Aviation meetings, and aviation industry in general,
were slow to take off in the United States. One of the
reasons was that the Wright brothers had been granted a
patent which gave them exclusive rights to some aspects
of airplane control, particularly roll control by wing
warping. They threatened litigation against anybody who
built or displayed airplanes.
This did not stop people from trying. A couple of minor displays were held during 1909, and in connection with one of them, the 12-14 November Cincinnati meeting (actually held in nearby Latonia, Kentucky), Glenn Curtiss' partner Charles Willard met Roy Knabenshue, who made exhibition flights in his little airship. They agreed to try to organize something in Los Angeles during the winter, and got support from Curtiss. In 1910 Los Angeles had a population of more than 300,000. After having been a mere village during the mid-1800s the population had grown enormously, driven by improved communications and a huge increase in trade, mainly in fruit but also in petroleum and industrial products. The population had tripled during the last three years.
Willard and Knabenshue contacted Dick Ferris, a Los Angeles businessman and balloon enthusiast who had participated in organizing similar events before. He put the idea forward to the Los Angeles Merchants and Manufacturers Association, who promised to raise the necessary funds, for example a prize fund of 80,000 dollars. Curtiss and Willard visited possible sites and settled for the Dominguez Hill, close to Compton some 20 kilometres south of Los Angeles. This site had several advantages: It was close to the railway, it was free from obstructions and it was situated on a low mesa, so that anybody who wanted to see the action would have to pay the entrance fee. Furthermore, the owners of the site, the Dominguez family, let them use it for free. An engineer, S. B. Reeve, was hired to prepare the site, construct the grandstand and build pylons to mark the course. A committee consisting of Dick Ferris, US Aero Club president Cortlandt F. Bishop, Edwin Cleary and Jerome S. Fancuilli, took care of the program and rules.
An early list of entrants contained 43 airplanes and six airships, but in the final program the number was down to eleven and three respectively. The Curtiss team would bring four planes, to be flown by Glenn Curtiss, Charles Willard, Charles Hamilton and Clifford Harmon. The latter in fact took delivery of his brand new plane at the meeting and was to receive flight training there. The Wright brothers did not participate and there weren't many other American aviators around, although several optimists would bring their untested constructions to the meeting.
In order to get a more international status Louis Paulhan was invited. He accepted, no doubt attracted by the generous offer of a reported 150,000 francs for a three-month tour, and started to build up a team. In addition to his two Farman planes he bought two Blériot XIs and spent three days in the beginning of December at the Blériot flying school in Pau in southern France learning to fly them. Paulhan would travel in company with his wife, their black poodle, his business partner, a marquise (or baron, depending on your sources) with the fantastic Breton-sounding name of Robert de Kersauson de Pennendreff, and his wife. The team included two mechanics, Didier Masson and Charles Miscarol, who were also entered as pilots but had actually flown very little before leaving France.
Three airships were entered, the two small "racing dirigibles" of Knabenshue and Lincoln Beachey and a US government ship, which in the end never appeared since it could not be filled at the airfield. There were also competitions for balloons, which were not held at the airfield, but at Huntington Park, some 10 kilometres to the north. Seven balloons were entered and made regular flights during the meeting, but the new-fangled, exciting airplanes got most of the attention from the press and the public.
When Paulhan arrived in New York he was immediately served with an injunction from the Wright brothers, who wanted to forbid all his flights in the USA because the control systems infringed their patents. He received a second injunction in Denver, Colorado, on the way to Los Angeles. The suit was due to be heard in court, but the hearing was adjourned to January 28th, so in the interim Paulhan could participate in the meeting. The Wrights demanded all the profits from Paulhan's flights plus three-fold damages, since they claimed Paulhan's flights would destroy the novelty of flying machines. This was stated to be a big loss to the Wrights, since public desire to see machines in flight would be satisfied before it would be possible for the Wrights to display their planes.
