On This Day in Aviation History

October 19, 2011

On This Day in Aviation History: October 19th

1953 – A TWA Lockheed Constellation completes the first regularly scheduled, nonstop transcontinental service in the US, flying from Los Angeles to New York in eight hours.

1917: The US Army opens Love Field in Dallas, an airstrip named after First Lieutenant Moss Lee Love who had died in a plane crash in San Diego. Love Field would be opened to civilian flights 10 years later, eventually serving as the main airport in Dallas until the opening of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in 1974.

1911: Naval aviation pioneer Eugene Ely, the first pilot to takeoff and land on a ship, is killed in a plane crash during an exhibition in Macon, Georgia.

1901: Aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont launches his airship in a second attempt attempt to win the 50,000 Franc Deutsch de la Meurthe Prize.


Santos-Dumont circles the Eiffel Tower during his successful run for the Deutsch de la Meurthe Prize on October 19, 1901

The prize was offered by businessman Henri Deutsch de la Meurthe to the first machine able to fly from Paris’ Parc Saint Cloud to the Eiffel Tower and back, a distance of 6.8 miles, in under 30 minutes. The feat would require an average speed of at least 14mph. Santos-Dumont’s first attempt two months earlier had nearly ended in disaster, when his self-built airship “Number 5″ sprung a hydrogen leak, causing it to plummet and explode on the roof of the Trocadero Hotel. Somehow, Santos-Dumont emerged unscathed.

In a new, larger ship, on this date Santos-Dumont reaches the turnaround in only 9 minutes, but suffers an engine failure just as he is circling the Eiffel Tower. He manages to climb out of his gondola to restart the engine—without a safety harness—and returns to the park to complete the challenge in 29 minutes and 30 seconds.

After a last minute rule change by the timekeeper, however, it is claimed that Santos-Dumont did not actually complete the challenge in the allotted time. Following weeks of public outcry and pressure from the press, the prize is finally handed over to Santos-Dumont, who proceeds to donate a large portion to the poor, and the remainder as a bonus to his assistants.