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Lincoln J. Beachey: the world’s greatest aviator performed flight exhibitions in front of 30 million people during his career

Goran Blazeski

Lincoln J. Beachey was born on March 3, 1887, in San Francisco. At the age of 13, he already started making money. He started his own bicycle shop in his hometown and by the age of 15, he was repairing motorcycles.

He showed interest in flying and started building his own balloons. He was very well skilled in flying balloons and he did some aerial exhibitions when he was spotted by Capt. Thomas Scott Baldwin, who hired him for his skills and theatrics.

Lincoln Beachey, an early U.S. aviator.

Lincoln Beachey, an early U.S. aviator.

Baldwin, with Beachey’s help, constructed a dirigible named The California Arrow. The airship made its first flight over San Francisco Bayn in August 1904. It was the first dirigible flight in America. In February 1905, Lincoln Beachey made his first flight in a dirigible when he was only 17 years old. And it didn’t take long for him to became the top aeronaut. He traveled to many countries showcasing The California Arrow.

He was excellent in the exhibition business, so he built an airship and decided to establish his own company. When he completed the dirigible, he shipped it to Luna Park in Pittsburgh where received a contract in 1906 to perform exhibition flights.

Lincoln Beachey with his plane

Lincoln Beachey with his plane

Soon he hit newspaper headlines across the nation. As he was very popular, he shipped his dirigible to Washington, where he flew around the Washington Monument and landed on the White House lawn. After the sensation he made in Washington, he started performing throughout the country.

Beachey was acclaimed as the first “Aerial Master,” “the World’s Greatest Aviator” and a “Genius of Aviation.” He overcame the false barriers and presumptions of upside down flying and looping.

Lincoln Beachey, in his business suit he wore for flying

Lincoln Beachey, in his business suit he wore for flying

He became a superstar in the USA. The entire population of the US at that time was around 90 million people; 17 million of them came out to see him fly in just one year. He was the first pilot to achieve terminal velocity by flying straight toward the ground. Lots of other pilots tried to imitate what Lincoln was doing but most of them ended up dying.

When the airplane took over, Beachey didn’t retire. He sold his dirigible and started taking flying lessons at the Curtiss Flying School in 1910. Next year he was already the greatest moneymaker for Curtiss.

Lincoln Beachey flying a loop over the San Francisco Exposition

Lincoln Beachey flying a loop over the San Francisco Exposition

As time went on Lincoln Beachey became more and more popular. On June 27, 1911, he entertained a crowd of around 150,000 people with his flight around Niagara falls. He started making around $4000 dollars for every appearance ($96,000 in today’s currency).

He decided to retire in 1913 and entered the real estate business, but not for long. Curtiss made him a new high-powered plane and he was now able to try and make the loop. It didn’t take him long to perform 80 loops in one afternoon.

On Sunday, March 14th, 1915, after so many hours flying, Lincoln Beachey crashed into San Francisco Bay in front of a crowd of 50,000 people. It was his last flight. He died at the age of 28.