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Lincoln Beachey


Atlas series rockets

Atlas launch vehicle

Credits - U.S. Air Force Museum Archives

Lincoln Beachey was America's most famous and most skilled stunt flier of the pre-World War I era. He was born in San Francisco, California, on March 3, 1887, and began tinkering with machines by starting his own bicycle shop when he was 13. By the age of 15, he was repairing motorcycles and their engines. He first appeared with balloonist Thomas Baldwin's balloon troupe, and he helped Baldwin build the dirigible California Arrow. He made his first piloted dirigible flight in 1905. He soon went into business for himself and garnered publicity by flying his dirigible around the Washington Monument, down the Mall in Washington, D.C., and landing on the lawn of the White House


In 1910, after flying his dirigible at an air meet in Los Angeles and realizing that the airplane would soon replace the airship, Beachey began taking flying lessons at the Curtiss Flying School. After several mishaps in which he crashed Curtiss' airplanes, Beachey became Curtiss' largest moneymaker. He joined the Curtiss Exhibition Team and quickly became its star performer. His signature stunt was a vertical climb until his plane's engine stall, then a dive toward the ground, pulling up at the last possible minute.


An extremely accomplished aviator, in 1911, and always appearing dressed in a suit, Beachey figured out a way to conquer the usually fatal “spin.” At the Chicago International Aviation Meet in 1911, he setanaltitude recordof 11,642 feet by simplyclimbing until he ran out of fuel and then gliding back tothe ground with a dead engine. He was the first to fly upside down and the first to fly over Niagara's Horseshoe Falls and under the International Bridge.


In 1913 Beachey performed the first “loop the loop” flying maneuver in America. Between November 1913 and November 1914, he would perform the maneuver more than 1,000 times. He also worked up a stunt with his partner, racecar driver Barney Oldfield, in which he raced a car driven by Oldfield around a track, usually beating the car. He would end each race with a “loop,” increasing the number of loops every time other stunt pilots increased theirs.


Beachey's luck came to an end on March 14, 1915 while performing a stunt at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. While diving over San Francisco Bay in a new plane built especially for aerobatic flight, the wings of his airplane broke away, and he dove into the bay at full speed.