Saturday, December 7, 2013
AUGUSTA - Just eight years after the Wright brothers' historic first flight, St. Croix Johnstone took off from a baseball field in Augusta in his rudimentary monoplane.
Amelia Earhart gets flowers from Gladys Chase, age 5, of Augusta on Aug. 14, 1934, at the Augusta airport.
It was Aug. 9, 1911, and thousands of spectators watched as he flew over the Kennebec River for about a half hour.
It was Maine's first flight. And one of Johnstone's last.
In a stark reminder of the risks of early flight, Johnstone plunged to his death less than a week later in his Moisant monoplane at an international aviation meet in Chicago, his hometown.
That first flight and Augusta's other historic aviation moments will be part of a discussion Wednesday at the Augusta State Airport, sponsored by the Kennebec Historical Society.
The state's and Augusta's aviation history will be discussed by John D. Davis of Yarmouth, author of "Early Wings Over Maine." The 6:30 p.m. program will be in a Maine Instrument Flight hanger, whose owner, Bill Perry, will also give a presentation.
Davis said his own interest in planes accelerated when his father and he drove to the Augusta State Airport in 1937 to see an air show.
"I can still see some of the performances in my mind," he said. "I remember seeing a float sea plane landing on the airport runway. It came in with what seemed to be a very slow speed while a clown splashed pails of water on the ground where the plane was to touch down.
"Another event was a parachutist who leaped from an aircraft at a reported 15,000 feet altitude. As the breathless crowd watched, he plummeted downward leaving a smoke trail, and then at the last moment he opened his chute and gently glided to the ground."
But Augusta's aviation history contains a lot more than clowns and water pails.
In 1934, pioneering aviator Amelia Earhardt, who was the first woman to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic, visited Augusta as part of a flying ensemble promoting a proposed airline.
Other highlights about state aviation from 1911 to 1940 include the early attempts to fly across the Atlantic from Old Orchard Beach and the visits to Maine by Charles Lindbergh, who was the first person to fly nonstop across the Atlantic.
Wednesday's presentation will also feature a special guest of another, mysterious sort.
Society member Roger Pomerleau said the event will feature a rare aircraft, but declined to give other details.
"It's going to be a surprise, an experimental aircraft very few people in the United States have ever seen," Pomerleau said. "We will fire it up and run it around a bit. It does fly. But I'm not sure it will actually leave the ground."
Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Keith Edwards can be reached at 621-5647 or: