced pilots J.C. "Bud" Mars and Captain Thomas Scott Baldwin, and designer and pilot Tod Shriver, together, would demonstrate the Curtiss machines; it would be the first flight of an airplane in Hawaii. Exhibition tickets were sold and Bud Mars was airborne in the "Skylark" on December 31, 1910 at Samuel Damon's Moanalua Polo Field, located only a few miles from the current Honolulu International Airport and the current site of the Moanalua Golf Course. The Tripler Army Medical Center now occupies the top of the background ridge; the hillside had native plants clinging to the rocks in 1910 but has had significant planting introduced since then. Ala Aolani St. now runs along this background scene.

After three days of exhibition flying, The Curtiss group was disappointed with the paid attendance as the majority of the crowd avoided paying by witnessing the flights from adjoining hillsides. In addition, strong and gusty winds prevailed during most of his exhibitions. Somewhat disgruntled, the group departed Hawaii which was only the first stop on Baldwin's Pacific Exhibition Tour which demonstrated in the Philippines, Japan, Korea and other Asian countries, a strenuous program for travel in 1910/1911.

Ann Holtgren Pellegreno has written several books about aviation history in Iowa. In Iowa Takes to the Air - Volume One 1845-1918, she wrote about the first flights of any duration in Iowa which took place in Sioux City in June 1910 by two Curtiss aviators, J.C. "Bud" Mars and Eugene Ely, an Iowan. The following paragraph is the author's description of J.C. Mars.

"James C. "Bud" Mars became one of the most celebrated aviators both in this country and abroad. Born James D. McBride in 1876, he left home when he was fourteen years old. Using the name "Bud" Mars, he joined a circus in Chicago and performed on the tight wire and trapeze. There Thomas Baldwin saw him and suggested Mars leave the circus and learn ballooning and parachute jumping at Quincy, Illinois, where the Baldwin Brothers lived. This Mars did. When Baldwin developed his first dirigible, Mars helped him construct it. At the Los Angeles Aero Meet in January 1910, Mars met Glenn Curtiss who later taught him to fly and then offered him a position on the exhibition team. It was in this capacity that he and Eugene Ely flew at Sioux City on June 29 and 30, 1910."

Mars was a first lieutenant in the aviation section of the Signal Corps in World War I; he was a flight instructor, training soldiers to fly. Discharged in 1918, Mars built an airport in Westchester County, New York where he gave flight lessons; the airport was purchased by the Westchester Park Commission in 1924 and Mars then went into the real estate business in New York and Florida. He was also in the gas engineering business. J.C. Mars was living in California when he died in 1944 at the age of sixty-eight.

Painting is 18" x 28" on stretched linen, completed in 2015.




FIRST AEROPLANE MAIL CARRIER - Earle Ovington - September 23, 1911

Ovington took the Post Office Employee oath as "First Aeroplane Mail Carrier" to become the first sanctioned airmail pilot, flying official, postmarked mail from Nassau Boulevard Aerodrome to Mineola Airfield, L.I. His single place, French-built Bleriot had no cargo space for the heavy Post Office mail pouch, so "Ovie" carried it on his knees for the ten mile flight. Unable to land with the bag, he dropped it to a flag bearing postmaster, who, in the words of Ovington's wife, Adelaide, "saw the bag coming down and ran for his life." The airmail was carried for nine days in poor weather which kept attendance down at the Garden City International Aviation Tournament.

I placed the viewer on the ground for this scene. The panic of the flag bearer is a counter subject to Ovington's Bleriot as he swoops over the field and drops the mail sack over the side. The verticality of the painting emphasizes the trajectory of the falling mail. The viewers eye height above the terrain is about where a young teenager's sightline would be; a thirteen- year-old in 1911 would have lived long enough to see the eventual growth of aviation, from that very first airmail to jet airliners carrying airmail worldwide. Historically there was poor weather during that first airmail episode; the dark cloud is a symbolic element employed to stress the struggle that airmail would encounter over the years. Ovington will avoid that ominous cloud for the moment.

