“Alas, that he must fly on Sunday!”

On Sunday, March 14, 1915, Bishop Milton Wright wrote the following lines in his daily diary:

…Lincoln Beachy fell 7,000 ft to his death in San Francisco Bay, to-day, in his second flight, on a monoplane. Alas, that he must fly on Sunday! A monoplane cannot be as strong as a biplane.

Lincoln Beachey (1887-1915) is often called the first great American stunt pilot. He was the first man to fly upside-down and performed the first loop-the-loop in America. In addition to being quite the daredevil, Beachey is credited with finding a solution to the dreaded tailspin.

Lincoln Beachey seated at the controls of a Curtiss aircraft at the Harvard-Boston Aero Meet, Sept. 1911. From Harvard Boston Aero Meet Collection, photo #MS338_01_09. More on CORE Scholar.

Lincoln Beachey seated at the controls of a Curtiss aircraft at the Harvard-Boston Aero Meet, Sept. 1911. From Harvard Boston Aero Meet Collection, photo #MS338_01_09. More on CORE Scholar.

Beachey began learning to fly at the Curtiss Flying School in 1910. Soon after, he became a star member of the Curtiss Exhibition Team. Some of his most exciting demonstrations were at Niagara Falls in 1911 and San Francisco in January 1915.

Lincoln Beachey flying a Curtiss aircraft over the racetrack at Saugus, Massachusetts., during the  Harvard-Boston Aero Meet, Sept. 1911. From the Harvard Boston Aero Meet Collection, photo # MS338_03_12. More on CORE Scholar.

Lincoln Beachey flying a Curtiss aircraft over the racetrack at Saugus, Massachusetts., during the Harvard-Boston Aero Meet, Sept. 1911. From the Harvard Boston Aero Meet Collection, photo # MS338_03_12. More on CORE Scholar.

On August 1, 1914, Beachey made an exhibition at Dayton, Ohio. On that day he is said to have made what turned out to be a prophetic statement: “I want the bands playing and the crowds cheering when I die…”

Harold Snyder, Luzern Custer, & Lincoln Beachey at the Dayton Fairgrounds, August 1, 1914. From the Ivonette Wright Miller Papers, photo # MS216_08_01_01d.

Harold Snyder, Luzern Custer, & Lincoln Beachey at the Dayton Fairgrounds, August 1, 1914. From the Ivonette Wright Miller Papers, photo # MS216_08_01_01d.

In the short span of time from learning to fly in 1910 and his death in 1915, Beachey actually retired from the exhibition business three times. Unfortunately, he was once again performing fantastical stunts on Sunday, March 14, 1915, when Death ceased to be defied.

As Beachey performed his stunt over the San Francisco Bay that day, he was unfortunately too close to the water to complete his desired maneuver. He attempted to change direction, but in doing so, the strain caused both wings on his monoplane to snap, and he plummeted into the Bay. When the wreckage was retrieved from the Bay, Beachey was still firmly strapped into his harness. The daredevil pilot’s actual cause of death was drowning.

Beachey article, Dayton Daily News, March 15, 1915

Beachey’s prophetic statement — “I want the bands playing and the crowds cheering when I die” — at Dayton in 1914. Dayton Daily News, March 15, 1915

More sources on Lincoln Beachey:

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