Monday 10 January, "Aviation Day"
The weather was perfect on the first day of the meeting, sunshine and only a light breeze. A crowd of around 20,000 people waited patiently for the first flight in the West. Curtiss had made a couple of short test hops in Harmon's brand new plane the day before, but they could hardly count. At one o'clock Curtiss finally rolled out Harmon's plane and made a flight of one and a half minute, covering around one kilometre. Willard was the second to fly soon afterwards, flying a mile in 1:23. Paulhan decided to show off a little and taxied away from the grandstands out of his tent hangar, which faced away from the grandstands and was hidden from view by the Curtiss hangar. He then took off out of sight while the crowd was looking at the dirigibles of Knabenshue and Lincoln Beachey and suddenly appeared at full speed in front of the crowds. Paulhan, showing "brilliant daring", was the only flyer to complete a whole lap of the course during the first day, making three flights of totally around 30 kilometres. During one of them he easily overtook Knabenshue's airship, travelling around twice as fast. Curtiss made a second short flight in his V8-powered "Rheims Flyer", breaking his propeller when landing in an uneven spot. Hamilton also made a flight of 1.5 miles in his four-cylinder Curtiss. The engine of the Gill-Dosh machine, to be flown by Hillery Beachey, brother of Lincoln, "exploded" in the hangar and damaged the top wing. Several flyers complained of the fuel provided, which was claimed to be "muddy" and cause the engines to overheat. Better fuel was promised for the remainder of the meeting.
Tuesday 11 January, "Los Angeles Day"
Heavy rain during the night before made the roads muddy and caused many cars to get stuck in the access roads. A large work force was sent out to improve the roads with straw and planks. The second day of the meeting started windy, with gusts of up to 20 m/s. Towards the afternoon Paulhan made three flights, the longest of some 15 kilometres, and he also made a passenger flight. Otherwise the afternoon was spent on take-off and precision-landing contests. At the Los Angeles meeting the participants were free to try for the different events whenever they wanted, and since these contests didn't require a lot of flying they were preferred on a windy day. Curtiss took the lead in the shortest take-off contest by starting in 29.9 m, while Paulhan in his Farman needed 56.2 m. Curtiss also made the quickest take-off. His time was 6.4 s from the first explosion of the engine to leaving the ground, while Paulhan could only manage 12.4 s with the Farman and 35.0 s in one of the Blériots. Curtiss' results were both claimed to be world records. In the precision-landing contest Willard was the only one to make a perfect landing inside the 20 foot square target.
Paulhan's Blériots were flown with their wing-warping mechanisms disconnected. This was in order to respect the Wright patent, which didn't clearly cover ailerons, but definitely covered wing-warping. This of course limited their performance and made them difficult to control. Paulhan's inexperienced trainee Miscarol tried to make a flight, but after a slow flight of around 1.2 km he was caught by a gust and broke a wheel in the resulting rough landing. Paulhan, perhaps eager to show that it was possible, took out the other Blériot for a flight of some 3 km.
The wind decreased during the afternoon, allowing Curtiss to take his business manager Jerome Fanciulli for a flight of around 1.6 km. During the flight he was measured to make 55 mph (88.5 km/h), which was faster than the world speed record. In a couple of European magazines this was misunderstood and it was claimed that he had set a fantastic new record by making a one-hour passenger flight of 55 miles.
There were more accidents and incidents. Hamilton got too low during a short test flight and hit the ground, breaking his elevator. Professor Zerbe tried to make a flight in his five-wing plane, but just when he reached take-off speed a drive chain broke. The plane fell to one side, breaking a wheel, a propeller and the lower wing tips. The professor thankfully escaped injury. A much more dangerous incident happened in one of the hangar tents. Edgar Smith was doing an engine test on his tandem-wing monoplane and accidentally got into to the turning propeller. He was thrown more than ten feet by the impact and the metal propeller was folded double. He must be considered lucky to have got away with a five-inch cut on the back of his head and badly bruised arms. After being transported to his home in "delirious and hysterical" condition he was back later during the week, with his head in a bandage.