The "Centennial of Airmail Flight" was celebrated with a ceremony on September 23, 2011 at the Garden City Post Office, feting the 100th anniversary of the first official airmail flight in the United States by Earle L. Ovington. The 1911 International Aviation Tournament had 10,000 spectators that day. During the event Ovington took off in a Bleriot monoplane at the Nassau Boulevard Aerodrome. It was located in the area of what is now Stratford School. He carried almost 2,000 pieces of mail that was delivered to Mineola by dropping it from the Bleriot. The 2011 event at the post office was arranged by local history buff Cyril Smith and president of the Ephemera Society of America, Dr. Art Groten; both gentlemen spoke during the ceremony. To honor the date the post office had a special Garden City cancel to commemorate the flight. Groten is the designer of the postal covers. This painting was used during the celebration to illustrate the air mail drop at Mineola. Local news coverage of the event can be viewed by clicking here. Use the back arrow to return to this page.

Stretchd linen size 36" x 28".

Earle Ovington was a graduate of M.I.T. and was active in the field of high frequency currents and sold therapeutic devices and X-ray apparatus as the Ovington Manufacturing Company. Using Tesla coils, Ovington also developed huge spark devices. He then became involved with motorcycles as the Ovington Motor Company, both importing and racing. Ovington went to Europe to learn to fly in early 1911; he trained at the Bleriot school at Pau, in the south of France. He returned to the U.S. in May, 1911 with a new 70 hp Gnome Bleriot XI. After about a year or so of exhibition flying and competition in his Bleriot and a Curtiss, Ovington became involved in several ventures including ship building in WWI. He joined with Curtiss as president of the Curtiss Flying Station in Atlantic City in 1917 where he was involved in the production and sale of flying boats including the NC-4 and with flight training and demonstrations of the Curtiss aircraft. By 1920, Earle left Curtiss, did a stint on his houseboat and then packed up and moved the family to California. The Ovingtons settled in Santa Barbara and began land development.

By 1923, Ovington developed 40 acres of his land into the "Ovington Air Terminal" with a 1500 ft. strip. Starting with a Jenny, Ovington had seven airplanes between 1923 and 1929. In 1926 Ovington became the Southern California dealer for Swallow airplanes. Ovington acted as a sales agency for the Curtiss Aerocar motor home in 1929 and became involved with the ROAMAIRCRAFT Corporation which built the RoaMair 2-place biplane trainer. The Early Birds organization was founded in 1928 and in 1930, Ovington was elected as the second president of the organization of early pilots. By 1931, the Ovington Air Terminal became designated as an official airport by Santa Barbara and commercial flights commenced. Encroachment by developments caused the SB airport permit to be withdrawn by 1932 and the land ceased being an airfield around mid-1930s, Ovington died in 1936. A 1936 New York Times obituary may be viewed by clicking here.

Of local and current Santa Barbara interest, Ovington's wife, Adalaide, purchased the old Cold Spring Tavern, a vintage stagecoach stop located high above SB in San Marcos Pass, in 1941 and ran it as a restaurant with her daughter, Audrey. When her mother died, Audrey kept the tavern going - the two of them had been a team with mother running the kitchen and Audrey handling the customers with her gregarious manner. Audrey died in 2002. Today, Audrey's niece, Joy, owns the Cold Spring Tavern with her husband Wayne Wilson. The wonderful and rustic tavern is run by a manager and the Wilsons who also reside in the middle west and Santa Barbara. The delightful tavern in the Santa Ynez Mountains is a lasting tribute to the Ovingtons.

Robert Campbell's terrific book Reminiscences of a Birdman, a biography of early bird pioneer, Earle Lewis Ovington, is highly recommended ( ISBN 978-0-615-28188-9). To learn more about this book and visit Mr. Campbell's website, click here.




Buckskin and Gnome - Santa Ynez Valley

A Gnome-powered Bleriot XI breaks the silence of a Santa Ynez Valley ranch as an old buckskin ignores it with a "Who cares?" look while more curious about the interloping shadow caster. Buckskin doesn't know that he's losing the horsepower race. A typical central California scene that can be replayed today - two Bleriots are based at Paso Robles, California.

Stretched canvas size 20" x 16".




PENSACOLA BAY - November 5, 1915

Lt. Cdr. H. C. Mustin, Naval Serial 03460, made the first catapult launch of an airplane from a moving ship on November 5, 1915. The armored cruiser USS North Carolina, ACR-12, arrived in Pensacola on September 9, 1915 to become the station ship for the Aeronautic Station. The test aeroplane launching device was installed on the cruiser in preparation for the first catapult launch. Lt. Cdr. Mustin, nicknamed "Rum", piloted a Curtiss F flying boat, AB-2, for the initial test launching. Following his test, the launch catapult was raised to turret height to gain more clearance with the water and an on-purpose crane and track became part of the cruiser equipment. During the initial test, the AB-2 was raised to the catapult level by use of a jury-rigged boat spar extension to the 10" gun barrel and swung to the rail by training the turret. Beginning in April of 1916, the Navy mounted 103-foot catapults on the armored cruisers North Carolina, Huntington, and Seattle. The catapults took up about 20 percent of each cruiser's weather deck, masking half its main battery. They were removed in 1917 when America entered World War I.

