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La Floridiana by Will Moriaty
   Now in our fourth calendar year
    PCR #192  (Vol. 4, No. 48)  This edition is for the week of November 24--30, 2003.

The History of Aviation in Florida Part Two: 1920-1941 - The First World War Gives Way to the Roaring Twenties
 by Will Moriaty
"The Cat In The Hat"
"The Haunted Mansion"
 by Mike Smith
"Bubba-Ho-Tep"  by ED Tucker
Another List....Give This Man A Prize....Remembering The Past....Movie Notes....Moving On
 by Mike Smith
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The History of Aviation in Florida
Part Two: 1920-1941 - The First World War Gives Way to the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression as Barnstormers, World Beaters and Commercial Airports Get a Foot Hold on Florida

As has been the cycle numerous times after adversity such as wars or pestilence, societies eventually return to stability and prosperity, and people's spirits start looking up again. The "Roaring Twenties" were certainly no exception to this rule as post World War One life in America was one of unparalleled prosperity and growth. Needless to say, the world of aviation in Florida also experienced unparalleled prosperity and growth during that colorful and decadent era.

The Barnstormers and the World Beaters
Commercial aviation is the safest mode of transportation in the world today and it largely owes this attribute to the aviation barnstormers and world-beaters who thrilled audiences at local airports and envisioned commercial air travel for the masses from the late 1910's to the early 1940's.

These courageous and innovative men and women teased, taunted, challenged and pushed the envelope of their magnificent flying machines, or dreamed bold dreams of expanding commerce into areas of the world remote and challenging, forging new ground in the advancement of powerplant design and airframe engineering. Many of the early barnstorming aviators died in fatal crashes, but their sacrifices, along with those from aviators who were lucky enough to survive the early experimental age of heavier than air travel, taught and enabled future generations of flyers techniques and maneuvers that would save untold lives in a plethora of different dangerous circumstances including aerial dogfights. In addition many of the world-beaters saw their fledgling airlines crash and burn in attempts to expand the role of civil aviation.

The All-American Air Maneuvers
An annual event that encapsulated the spirit of the barnstormers and world-beaters was the All-American Air Maneuvers, held each January in Miami from the late 1920's to the early 1940's. Many of America's most famous aviators, such as Roscoe Turner, Amelia Earhart and Jimmy Doolittle would heed the rally cry of "Meet Me in Miami!" as January approached.

The Birth of Florida's Commercial Airports
Due to both the prosperity of the country and the rise of confidence in aviation, commercial airports began to appear throughout the state.

Albert Whitted Field, St. Petersburg
In 1919, Naval flight instructor Albert Whitted built a hanger at the Vinoy Hotel yacht basin in St. Petersburg. Fifteen years later, on October 15, 1934, National Airlines Systems started operations at that same airport with two Ryan monoplanes. The airline initially flew from there to Tampa, Lakeland, Orlando and Daytona Beach. In 1937 the airline added routes to Miami with stops in Sarasota and Ft. Meyers. Whitted died from injuries sustained in an air crash over Pensacola Bay on August 19, 1923. The field is still operational, and now caters to general aviation traffic. For more on this airport, please link to PCR # 190 (http://www.crazedfanboy.com/npcr/laflapcr190.html).

Drew Field, Tampa
On February 22, 1928, Tampa's Drew Field opened, drawing 50,000 people and aviators from all around the country. The field was named in honor of John H. Drew who sold the land to Hillsborough County. In the Second World War, it, along with Henderson Field, were used as adjuncts to Mac Dill Army Air Force Base in Tampa (link to PCR Issue #85 for more on this at http://www.crazedfanboy.com/nolansnewsstand/popculturereview85.html ). By the late 1940's the name was changed to Tampa International Airport, where large-scale commercial operations continue to this day (see my article devoted solely to this airport in PCR #189 at http://www.crazedfanboy.com/npcr/laflapcr189.html ).

