Teaching the World to Fly

Blanche Stuart Scott and Curtiss
For Glenn H. Curtiss, building and selling airplanes were not enough. He wanted people to understand the idea and beauty of flying his aircraft. Starting with the first sale of an airplane to the Aeronautical Society of New York in 1909, he agreed to teach two of its members, Charles Willard and Alexander Williams, how to fly. These men were his first students. It was clear to Curtiss that teaching people to fly had the ability to open new doors to sales and lead to new improvements as well as a better understanding of science and flight. 1910 set a landmark in the opening of the Curtiss School of Aviation in Hammondsport, New York and San Diego, California. Rarely was anyone turned away. By 1916, people from all walks of life were attending one of ten locations across the country. The Curtiss School first trained U.S. Navy pilots, helping to create a strong Air Wing of the military. With newspapers taking notice of its vast diversity, the schools were no longer viewed as a curiosity, but instead recognized and declared a “ wonder of the century“. With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, many of the schools and instructors would become extensions of the military. These flying schools trained some of the finest aviators the world had ever seen. Afterwards, the Curtiss Flying Schools merged into the Curtiss Flying Service, continuing well up to the beginning of World War II.

Students of the Air

Emory C. Malick was born in Seven Points, Pennsylvania on December 29, 1881. He was the third child of thirteen in his family. A skilled carpenter and master tile-layer by trade, Emory took an interest in flying around 1910, first experimenting with gliders. He was a member of the Aero Club of Pennsylvania despite not yet earning his pilot’s license. He started with building his own aircraft, much like Curtiss. While living in Philadelphia, he joined the Curtiss School of Aviation Class of 1912 and attended the winter camp in San Diego, California. He graduated and earned his license in March. Malick became the first African-American pilot to earn his license as well as actively fly in the United States. Through the teens and twenties, Malick flew in exhibitions and sold rides. He later flew for various companies in the Philadelphia area including Aero Service Corp., Dallen Aerial Surveys, and the Flying Dutchman Air Svc. as a flight instructor, aerial photographer, and giving passenger flights. Early in 1924, Emory Malick set out on his own again and obtained a WACO Curtiss OX-5 powered aircraft. When not working as a skilled laborer, he traveled around the northeast selling rides and flying demonstrations. 1928 was the last year Emory took to the air. After having a near fatal crash at the Camden, New Jersey Air Show, he quit flying for good. While he never flew again, even as a passenger, Emory appeared at air shows displaying his early 1914 Curtiss OX2 engine, giving support to other pilots. When asked why he would not fly again he said, “I had my fun, and now I’m done.” Emory’s love of flying paved the way for other African-Americans to join the Curtiss Schools. Despite written records no longer existing of these other students, photos reveals that Curtiss schools were open to all regardless of race, gender, or national background. Emory Malick passed away in December of 1958 at the age of 77.

Malick preparing to soar the skies

Malick at the wheel

Tom Gunn: First Chinese Aviator

Tom Gunn
Born in San Francisco, California in late 1893 to Chinese parents, Tom Gunn became quickly interested in flight when he attended an air meet in January of 1910. He soon applied to the Curtiss Aviation School, which had opened in San Francisco that winter. He soon transferred to Hammondsport, NY to attend the flying school there. He was a part of the first graduating class of 1911, becoming China’s first pilot. Not satisfied with flying alone, Gunn began to invest money in building his own flying machines. By November of 1911, he had successfully completed a design of his own. His first flying meet was on January 20, 1912 in Los Angeles, California. Three weeks later, on February 13, Tom qualified for his pilot’s license. After a couple of exhibitions and a crash, Gunn returned to Hammondsport in May and received instruction at the Curtiss School in the new Flying Boats program. By August, he was back on the West Coast flying in exhibitions. After offering his services to the Chinese government, Tom Gunn received a commission as a captain in the Chinese Army. By the end of the year, he held the responsibilities as Chief Aviator of the Republic. Shortly after Tom’s success, other Chinese nationals would learn how to fly at the Curtiss schools. These students included: Chan Nam (1912), Wee Gee (1912), Arthur Fook Yuen Lym (1913), Lan Do On (1914), and Wong Tsu (1916). Tom Gunn set sail for China on June 4 of 1913 from San Francisco with a flying boat and two aircrafts of his own design. He arrived six days later in Honolulu, Hawaii, where he planned to stay and fly exhibitions. In 1914, China established a new government with a new leader who felt Gunn would be a threat to the country if he returned. In order to protect himself, Gunn relocated to Manila, opening up his own flight school. In 1915, Gunn was finally allowed to fly back to his mainland China , where he participated in flying exhibitions in Hong Kong and the Philippines. While in China, he raised money for flood relief and local charities. Gunn later had a roll in the Chinese Army. In late October 1919, Gunn arrived in the United States, charged by the Chinese Government to purchase modern aircrafts for the country. This was a result of the Japanese entering Northern China. Tom worked tirelessly for the rest of his life to build a modern Air Force for China. Sadly, Tom Gunn would pass away in 1925 as a result of a vehicle accident.
Curtiss and Tom Gunn during a flying lesson