Pensacola Bay was exhibited at the Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum (Air Zoo) as part of the 2012 ASAA juried aviation art show.

Stretched linen size 20" x 36".

Mustin was appointed as Naval Air Pilot #3 on June 1, 1914 and was redesignated as Naval Aviator #11 on March 22, 1915. He was issued ACA Seaplane Certificate #14 on November 26, 1913. From the book Contact!: "The aviation unit at Annapolis, consisting of 9 officers, 23 men, 7 aircraft, portable hangars and other gear, under LT John H Towers as officer in charge, arrived at Pensacola, Fla on Jan 20'14 aboard USSs MISSISSIPPI and ORION to set up a flying school. LDCR Henry C Mustin, skipper of the station ship MISSISSIPPI, also commanded the aeronautic station."


ROBERT FOWLER CHALLENGES CULEBRA CUT - 1913

Robert G. Fowler made the first U.S. East to West transcontinental flight, completed on February 8, 1912, in a Wright Model B. He purchased a tractor biplane from Jay Gage of Griffith Park in September 1912; he flew some exhibition flights and replaced the original engine with an 80 h.p. Hall-Scott engine and equipped the Gage with floats and an extra seat. Jay Gage designed the wings so that they could be cut apart for crating in anticipation of shipment to Panama for the goal of flying non-stop across the Isthmus of Panama. Fowler contracted with a French movie firm to take a cameraman, Ray Duhem, along to film the flight. Fowler and his support crew sailed for Panama on April 1, 1913. He departed Panama City on the Pacific side on April 27, 1913 and landed in Limon Bay one hour and forty-five minutes later, being the first to make a non-stop, coast-to-coast flight. He encountered "treacherous winds" while circling over the Culebra Cut area of the Panama Canal, then under construction, and reported that the airplane had dived out of control temporarily. This painting captures that moment over the Culebra Cut. Ray Duhem continued his photography regardless. Fowler then flew in a drenching rain squall at Gamboa. Fowler and Duhem sailed for New York on the Ancon on May 2nd.

Jay Gage (Gage-McClay Company) built at least four of the tractor biplanes. J.V. Martin used a Gage (a Martin-Gage) for his flights in Fairbanks, Alaska in 1913 (see painting on this page). Robert Fowler flew the Gage for several years following the Panama Trans-Isthmus flight and donated the remains of the Gage to the Smithsonian much later. I have many photos taken at the Silver Hill restoration facility showing the Fowler-Gage in pieces during its restoration. The airplane is now exhibited at the Udvar-Hazy Museum and NASM has labeled the machine as being the Fowler-Gage that flew the Isthmus; the exhibited airplane is pictured below.

Stretched linen size 28" x 20".

I mention the restored Fowler-Gage to emphasize that current photographs of museum airplanes don't necessarily represent the airplane at the time of a particular historic event. Obviously this airplane no longer has a float but the discrepancies extend to the basic structure. NASM placards mention that the engine is not the original as they were unable to obtain a Hall-Scott (Fowler didn't donate an engine with the airframe). The wings were apparently rebuilt at one time as the restored wings have fewer ribs than the 1913 version based on good contemporary photos and drawings. The entire empennage is smaller with fewer structural members and the lower aft fuselage has an upward sweep to the longerons to match the reduced size of the rudder. In other words, the Gage in the Hazy is not wholly the airplane that Fowler flew across the Isthmus of Panama; perhaps just the center section of the fuselage is original 1913 structure in configuration. Even the wording on the side, "R.G. FOWLER", isn't the original size and location.

