The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 11

Ely flew half a mile while Roanoke
looked on in delight and wonder.

wooden bleachers to the right of the baseball diamond and those
in front of the east grandstand removed. Sutton described the craft
to be brought to Roanoke as being 35 feet from "tip to tip" and
30 feet from its rudder to the end of its steering gear.
Roanokers had never witnessed a powered, heavier-than-air
flight before. There had been hot air balloon rides in the past,
but not the presence of an aeroplane. In fact, there had been only
one such flight in Virginia, and that was a flight made by Orville
Wright at Langley in 1909.
An aeroplane had tried to fly at the state fair in Richmond in
the summer of 1910 but never got off the ground, much to the
disappointment of fair organizers who had to explain to those
in attendance why their tickets were not to be refunded! Thus,
to have an aeroplane fly across the fairgrounds in Roanoke was
historic.
The pilot was Eugene Ely, 24, of the Curtiss Aeroplane
Company. Ely had flown elsewhere in exhibitions, most recently
in Iowa at its state fair. His plane was loaded on a train there and
shipped to Roanoke. (Early planes were disassembled, transported
and then re-assembled by the pilots.) Ely and his flying machine
arrived in Roanoke by train on September 21st, the second day
of the fair. Attendance set a record as spectators anticipated Ely's
TheRoanoker.com

flight. Some even paid an additional 15 cents just to see Ely's
machine in its temporarily-erected garage near the fairground
gates.
Ely surveyed the fairgrounds that morning, specifically the
lay of land within the horse-racing track. Ely quickly became
concerned as his machine needed 100 linear feet of running space
to rise four feet. To clear the buildings, fence and wires at the
end of the track, he would need 300 feet of ground. The ground
provided to him, confined within the race track, was not enough.
Only under exceptional conditions could he lift his machine into
the air. (A Curtiss advance man had assured fair organizers the
track's infield was sufficient.)
Nonetheless, Ely told fair organizers he would try to fly at
2 p.m. Crowds thronged the track area. Ely and his machine
managed to get lift but only to ten feet and over a space of 100
yards. Ely had to drop the plane, fearing he would flip the plane
on the fairground's fence. Unbeknownst to spectators, Ely had
tried to convince fair officials that he would have better flying
conditions if he could take off from a surrounding hillside, but
they had insisted he fly within the fairgrounds' perimeters.
This proved to be a mistake. The machine needed 400 more
running feet than it had. The Roanoke Times took to task fair
organizers for trying to dictate to Ely where he should fly when
they knew nothing about his machine, a flying apparatus they
described "has about as many whims and moods and notions as
an unusually pretty girl of eighteen who has been spoiled and
petted all her life."
Ely noted the gentle hills of South Roanoke and told officials
that if he could lift off from those heights he was confident
Roanokers would witness their first flight of an aeroplane. Fair
promoters quickly acquiesced to Ely's request and told spectators
that Ely would fly the next day.
At 5:40 p.m. on September 22nd, Eugene Ely and his Curtiss
machine took off from a hill in South Roanoke just northeast
of Virginia College as thousands watched from the fairgrounds.
Ely was earlier concerned about wind gusts coming from the
slopes of Mill Mountain, but by 5 p.m., a tethered balloon at the
fairground, 400 feet in the air, held perfectly still.
Ely, eyeing the balloon from South Roanoke, got his chance
and announced he would fly. Forty minutes later, Ely moved down
the slope and gradually ascended in a northwesterly direction,
crossed the Roanoke River west of the fairgrounds and then
turned and came over the grounds, descending safely in the center
of the infield.
"Thousands shrieked with delight when the flying machine
hover in sight and every movement was watched with intense
interest," reported the Times.
The day Ely flew was "Old Soldiers Day" at the fair, and Civil
War veterans, both Union and Confederate, had been admitted
for free. One can only imagine their thoughts as the aged men
watched a man take flight. Ely had flown a half mile and into
Roanoke history.
Fair organizers hoped to have Ely return the following year,
but the young aviator died tragically on his twenty-fifth birthday
in 1911 when his Curtiss aeroplane failed to pull out of a dive at
an exhibition in Macon, Georgia. I
MAY/JUNE 2019

11


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The Roanoker - May/June 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Roanoker - May/June 2019

The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - Intro
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - Cover1
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - Cover2
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 3
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 4
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 5
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 6
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 7
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 8
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 9
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 10
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 11
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 12
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The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 14
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 15
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The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 19
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 20
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 21
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The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 28
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 29
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 30
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 31
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The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 34
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The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 130
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - Cover3
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - Cover4
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