Wednesday 12 January, "San Diego Day"
Five days earlier, on January 7th, Hubert Latham in his Antoinette had raised the world altitude record to 1,050 m at Mourmelon in France. Paulhan was of course keen to better this mark, and especially so in view of the bonus prizes to be paid for world records. The third day of the meeting was a very promising day, clear and with little wind. During the afternoon Paulhan made his previously announced effort for the altitude prize and the world record. For 43 minutes he circled ever higher and after the landing seven and a half minutes later the barometric altimeter carried on the plane indicated an altitude of 4,600 feet (1,402 m). This figure was not approved by the committee, since the altimeter was not considered accurate because of the inconsistent atmospheric conditions and its exposure to the vibrations of the engine. The trigonometric calculations performed by students of the Polytechnic High School indicated that the altitude reached was 4,165 feet, equivalent to 1,269 m, and these figures were the finally approved.
There was also action around the pylons. Curtiss started by flying a 2:13.6 lap with Harmon's machine. He then continued by improving the time to 2:12.4, this time flying Willard's "Golden Flyer". Paulhan's Farmans could not match these times, his best lap was 2:25.6. Paulhan also made a five-lap run, but the time of 12:23.2 was unofficial, since there weren't pylon judges at all pylons. Hamilton had persistent engine trouble but finally managed to complete a lap of the course and a short cross-country trip. Harmon made his maiden flight in his new Curtiss, a short hop around 30 meters.
Thursday 13 January, "Pasadena Day"
The Thursday was another clear day and the spectators got to see a fair bit of flying. In the morning Hillery Beachey took out the repaired Gill-Dosh for a test, but broke one of the lower wings when he came to earth in rough ground. Beachey was uninjured, but the machine would require new repairs. Paulhan carried eight passenger, among them his wife and Mrs. Ferris, wife of the meeting organizer. He also carried both his mechanics/trainees Miscarol and Masson during a flight. Both Curtiss and Paulhan made efforts for the 10-lap speed contest, Curtiss beating Paulhan by only five seconds, 24:54.4 to 24:59.4. During Curtiss' flight Paulhan cut in before him which made Curtiss' plane drop dramatically in the wash.
In the hangars there was a dramatic incident when the Klassen "Butterfly" monoplane caught fire. All the fabric was burned off, and the fire threatened to spread to the Paulhan camp before bystanders could put it out. Willard made another perfect effort for the precision take-off and landing contest by taking off and landing in the same 20-foot square.
Friday 14 January, "Southern California Day"
Another beautiful day and another spectacular flight by Paulhan. He again took off out of view from the grandstands and after buzzing them he left he airfield in the direction of the coast. He flew to San Pedro and circled the fortifications of Point Firmin and the harbour, where he was greeted by ship steam whistles and bells. The flight was estimated at some 33 km. After landing Paulhan remarked that he could easily have bombarded the fortifications. On the airfield several pilots tried for a quick lap. Curtiss improved his best time to 2:12.0. Paulhan made the lap in 2:21.2, while Willard made two laps with a best of 3:01.4 in his Curtiss, which had a four-cylinder engine of half the power. Paulhan made a lap in 2:48.0 in one of his Blériots. This was the only official lap made by a monoplane during the entire meeting.
Curtiss carried Lieutenant Paul Beck of the US Army as a passenger in order to try to bomb a target on the ground with bags, but engine trouble caused them to abort and postpone the test. Paulhan took Masson for an 18-minute dual-instruction flight in the Farman, covering six laps of the race course. He then took Courtland F. Bishop, the president of the US Aero Club, for a flight. The flight must have made some impression on the balloonist Bishop, who lost his borrowed cap during the flight and held on to the struts with such force that they reportedly had to be pried off after the flight. Getting off, he then got so entangled in the rigging of the plane that he needed help to be released.
Roy Knabenshue posted a best lap time for dirigibles with 5:10.4, and won a race with Lincoln Beachey in 6:29.6 versus 7:50.0. Even though slow, with a top speed of only 30-35 km/h, the small dirigibles were popular with the crowd, since the pilots had to climb acrobatically around their "nacelles" in order to keep their ships balanced. Towards the evening the spectators were treated to the spectacle of seeing three biplanes, two dirigibles and one balloon in the air at the same time. This was one of the most successful days of the meeting. It was estimated that a total of 50,000 spectators were present, bringing 5,000,000 dollars worth of automobiles.
