Unconventional airplane landings are everything but forgettable. Remember Capt. Chesley Sullenberger steering a US Airways jetliner onto the Hudson River in 2009? Then there was a Long Island man who touched down on Rockaway Beach in 2011 and, more recently, a stunt pilot who coasted down safely onto a Suffolk County road.
However, the king of “surprise drunken landings ” is the pilot Thomas Fitzpatrick and his story of turning a barroom bet into a feat of aeronautic wonder – Twice.
Fitzpatrick was a Marine during the Korean War and received a Purple Heart.
To win a barroom bet, Tommy Fitz stole a plane from a New Jersey airport and landed it on St. Nicholas Avenue in northern Manhattan, in front of the bar where he had been drinking. We are not sure why, but he did nearly the exact same thing two years later.
On September 30, 1956 after drinking heavily at a bar in New York City, Fitzpatrick made an intoxicated barroom bet that he could travel from New Jersey to New York City in 15 minutes. At approximately 3 a.m. he stole a single engine plane from the Teterboro School of Aeronautics in New Jersey and flew without lights or radio before landing on St. Nicholas Avenue near 191st Street in front of the bar where the bet was made.
The New York Times called it a “fine landing” and a “feat of aeroneutics”. For his illegal flight, he was fined a measly $100 after the plane’s owner refused to press charge
On October 4, 1958 just before 1 a.m., Fitzpatrick again stole another plane from the same airfield and landed on Amsterdam and 187th street in front of a Yeshiva University building after another bar patron disbelieved his first feat.
As New York Times reports, that first flight, Mr. Fitzpatrick admitted, was the result of a barroom bet.
“The story goes, he had made a bet with someone in the bar that he could be back in the Heights from New Jersey in 15 minutes,” said Jim Clarke, 68, who had lived near the first landing spot and recalls seeing the plane in the street.
“Supposedly, he planned on landing on the field at George Washington High School but it wasn’t lit up at night, so he had to land on St. Nicholas instead,” said Mr. Clarke, who now lives in Chatham, N.J.
Another resident Sam Garcia described how times have changed stating, “if it happened today, they would call him a terrorist, and locked him up and thrown away the key.”
For the first flight, Mr. Fitzpatrick was charged on grand thievery charges, which were dropped after the plane’s owner declined to sign a complaint. He was also charged with disrupting the city’s administrative code, which prohibits landing a plane on the street. Mr. Fitzpatrick was only fined $100.
For his second stolen flight judge, John A. Mullen, sentenced him to six months in prison stating, “Had you been properly jolted then, it’s possible this would not have occurred a second time.”
Fitzpatrick has a mixed drink named after him for his feat called the “Late Night Flight”