Jacksonville Municipal Airport
This airport was formally dedicated on December 9, 1928. Before its opening, in October 1927, thousands of people turned out at this field to catch a glimpse of world-famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, the first man to make a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

Dale Mabry Municipal Airport, Tallahassee
The 200-acre Hamilton farm located three miles west of our State Capitol was chosen for that city's first airport. It was dedicated on November 11, 1929, and named in honor of Dale Mabry, a Tallahassee native killed on February 21, 1922 when the dirigible 'Roma" he was riding in crashed in Norfolk, Virginia. The primary roadway out of Mac Dill Air Force Base in Tampa was also named in honor of this aviator.

Grand Central Airport, St. Petersburg
Also referred to as Sky Harbor Airport (see PCR #85), this airport was built in 1929 six miles northeast of St. Petersburg on Weedon Island. Pitcairn Aviation, which then became Eastern Air Transport, served this airport, which had three runways, a hanger and an administration and terminal building. Long after the airport was abandoned, the City of St. Petersburg stored floats for its Festival of States parade in its lone hanger. The hanger was destroyed by the late 1970's and all that remains of the airport is the concrete floor to the administration and terminal building, which is noted by a marker at present day Weedon Island Preserve, a Pinellas County park.

Peter O. Knight Airport, Tampa
Built as a WPA project in 1934 (erroneously stated as being in use in the 1920's in PCR #85), Peter O. Knight was built as an adjunct to the City of Tampa's seaplane base on Davis Islands. For a two-decade period the airport handled commercial traffic until larger four engine transports were used after the Second World War by the airlines. This necessitated moving commercial operations to Drew Field, later renamed Tampa International Airport. This airport continues to operate as a general aviation field.

Orlando Municipal Airport
In 1928 Orlando, the birthplace of heavier than air flight in Florida, opened its first municipal airport, known later as Herndon Field, east of downtown off of Colonial drive. Herndon served as the city's commercial airport until the advent of jet passenger planes necessitated moving scheduled operations to McCoy Air Force Base (now Orlando International Airport) in the early 1960's. Herndon later became Orlando Executive airport, which still serves general aviation to this day.

Meacham Field, Key West
Although long since out of operation, this was one of Florida's most historic airports. On May 19, 1913, a Key West native of Cuban exiled parents; Agustin Parla Orduna was the first to fly from the United States to Cuba. For this the Cuban Government awarded him $10,000.

The first commercial flight between the United States and a foreign country occurred here when a Compania Cubana Americana de Aviacion Model 501 flying boat departed to Havana, Cuba on November 15, 1919. On November 1, 1920, Aeromarine Airways was the first United Stares carrier to fly a regular passenger service internationally.

It was also here that the most memorable airline in world history, Pan American Airways, got its start in 1925 and provided the first international delivery of both passengers and airmail under the United States flag on a flight in a Fokker F-7 piloted by Hugh Wells, Ed Musick and John Johansen to Cuba on October 28, 1927.

The field was named after Key West civic leader Malcolm Meacham who leased the land to Pan Am for one dollar a year. The airport, originally located near the East Martello Towers Civil War Fort, was basically shut down once Pan Am owner Juan Terry Trippe moved the base of operations to Miami's 36th Street Airport in the fall of 1928.

Miami's Airports:
Up to thirteen airports or air stations operated in the Miami area from the late 1920's to the advent of World War Two. This partial listing is of the most notable of these historic fields.

Glenn Curtiss Aviation School (a.k.a. Glenn Curtis Field) /Miami Municipal Airport
Although Orville and Wilbur Wright are credited for inventing the airplane, the one person who probably did more than any other human being for the growth of the world of aviation as we know it today was undeniably Glenn Curtiss. A native of Hammondsport, New York, and dubbed "The Henry Ford of Aviation", the Wright brothers issued Curtiss Pilots License Number One.

Originally built in 1911 near downtown Miami abutting "Bay Biscayne", Curtiss later moved the facility to a cleared field that was formerly Saw Palmetto and Dade County Pine located between 105th Street and Gratigny Road east of LeJeune Road. General aviation, airmail, and scheduled passenger service began to operate out of this field, and in 1927 Curtiss deeded the field to the City of Miami which brought about the name change to Miami Municipal Airport.