Saturday 15 January, "San Francisco Day"
After the fine weather of the beginning of the meeting the weather turned worse, with rain clouds drifting in from the sea. After a miserable morning the weather improved during the afternoon and Paulhan was first to fly. He again took off out of sight before buzzing the grandstands twice, the second time with an unlit cigar in his mouth. Hamilton was next to fly. While he was completing the third lap of a planned ten-lap run Paulhan took off and tried to make a race with the much slower Curtiss. He quickly reached him and dived down to pass Hamilton from below. Hamilton was thrown far off course by the wash and was for while heading towards the grandstand before regaining control. He eventually completed the ten laps in 30:34.6 with a best lap time of 2:57.6, but after a second similar event Paulhan was getting unpopular with the other flyers for interfering with their flights.
Knabenshue in his dirigible also tried to prove the possibilities of aerial warfare by bombing the 20 foot precision landing square in front of the press boxes. He managed to maneuver above the square and throw his bags of earth accurately, but at an altitude of 20-30 meters he would have been an easy target, and the ship would probably have been blow to bits if real explosives had been used.
Curtiss, Paulhan and Willard made one-lap qualifying flights with times of 2:19.4, 2:33.8 and 3:03.4 respectively. Hamilton also flew a lap, but the time isn't known. Towards the end of the afternoon Miscarol took out one of the Blériots for engine tests. He was running back and forth on the ground at relatively high speed along the back straight of the course when he suddenly lost control of the plane after a turn. After a couple of wild swerves the left wing hit the ground and crumbled and the plane came to rest on its side with broken landing gear and propeller. The accident happened far from the grandstands and the hangars. Miscarol had knocked his head during the crash and was found running around dazed and confused. He fortunately escaped with a bruised forehead. The accident was blames on the Wright brothers, since the Blériots had to be flow with their wing-warping mechanisms locked.
Sunday 16 January, "Special Day"
This day also started rainy and the rain didn't stop until around two o'clock. Although improved, the roads were still difficult and some auto parts dealers were making good business selling anti-slip chains. It was still windy, though, and when Hamilton tried to fly for the endurance flight he was blown off course and had to land. Curtiss, Paulhan and Willard all tried to fly, but all gave up after a lap or two. Curtiss estimated the wind to 10 m/s (more than 20 mph) and said that even though he was holding back he travelled along the grandstands at 100 km/h (more than 60 mph). Paulhan tried for the short take-off prize and improved his result to 36 meters, but not enough to beat Curtiss. Hamilton set a time of 9.2 s for the quick take-off prize, but again not enough to beat Curtiss. Towards sunset the wind decreased somewhat and Paulhan made a passenger flight. The two dirigibles also flew, but pitched and rolled and could make very little headway against the wind, so they were soon retired to their hangars again.
Paulhan created a minor incident in the evening by not appearing at a dinner held in his honour by 80 members of the Cercle Coquelin, a French society of Los Angeles. He was dining with his friends at another restaurant and his manager had to be sent to apologize for his failure to appear.
Monday 17 January, "Free Harbor Day"
The rain had stopped and the morning was clear and bright. In the morning Curtiss made several flights, one of them with Lieutenant Beck of the US Army as passenger, a second with Frank Johnson, a trainee pilot. He also made a speed run of one lap in 2:18.8. Paulhan made a test flight. At 2:15 Paulhan took off, trying for the endurance record. It was speculated that he had enough fuel to fly for twelve hours. When Paulhan had flown for 50 minutes Hamilton decided to also go for the endurance prize. Paulhan's Farman was slightly faster than Hamilton's four-cylinder Curtiss and caught up with him and overtook him. Hamilton's plane "rocked and swayed and rolled like a channel boat in a heavy sea" in the wash. Willard was watching Hamilton's flight through binoculars and noticed that a wing strut was hanging loose and a wing tip was flapping, so the next time Hamilton passed he was flagged down. After landing it was found that a bolt had worked loose and the right rear wing strut had slipped from its socket. He had been in the air for 39:00.4 and had travelled 31.3 km. Paulhan also ran into trouble. A smell of gasoline was felt every time he passed and a fuel leak was suspected. He came down to land after 1 h 58:32.0 in the air, having covered 121.9 km at an average speed of 61 km/h, and it was verified that there was a leak in a fuel line. He then made a flight in his other Farman before trying Willard's Curtiss. This was not a success and the rough landing after a very short flight broke some rigging wires and fittings.