Agustin Parla: First Cuban Pilot

Born on October 10,1887 in Key West, Florida, Agustin Parla’s family returned to Cuba shortly after the Spanish-American War. He fell in love with flying after taking a ride with a Curtiss Exhibition Flyer in Havana, Cuba in 1911. After explaining the importance of developing an air force to his high ranking uncle in the Cuban Army, he secured consent and funds from the Cuban government to attend the Curtiss Flight School in Miami, Florida. From there, Parla had the hopes of being a flight lieutenant and instructor. Arriving in January of 1912, Parla started his training in Miami and later transferred to Hammondsport, New York in April to complete training. Taking his solo flight in a Curtiss Model D Pusher aircraft and graduating on April 20, 1912, Agustin Parla became Cuba’s first pilot. Parla joined by another Cuban national, Lt. Arseneo Ortez, graduated from the Curtiss School in November of that year. Shortly after graduating, Parla returned to Cuba to raise funding for the purchase of aircraft and report to the Cuban military. Parla, receiving a commission as Captain and instructor, became important in organizing the Cuban Army Aero Corps and building their first training school. In April of 1913, Parla returned to Hammondsport to purchase and learn to fly a Curtiss Hydro-airplane with the goals of being the first Cuban to fly from Florida to Cuba and winning a $10,000 prize being offered by the city of Havana. During training he got word that another Cuban, Domingo Rosillo would make the attempt. Not to be out done, Parla quit his training, took his Hydro to Key West and made the flight  on May 19th, two days after Rosillo. He did, however, win a second place prize of $5,000 and broke Rosillo’s 90-mile distance record by flying 117 miles. The Curtiss School would present him his second license while visiting in 1916. Agustin Parla would go on to set several Cuban flying records, represent the Cuban government in buying additional aircraft and establish their first commercial flight service. In later years he held the position of Inspector General of Airports of Cuba. Parla passed away in 1947.
Parla during a flying lesson
Agustin Perla
Parla’s diploma for Aeroplane certification
Blanch Stuart Scott (1886-1970)
…And to think it all started with a car!

Blanche Stuart Scott: First Female Pilot

Born in 1866 in Rochester, New York, Blanche Stuart Scott was a bold child growing up. Encouraged  by her wealthy father, Blanche took part in many sports such as ice skating and bicycle riding, a sport intended only for men at the time. Blanche learned how to drive the family’s car at age 13, thus making her the youngest driver in the city. Imagine a time when having a license was not required to drive a car! Tragedy struck in 1903 when Blanche’s father died just after her seventeenth birthday. Her mother sent her away to an all-ladies school, thinking that might help her daughter become a traditional lady of society, someone who would find a suitor and get married. Being independent and as bold as she was as a child, Blanche left the school and moved to New York City to begin working to support herself on her own. In 1910, Blanche contacted Willys-Overland Co, an automotive corporation. She wanted to drive cross-country in one of their vehicles as a sales promotion; a bit like a mobile advertisement. Along with a female reporter, Gertrude Phillips, