Feb 6, 2013

Lincoln Beachey Aviation Pinoeer

Called 'The Man Who Owns The Sky,' Lincoln Beachey might be the most famous person you've never heard of.  He was born a chubby, unpopular, and lonely child in San Francisco in 1887.  Beachey had little going for him except his lack of fear and his love of planes.

He couldn't get a job as a pilot, so he took one as a mechanic.  When he went to the Los Angeles Air show in 1911 he got his big break.  The star pilot got injured, and there was no one to take his place- so the fearless Beachey stepped in.  However, as he took off, the plane's motors died and he fell into a fast downward spiral.  No pilot had ever survived that kind of fall previously, as planes were still in a developmental stage.
Instead of trying to turn out of the spiral and tug the plane up, Beachey turned down and into it.  The wings caught, and he glided down safely, the first pilot to survive such an event.  With this newly held fame, Beachey entered a number of stunt flying contests and became the first aviator to perform a huge number of tricks including being:

Credited with the invention of stall recovery
First to fly inverted
First American to complete an inside loop
First to fly inside a building
First to achieve terminal velocity and live
First controlled powered flight in state of Washington

Beachey was the first person to fly over Niagara Falls, and under the bridge near it.

And one of the first to loop the loop...

He could keep control of his plane in tight quarters and around crowds...

Lincoln Beachey also raced one of the fastest race car drivers, Eddie Rickenbacker, around a track at the Iowa State Fair.  Back then, it wasn't easy to control a big plane like that around a tight track, but for Beachey it wasn't a problem.  Here's a rare video from 1914 on that day...

However, despite his fearlessness and bold, daring disposition, Beachey would not fly forever.  Many people died trying to do what he did in a plane.  His friends had died trying to 'pull a Beachey,' which meant trying a trick that no one had done except for him.  On many occasions, Beachey blamed himself for the dozens of deaths of pilots trying to recreate his stunts.  When one of his closest friends died trying to pull a Beachey, the newly widowed woman pinned Beachey against a wall and blamed him for her late husband's death.  At the funeral, Beachey gave a speech.  He retired.  For 3 months.
When he decided to get back into the game, he wanted to perfect the loop (a difficult flying maneuver only accomplished by two other pilots).  One sunny day in San Fransisco at the 1914 Panama-Pacific International Exposition,  Beachey took the Beachey-Eaton Monoplane (pictured above) that he had built but never tested, up into the sky.  With one wing, the plane was much faster than the dual-winged planes he was used to, which meant the tricks he could perform were both bigger and more impressive.  He went up for a loop, and as he tried to stabilize the plane, the weaker single wing snapped on both sides, and Beachey was left hurtling at 230 miles per hour straight towards the bay in a cockpit with wheels.
At the age of 28, Beachey was pulled out of the San Francisco Bay by Navy divers next to whose ship he had crashed.  It took almost 2 hours for them to get him.  It turns out, Beachey had survived the crash, but was strapped so tightly into the plane that he could not get himself out before he plunged to the bottom of the bay.  Rescuers spent 3 hours trying to resuscitate him, but to no avail.  Beachey had drown at the bottom of the bay.  Hundreds of thousands of people, including his brother, watched in horror at the spectacle that killed possibly the greatest aviator and pioneer in history.  Here is a news clipping from The New York Times on his death, written in 1915...

  • Today, Beachey's name has been lost in obscurity.  Though he was an unbelievable spectacle at the time (of the 90 million Americans that lived in the United States, about 17 million came to watch Beachey perform at some point during his short life), all that remains is a playground jump rope chant that goes like this: Lincoln Beachey thought it was a dream To go up to Heaven in a flying machine. The machine broke down and down he fell. Instead of going to Heaven he went to… Lincoln Beachey thought it was a dream To go up to Heaven in a flying machine. The machine broke down and down he fell. Instead of going to Heaven he went to… ### Scroll all the way down and follow my blog to get more little bits of intrigue rss 2 copy


  1. MacKenzie CampbellFebruary 6, 2013 at 8:57 AM

    very interesting!!

  2. "Idaho State Fair" - You'll note that the film says "Iowa", not "Idaho".

    1. Justin good catch. Changed. Let me know if you find anything else