Little Bits of History

A World’s First in Flight

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 1, 2015
Benoist aircraft ready for launch

Benoist aircraft ready for launch

January 1, 1914: The St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line (SPT) commences operation. Thomas W Benoist was brought in to manage the fleet of three planes. The new airboats connected the two cities in Florida. They are about 23 miles apart and separated by Old Tampa Bay. Today, there is a bridge which makes the travel time about a half hour (depending on traffic). The bridge was not available in 1914 and the trip took 2 hours by boat, 4 to 12 hours by train, and 20 hours by car. A three month contract was signed for the service with the St. Petersburg board of trade on December 17, 1913. This was the tenth anniversary of the Wright brothers flight at Kitty Hawk.

The hangers for the planes were not completed and one of the planes, Lark of Duluth, was unaccounted for. It had been placed on a freight train and still had not arrived in time for opening day. On this date, SPT Airboat Line became the world’s first scheduled winged airline service. The maiden flight was piloted by Antony H Jannus who flew a Benoist Type XIV from St. Petersburg to Tampa. The local paper had given lots of ink to the upcoming event and there were approximately 3000 people on hand to watch a parade and listen to an Italian band at the departure point.

An auction was held for the first round trip ticket aboard the biplane. Abram C Pheil was the winner with his $400 bid. The former mayor of St. Petersburg boarded the wooden, open-air plane and made the 23-minute trip which rarely got higher than five feet above the water. Two more airboats were soon added to the fleet. One was used to ferry passengers and the other was used as a training plane for pilots. One way tickets were priced at $5 each and cargo was shipped at $5 for 100 pounds. The first cargo was a bundle of the local paper, the St Petersburg Times. They made 172 flights covering over 7,000 miles and had ferried 1,205 people before closing on May 5, 1914 – five weeks after the contract termination.

Thomas Benoist was born in 1874 in Missouri. His interest in flight began even before heavier than air planes. He was unsuccessful in sponsoring a lighter than air flying machine which was similar to a helicopter and then became interested in ballooning. He and his brother began Aeronautic Supply Company in 1907 and helped others achieve flight. Benoist made his own first flight on September 18, 1910. He opened a flying school in March 1911 and also bought out his brother and opened Benoist Aircraft Company, which burnt to the ground in October, destroying five completed planes. He dreamed of flying across the ocean. While stepping off a streetcar, he struck his head against a telephone pole. He died on June 14, 1917 at the age of 42. His company had built over 100 airplanes, but without his leadership, it went out of business in 1918.

The most beautiful dream that has haunted the heart of man since Icarus is today reality. – Louis Bleriot

There is no sport equal to that which aviators enjoy while being carried through the air on great white wings. – Wilbur Wright, 1905.

You haven’t seen a tree until you’ve seen its shadow from the sky. – Amelia Earhart

No one can realize how substantial the air is, until he feels its supporting power beneath him. It inspires confidence at once. – Otto Lilienthal

Also on this day: Julian Calendar – In 45 BC, a new calendar went into effect.
The Times Are a’Changin’ – In 1788, The Times of London was first published.
The Granddaddy of them All – In 1890, the first Tournament of Roses parade was held.
Homestead Act – In 1863, the first claim under the Homestead Act was made.
Ceres Found – In 1801, the first asteroid was located.


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