The All-American Aerial Maneuvers mentioned above in this article took place annually at this field from 1929 to 1941. And lastly, on June 1, 1937 famed aviator Amelia Earhart began her ill fated around the world trip after her Lockheed Electra lifted off from the runway of this airport. As a result, the field was lastly renamed to Amelia Earhart Field, a title that it was given in 1947. The field was shut down many decades ago. A nearby municipal park bearing her name is located immediately south of the Gratigny Parkway adjacent to the Opa-Locka Executive Airport.

Dinner Key
Many of the Caribbean and Central and South American countries did not have ground based landing fields due in many cases to mountainous terrain or thick jungles. As a result, flying boats were the most logical choice of reaching these exotic locations and the New York Rio and Buenos Aires Airline (or NYRBA) of New York was quick to capitalize on this, utilizing the most luxurious flying boat of them all at that time, the Consolidated Commodore. In 1929 it began to use a portion of Biscayne Bay in the Coconut Grove area of Miami that would later be called Dinner Key (see PCR Issue # 136 at http://www.crazedfanboy.com/nolansnewsstand02/laflapcr136.html ).

On February 20, 1930 NYRBA pilot Ralph A. O'Neill landed at Dinner Key bringing with him the first ever airmail from South America. A hostile take over by Pan American forced cessation of the NYRBA, the actual first airline to serve Dinner Key. Regardless, Pan American would indelibly leave its history on the Dinner Key facility, making it one of the most significant airports in Florida.

From here its fleet of Sikorsky S-40's, S-42 and Consolidated Commodore flying boats (fourteen of them acquired from the NYRBA in the hostile takeover) carried passengers to Cuba, the Bahamas, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. The first flight from this port to the Panama Canal Zone was on November 19, 1931 with Charles Lindbergh as pilot, and aircraft designer Igor Sikorsky riding as a passenger. Even President Franklin D. Roosevelt flew into Dinner Key on Pan American Boeing 314 Clipper "Dixie", becoming the first President to fly while in office. This flight was in preparation of his meeting with Churchill and Stalin in Casablanca.

By the end of the Second World War, the flying boats days were numbered as improved land fields began to populate points south, and Pan American shut down the Dinner Key operation shortly thereafter. The once world class terminal still exists as Miami City Hall (see PCR issues 136 and 190 (http://www.crazedfanboy.com/npcr/laflapcr190.html)

36th Street Airport/Pan American Field
Pan American Airways founder Juan Terry Trippe determined that he could make his fledgling airline more money by hauling mail on U.S. contracts on a per mileage basis than on a per weight basis. As a result of this, in the fall of 1928 Trippe moved his Key West operation from Meacham Field to a cleared area adjacent to 36th Street, west of Le Jeune Road next to Glenn Curtiss's developments of Miami Springs and Hialeah.

This move would in essence be the catalyst for the creation of one of the world's greatest airports, Miami International Airport. A 120-acre tract of land, the 36th Street Airport was built in 1927 and on September 15, 1928, Captain Edwin Musick gunned the engines of his Pan American Sikorsky S-38 loaded with 340 pounds of airmail bound for Key West becoming the first scheduled flight to leave that field.

On January 9, 1929 famed aviator Charles Lindberg dedicated the main terminal, possibly the first modern prototypical air terminal in American history. The terminal was designed by Delano and Aldrich, who also designed the terminals at the Dinner Key location and at LaGuardia Airport in New York City.

In 1932, Eddie Rickenbacker moved his Eastern Air Transport operation from Miami Municipal Airport to the 36th Street Airport, while yet another South Florida aviation player, George T. Baker, made the 36th Street Airport a destination in 1937 and moved the base of operations for his National Airlines Systems from Jacksonville to Miami International Airport in 1946. Also in the fray was of course Glenn Curtiss who designed and built the Aero-Car on a an aircraft frame to ferry passengers from the 36th Street Airport to Miami's hotels and connecting flights at Dinner Key. The Aero-Car would in large part inspire the Airstream camper.

Now officially known as Wilcox Field, in honor of a South Florida proponent of commercial aviation, Miami International Airport is today number one in air cargo in the United States, number one in scheduled flights to South America from the United States, and has more airlines than any other airport in the country. The airport and its support industries now employ over 40,000 people.