Fowler overflew the canal just a few months prior to its opening and flooding of the big ditch. Much of the flight was over areas that precluded a safe landing in the event of an engine failure (not an unlikely event!). On October 10, 1913, the dike at Gamboa, which had kept the Culebra Cut isolated from Gatun Lake, was demolished. On January 7, 1914, the Alexandre La Valley, an old French crane boat, became the first ship to make a complete transit of the Panama Canal under its own steam, having worked its way across in the final stages of construction. The Panama Railway steamship SS Ancon, piloted by Captain John A. Constantine, the Canal's first pilot, made the first official transit of the canal on August 15, 1914


HARRIET QUIMBY - CHANNEL OBSCURED

Flying a borrowed Bleriot XI, American aviator Harriet Quimby took off from Dover, England on April 16, 1912 in an attempt to become the first woman to fly solo between England and France. Aiming for Calais, Quimby missed her destination and landed thirty miles from Calais, near Hardelot, France. Afterwards, she wrote, "In an instant I was beyond the cliffs and over the channel. Far beneath I saw the Mirror's tug, with its stream of black smoke . . . Then the quickening fog obscured my view. Calais was out of sight. I could not see ahead of me or at all below."

The Bleriot was borrowed from Louis Bleriot and he required that a flotation bag be carried in case of a ditching in the Channel.

Channel Obscured was exhibited at the National Naval Aviation Museum as part of the 2011 ASAA juried aviation art show.

Stretched canvas size 18" x 36".

Harriet learned to fly at the Moisant Aviation School on Long Island along with Matilde Moisant; reference to the Moisant web page in the top, left hand column will divulge information on the short but exciting career of Harriet Quimby, a glamorous aviator.






INTRODUCTION

Alaska is recognized as the land of airplanes. Eighty-three percent of Alaskan communities do not have road service; small aircraft provide the transportation and supplies necessary for normal living. There are sixteen times the number of airplanes per capita in Alaska than in the lower 48; the phrase "bush pilot" conjures up scenes of back country flying - floatplanes on lakes and rivers, skis on frozen tundra and prop driven vintage airliners landing in impossible places. Alaska depends on aviation as a way of life.

Alaska has a rich aviation heritage yet, because of its remoteness, aviation was late in coming to this beautiful place. While the airplane was becoming more common throughout the U.S. following aviation exhibitions and meets after 1909, the residents of Alaska were not to see an airplane at all until July, 1913 in Fairbanks when J.V. Martin brought his crated Martin-Gage by steamboat to that gold rush community. After that brief exposure to aviation for only a week or so, the next visit of airplanes to Alaska wasn't until the U.S. Army Air Service Alaskan Flying Expedition (Black Wolf Squadron), flying from New York, consisting of four de Havilland DH-4Bs (modified), landed at Wrangell Island on August 13, 1920, seven years later. The squadron visited Fairbanks on August 19, 1920, landing at the athletic field. The squadron flew as far as Nome (Fort Davis). They returned to Mitchel Field on October 20, 1920.

Nearly two more years passed until other airplanes made flights in Alaska. Charles Otis Hammontree, set up an Anchorage garage business in 1921; when he lived in Bremerton, he had purchased a surplus Boeing Model C navy trainer in 1918; he shipped the Model C to Anchorage, arriving on April 24, 1922. The seaplane first flew off Cook Inlet on June 24, 1922 and was retired by mid-July, 1922. Hammontree's flights were the first in Anchorage.

Clarence Prest planned to fly from New York to Siberia in 1922 in his Curtiss J-1 Standard "Polar Bear II". He did successfully land on Skagway Beach on July 6,1922. Prest crashed during a flight from Eagle, Alaska enroute to Fairbanks on July 16, 1922.

Concurrent with Hammontree's and Prest's flights in July, Roy Franklin Jones and Gerald J. Smith departed Seattle in the flying boat NORTHBIRD, a surplus Curtiss MF serial number 5522, bound for Ketchikan, Alaska. The pilot duo landed at Ketchikan on July 17, 1922.

By the mid-1920s, early pilots such as Noel Wien, Carl Ben Eielson and Sam O. White pioneered commercial flight in Alaska and demonstrated the value of aerial transportation; aviation started it's takeoff. An artist can find countless subjects for aviation paintings in the rich history of Alaskan aviation.

The rugged mountain peaks pictured in the heading above are in the Alaska Range (named Little Switzerland) near Denali in the Denali National Park and Preserve; I took the photo in 2011 from a K2 Aviation turbo Otter..