Curtiss again tried for the 10-lap record, improving his previous best with more than a minute to 23:43.6. Paulhan's training flight with Masson in the Farman three days before had apparently paid off, since Masson managed a good solo flight around the course. Hillery Beachey made two successful short starts in the Gill-Dosh plane, but broke the landing gear on the last landing, giving the mechanics further work to do.
Tuesday 18 January, "Ladies' Day"
On the ninth day of the week temperatures dropped. Cool wind from the north brought clear air, some small clouds and single-figure temperatures in the morning. There wasn't much activity in the hangars. At one o'clock a Curtiss machine was rolled out, waiting for the wind to allow a take-off, but nothing happened. One of the balloons from the Huntingdon Park balloon field, the "New York", carrying George Duesler, George B. Harrison and Charles Willard, managed to fly up to the airfield. They landed at the west end of the field and the balloon was towed to the center of the field and anchored there, ready for Clifford Harmon, who planned to try to set an official balloon height record.
At around two o'clock the wind suddenly changed from north to west and increased to gale force. This caused frantic activity on the field. The Curtiss machine was quickly rolled back into its tent. Many hands helped in pulling down the "Examiner" balloon, which had been tethered at the field during the entire week. E. J. Spencer, a photographer from the Los Angeles Examiner was in the basket and kept taking photographs while the wind blew the balloon to the ground. The anchor rope held and Spencer could get out after the balloon had been drawn down to its anchor post. It was probably lucky that he was there, since without his weight the balloon might have broken its mooring line. The much bigger "New York" was in a much more dangerous situation. Some of the rigging broke while it strained on its lines and the bag became loose in the net. Clifford Harmon finally had to pull the rip cord to split the side of the bag and release the gas. The loose fabric collapsed to the ground but the $5,000 balloon was saved.
The wind was still estimated to around 13 m/s at three o'clock when Paulhan rolled out his Farman and flew a lap. Undeterred by the wind, which blew at around three quarters of the top speed of his plane, he took off again at 15:08 and after circling the field left it and headed towards the north. The bulletin board announced "Paulhan will fly to Baldwin's Ranch and return, 45 miles. Back in an hour". Many cars followed the flight, and in one of them "Madame Paulhan mingled prayers and shouts of joy, while tears coursed down her face", according to a melodramatic newspaper report. Information about his progress was telephoned in and was progressively reported on the bulletin board. After 30 minutes he had reached Arcadia and circled the Santa Anita race track, before turning back toward the airfield, rising to around 640 metres. After a wide circle through Huntington Park in the eastern part of Los Angeles he could be spotted from the grandstands again. The band played the Marseillaise as he landed after being in the air for 1 h 02:42.8 and covered an estimated 76 kilometres. The crowd raised him to their shoulders, but he asked to be let down so that he could retire to his hangar. When the wind had calmed down in the afternoon Curtiss tried twice to improve his record for short take-off distance, but failed. Hamilton also tried, and reached 47.2 m. This was the last flight of the day.
During the evening the Pasadena society organized a charity ball in honour of the aviators. The Paulhans, the Curtisses, the Ferrises, the de Pennendreffs and Clifford Harmon were the centre of attention and were served at a magnificent table of plate glass, illuminated from beneath by cut glass chandeliers lit by electric bulbs. The table service and flower decorations were part of the aviation theme, with "a biplane worked in violets and greenery and a dirigible and a monoplane in red carnations and greenery".
