Lincoln Beachey – Airshow Pioneers & Innovators

Born in San Francisco, California in 1887, Lincoln Beachey had a passion for aviation from a young age. In 1904, Beachey worked with Glenn Curtiss to fly on the Arrow, an airship. The slow-moving airship did not thrill Beachey, as he wanted something with more power and movement.  By 1910 he had designed his own airship. He decided to fly it at the Los Angeles International Air Meet but the airship hardly left the ground and was very slow, from that day he decided to develop an interest in flying airplanes.

In 1911, Beachey would teach himself how to fly and when the Los Angeles International Air Meet came around again, he would have his chance to show off his capabilities. Beachey was a mechanic for one of the airshow pilots, unfortunately, the pilot got injured. Beachey took his place and when he took off, he shot up to 3000 feet and went into a spin. Spins in the early days of aviation were not practiced, as recovery wasn’t an option and most spins lead to a pilot’s death.  Beachey recovered and did the spin maneuver 11 more times in front of the crowds, shocking them all.

Beachey’s career shot up from that point. On June 27, 1911, Beachey became the first pilot to fly over Niagra Falls. After the Niagra Falls stunt, he began to win multiple air races. Beachey approached Glenn Curtiss about building a more advanced aircraft that would allow him to do a loop-to-loop maneuver. Curtiss refused as he didn’t want to risk Beachey’s death. Beachey then temporarily quit aviation as a result. He would go back and forth with flying, ultimately getting frustrated with the industry. Many pilots tried to perform the same stunts as Beachey. Unfortunately, many of those pilots died. Due to Beachey’s influence, the City of San Diego tried to prevent him from flying ever again. Ultimately they were unsuccessful.

In 1913 the first aerial loop was performed by a Russian pilot which became global news. Glenn Curtiss eventually decided to build an aircraft fit to perform a loop safely. The “Little Looper” was built and Beachey was set to fly it. The day he was supposed to perform the aerial loop, the aircraft had malfunctioned after takeoff and ended up dipping towards the ground. The aircraft clipped a hangar in which there were a few spectators standing on top. The spectators were knocked off. 2 were injured, 1 critically injured, and 1 died. Beachey landed in the grass after clipping the hangar, he walked away with minor injuries. The crash was ruled an accident and Beachey retired from aviation again.

It was shortly after that Beachey’s manager convinced him to get back into aviation. On November 25, 1913 Beachey had become the first American to perform an aerial loop. In most of his shows from that point, he performed the aerial loop. He would even perform numerous loops within one flight, getting up to 80 loops in one flight. Over the next year and a half, he broke a few more aviation records.

In March of 1915 in San Francisco, Beachey was set to perform in front of a crowd of 50,000 people. The airshow began well with a few stunts, but shortly after that Beachey was setting up for another maneuver when the aircraft malfunctioned and when he tried to recover from the malfunction, the wings came off the aircraft. The remainder of the aircraft crashed into the bay. It took about 2 hours to find Beachey’s body and it was later revealed that he had survived the initial impact but couldn’t get his retraints off and drowned in the bay.  Though only 28 when he died, Beachey had a huge aviation career that would inspire other aviators and instilled practices that pilots use today as safety measures for flight.

To read more in-depth about Lincoln Beachey and all of the records he broke, visit this website on his full biography: https://disciplesofflight.com/aviation-pioneer-lincoln-j-beachey/

 

 

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