THE FIRST AEROPLANE IN ALASKA - 1913

James V. Martin organized the first competitive air meet in America at Squantum, Mass. for the Harvard Aeronautical Society in 1910; he traveled to England in Jan. 1911 for flight training and returned with Certificate #55 and a new wife, Lilly Irvine, the first English woman aviator. Martin owned a Martin-Gage Tractor used for exhibitions. Some businessmen promoters from Fairbanks, Alaska engaged Martin in 1913 to fly at Fairbanks which entailed a circuitous steamship/rail/steamboat shipment of the crated Gage. Martin flew low over Fairbanks for 3 days; with no sale, the airplane was shipped back to San Francisco but history was made as the flights were the first airplane to fly in Alaska. Martin later owned an aircraft company, was an inventor and produced a 3-wheel microcar. Stretched linen size 18" x 30".



FIRST AIRPLANE IN ANCHORAGE
C.O. HAMMONTREE IN BOEING MODEL C
JUNE 24, 1922

C.O. Hammontree purchased a surplus Boeing Model C, U.S. Navy seaplane trainer, in 1918 and flew it in the Seattle area until he shipped it to Anchorage, Alaska in 1922. He began a garage and taxi service in Anchorage where the Captain Cook Hotel stands today. His flight of June 24, 1922 was the first flight of an airplane in Anchorage. He flew out of Ship Creek and gave numerous rides to townfolk until July 19, 1922 after which the airplane was disassembled and put in storage. Hammontree flew his wife Lillian and she most likely became the first woman to fly in Alaska.

Designed by a Chinese M.I.T. graduate engineer, Wong Tsu, the Model C was Boeing's first production airplane (56 built). The Navy surplused the trainer because of the unreliable Hall-Scott A7 engine; the U.S. Navy markings were left on the crated airplanes when sold.

This painting will be on display in the American Society of Aviation Artists juried aviation art exhibition at the San Diego Air & Space Museum beginning May 1, 2014 for about 3 months.

Stretched linen size 22" x 32".




MORNING DRAGONFLY - HOMER, ALASKA

A vintage Piper PA-11 "Cub Special" (msn 18639) floats on the barely wrinkled calm of Beluga Lake as the morning sun rises over Homer, Alaska. The sunlight ricochets as the dockside "Dragonfly" awaits its aviator. No navigation lights needed by this floatplane as the lengthy Alaskan days leave little space for nighttime. Built between 1946 and 1950, the frisky PA-11 with 90 h.p. was the end of the legendary J-3 Cub line built under ATC 691. Mostly J-3, a fully cowled engine and a left wing fuel tank to replace the familiar fuselage tank with its bobber gage were the only features signifying a change in this direct descendant of the 1938 Cub. The owner advised me that the aircraft was originally a 1946 J3C that was STC converted to the PA-11 configuration. Skyline Drive on the top of the "Bluff" provides an excellent view of Homer and the Spit, the "end of the road."

Stretched linen size 12" x 16".

Morning Dragonfly was exhibited at the Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum (Air Zoo) as part of the 2012 ASAA juried aviation art show; the painting was awarded the Nixon Galloway Golden Age of Aviation plaque. The painting was also juried into the 2013 CAE SimuFlite Horizons of Flight art exhibit.







ROLAND GARROS AT MONACO - 1913

Roland Garros, a French sportsman, flew in the U. S. with the Moisant International Aviators before returning to France and becoming the test pilot for Morane-Saulnier at Villacoublay. He entered a M-S G model on floats for the inaugural Schneider Cup Race, the Coupe Internationale des Aero-Marins, which was run in April 1913 as part of the Grand Prix de Monaco, the second Monaco waterplane meet. Terrible weather and crashes clouded the results - contemporary reporting differs greatly from current popular history. Garros is credited with a dubious second place. Aero and Hydro noted that prior to the meet, Garros "..went out and did hair-raising performances over Monte Carlo and Cap Martin, making spiral dives apparently onto the Tir-au-Pigeons and into the harbor," the subject of this painting.

Stretched canvas size 15" x 30".

Garros later made the first solo flight across the Mediterranean in September in a M-S H Model. He served in World War I and invented a rather crude device to allow shooting through the propeller which was tested on a M-S L Parasol. Shot down, escaped and returned to combat, Garros was killed on October 5, 1918 near Vouziers. An excellent tennis player with Stade Franšais club, a new stadium was dedicated the Roland-Garros Stadium in 1928 where the French Internationals are still held.