Wednesday 19 January, "Arizona Day"
On the Tuesday morning the Los Angeles Herald had published an article headed "Avation and Booze", which reported how "occupants of the grandstand at Aviation Park have been surprised and shocked by the unblushing and vociferous assiduity with which perambulating bartenders, carrying their stock of bottles and glassware in baskets, have plied their vocation In the midst of the gathering of respectable men and women". This obviously had effect, because the next day they reported on the first page that "the promiscuous sale of liquor at Aviation Park has ceased suddenly". Chief Detective S. L. Browne of the district attorney's office stated that "The liquor selling in the grandstand was stopped before I reached the grounds. But I found three bars running in the tent at the rear, and everything there was booming. I closed the bars, and closed them tight".
Flying conditions were perfect for most of the day, with clear air and almost no wind. Paulhan took his wife for a ride out westwards to Redondo Beach and Hermosa Beach at the coast and back. The flight took 33:45.4 and was estimated at 34.2 kilometres, a world record distance for a cross-country passenger flight. Later during the day he took six other passengers for rides, including newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. During one of the flights the passenger was Lieutenant Paul Beck of the US Army and the purpose was to drop dummy bombs on a 25-foot square target marked on the ground. The attacks were made from an altitude of 75 metres and were not quite successful, because the bombs had to be dropped by the pilot. The best bomb missed the target by 20 meters.
Hamilton made several flights, his best reaching an altitude of 162 m during a flight of 8:04.4 before he was topped by engine trouble. He also tried for the endurance prize, but had to land already after 11:01.2, having covered 9.7 km. In the one-lap speed contest he was clocked at 2:47.4.
Lincoln Beachey won a closely contested one-lap race-horse start dirigible race over Knabenshue and set a new best time of 4:57.8. Knabenshue's losing time was 5:05.0. After his previous hops Hillery Beachey made the first real flight in the Gill-Dosh plane. He covered more than two kilometers at a height of some five metres, but then the engine quit. In following crash landing the landing gear and lower wings were once again broken.
Thursday 20 January 20, "Merchants and Manufacturers Day"
Before the flying started on the last day there was a parade that celebrated the aviators and the development of transportation through the years. It was led by a band playing the "Marseillaise" in honour of Paulhan and his team. Next was an old prairie wagon drawn by two oxen, driven by the legendary pioneer Ezra Meeker, veteran of the Oregon Trail and promoter of its history. Then came cowboys on horses and scouts on foot, a mule, a carriage drawn by two horses, a white goat, a bicycle, a motorcycle, an automobile carrying Mr. and Mrs. Dick Ferris, a large spherical balloon, and two dirigibles being towed by militiamen. Then came the airplanes, first some of those that didn't fly during the meeting: The Fowler "Desert Eagle", the Eaton-Twining monoplane, the Smith "Dragonfly II" and Professor Zerbe's quintuplane, which had apparently been repaired. They were followed by the actual flyers, the three Curtisses of Curtiss himself, Willard and Hamilton and finally the aviators walking in line. D. A. Hamburger, chairman of the aviation committee, made a short speech and presented the flyers and some of the organizers with medals as souvenirs of the meeting.
By the time the flying started, around two o'clock, the rain cloud which had threatened during the morning had mainly dispersed. First out was the dirigibles, but they were followed at around 3:30 by first Paulhan and then Curtiss, who were both going for both the ten-lap speed contest and the endurance contest. The faster Curtiss lapped Paulhan several times before being forced down by a broken rib after covering 33 laps of the course (85.9 km) in 1 h 25:05. Paulhan kept going until forced down by the curfew, completing 40 laps, a distance of 103.7 km in 1 h 49:40.8. While they were flying, Hamilton improved his best altitude to 230 m, before going on a 10 km cross-country flight to Gardena and back. On returning his crankshaft broke, but fortunately very close to the field, so that he could glide in for a safe landing from an altitude of 60 meters. Willard and Masson (on a Farman) also flew during the last day.
With a total of only six pilots completing a lap of the course the Los Angeles meeting certainly didn't come close to matching the Reims meeting, but a couple of world records were broken and it was a great crowd success. It was also an organizational and financial success. The meeting had a total of 176,466 visitors and total income from ticket sales was some 137,000 dollars, which meant that those who had invested in the meeting got their money back plus a 25 percent interest. Planning for a second meeting a year later started immediately.