Venetian Causeway Seaplane Base/Viking Field
Located on the Venetian Causeway's Biscayne Island, Viking Field featured both land and amphibious aircraft. Initially constructed in 1928 as the Venetian Causeway Seaplane Base, its name was changed in 1931 to Viking Field. Although shut down many decades ago, this field was Miami's first true downtown and waterfront airport.

Opa-Locka Field
Located north of the Gratigny Parkway and immediately west of LeJeune Road, this airport was yet another brainchild of Glenn Curtiss and like the 36th Street Airport was built in 1927.

It was the home of the U.S. Naval Training Command during World War Two and the home of six naval training bases. Curtiss's other airfield, Miami Municipal/Amelia Earhart discussed above, was located almost immediately south of the Opa-Locka Field and during the Second World War the two airports were connected.

Most notable about Opa-Locka was its gigantic blimp hanger, which housed such notable dirigibles as the Graf Zeppelin and the ill-fated U.S. Navy dirigible, the Akron. In 1967 Opa was touted as being the world's busiest airport with over 650,000 flight operations that year.

It currently houses general aviation, a U.S. Coast Guard auxiliary, aircraft recovery services (scrapping and disposal of retired and inactive aircraft) and possibly the last cargo versions of operable piston aircraft such as the DC-3, DC-4, DC-6, DC-7, Convair Twins and Beech 18 left in the lower 48 states.

From a historical perspective, this is probably the best preserved of Miami's original airports, although regrettably the blimp hanger, which was featured in a 1985 episode ("Evan") of the NBC series "Miami Vice", was destroyed by the end of that decade.

N.A.S. Richmond
Although I'm jumping the gun a few years into the Second World War, one of the most colorful and historic airfields in Miami was the Richmond Naval Air Station. Located twenty miles southwest of Miami near the current day Miami Metro Zoo, the 2,100-acre Naval Air Station was named after the Richmond Lumber Company, which timbered Dade County Pine (Pinus elliottii var. 'densa') from the South Florida Pine Rocklands that the field would be built on, and had a sawmill on nearby.

Built in April 1942 and commissioned on September 15th of that year, this was the U.S. Navy's answer to the German U-Boat activity occurring of the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico on down to the Panama Canal Zone. Three giant blimp hangers, the largest wooden structures on earth at that time, were largely constructed out the nearby harvested Dade County Pine and this material would figure significantly in its future fate.

N.A.S. Richmond was home to the ZP-21, the largest squadron of airships in the Navy, and was the largest Airship Station south of Lakehurst New Jersey. N.A.S. Richmond had a sterling record with German "kills" stretching from Halifax Newfoundland to Brownsville, Texas.

But something incredible and tragic would happen to N.A.S. Richmond. In September of 1945 a hurricane skirting the coast of Cuba appeared to be heading toward Florida. The Navy decided it was best to move their aircraft and airships from N.A.S. Opa-Locka and N.A.S. Ft. Lauderdale (where the ill-fated "Flight 19" began its sojourn into the Bermuda Triangle in December of that year) to the three gigantic hangers at N.A.S. Richmond.

All told, 391 flying machines and over 100 automobiles were crammed into the three hangers. 137 officers and 830 enlisted men rigged for heavy rolls. At 5:42 P.M. on that fateful September day it was determined that N.A.S. Richmond was ground target zero for the hurricane. 126 mile per hour gusts quickly fanned flames that erupted out of Hanger One. From there the flames spread to the remaining two gigantic wooden hangers, and in short order everything, hundreds of aircraft, cars, blimps, fuels, vats of benzene and ferrous metals were consumed and turned to ash, rubble or molten metal by the next morning. One person lost their life in the blaze.

It was the largest fire in 1945, assessed at $30,000,000.00 1945 dollars in the biggest peacetime loss to Federal property.

All that remains of this once magnificent airfield is a radio tower largely covered in concrete that is still operated by the U.S. Navy

Next Week: In Part Three, World War Two and the Nifty Fifties in Florida Aviation History

"La Floridiana" is ©2003 by William Moriaty.  Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2003 by Nolan B. Canova.