T.O.M. SOPWITH ROUNDS THE BOSTON LIGHTHOUSE - 1911

British aviator T.O.M. Sopwith toured in the U.S. between May and October 1911, entering races, exhibitions and carrying passengers with his Howard Wright biplane and a new, special two-place Bleriot XI. He entered the Harvard-Boston meet at Quantam in September 1911. The highlight of the meet was the Boston Lighthouse Race, taking off from Squantum, flying around the Little Brewster Island lighthouse and returning to the Squantum field. Unseen in this painting is the competitor aircraft of Earle Ovington who is flying much higher and slightly behind Sopwith in this race around the lighthouse. Sopwith was one of Britain's leading Air Pioneers, famous for the Sopwith Camel of World War I and later becoming the founder President of the Hawker Siddeley Group. He was a leading yachtsman, racing driver, and aviator.

This was a rather unusual configuration for the Bleriot XI, with the pilot moved forward and the "passenger" seat located in the bay normally occupied by the pilot; later two-place versions placed the passenger behind the wing, one bay aft. The rotary engine and landing gear was moved one new bay forward to compensate for the passenger's weight. Sopwith's airplane is the only example of this configuration that I have run across. The configuration has been documented by several photos taken at the time.

Stretched linen size 24" x 36".

The Matilde Moisant page has additional information on T.O.M. Sopwith's activities in the U.S.




MATILDE MOISANT - EXHIBITION FLIER - SHREVEPORT, March 1912

This painting is an attempt at a storyboard approach to show exhibition flier Matilde Moisant and her Moisant-Bleriot as she careens off the turf while attempting a landing at the Shreveport, Louisiana fairgrounds. Her sister Louise views the event from her vantage point next to a 1912 Ford T.

Stretchd canvas size 24" x 48".

Matilde and her friend, Harriet Quimby, learned to fly together at Matilde's brother's aviation school on the Hempstead Plains, Long Island. They both received their licenses in August 1911. Review Matilde's history here.

The following writeup by Matilde's "agent" covers the event depicted in this painting. "At the close of the successful meet at New Orleans we proceeded to Shreveport to give exhibitions under the auspices of the Fair Association. It was in a pouring rain that we arrived. Matilde greeted the friends who surrounded her with the sprightly remark, 'They do call us birds, but we're not ducks.' .... She is described as a charming little woman, with a beautiful olive complexion, and a swift, brilliant smile. In a manner devoid of any sign of posing she talked of her air conquests and adventures interestingly and ardently. Her sister Louise, also a handsome woman, and her devoted companion, lived in constant terror while Matilde was in the air. She would not even look at a flight, so fearful was she that she might witness her sister's death.

"'We have been out at the fair grounds to brush the cobwebs off the sky,' said big, jolly Brueggerhoff, Secretary of the Shreveport fair, breathing a prayer for fair weather during Saturday and Sunday, for the aviation meet. The weather did clear and exhibitions were given on those days. That Sunday afternoon thousands of spectators had the great thrill of their lives in witnessing the narrow escape of Miss Moisant from destruction. She had been up about 3,000 feet in a splendid flight, but in swooping down to alight on the race track, near an automobile where a few of her friends were standing, the plane touched the ground at a dangerous angle. There was a knoll and small embankment where it struck. This caused one wheel to strike with extra force; the other wheel if it hit at all struck lightly. The machine bounded diagonally thirty feet in the air. The motor had been cut off and the plane instead of rebounding evenly, tipped and then turned completely upside down.

"The occupant, jolted from her seat by the first shock, managed to keep her balance until near the ground, when she fell, landing on her hands and knees. A second later the great fabric fell on top of her, completely hiding her from the horrified witnesses. The right wing and propeller were broken and also the right landing wheel. had it not been for the iron wing supports that stuck in the ground and held up the heavy parts, the girl must have been crushed to death. As it was she wriggled from under the wreck unhurt save for a scratched and blackened eye where her goggles had pressed against it. (Aviators of this era did not generally wear seatbelts, an oversight which resulted in the death of Matilde's friend, Harriet Quimby, and could have resulted in serious injuries to Matilde on several occasions).

"She sprang lightly to her feet laughing, and evading the help of those who rushed to her aid, hurried to where Louise sat to prove her safety. A few minutes after the accident she merrily approached Houpert saying, 'I'll make another flight this afternoon, professor, if you'll lend me your plane.' At a sign of dissent from me he shook his head in refusal. 'And just think,' she sighed, as she regretfully watched the removal of the wrecked monoplane, 'I wore a green suit this afternoon in honor of St. Patrick's Day.' The scene ended in a rush of souvenir snatchers seeking splinters from the shattered propeller."





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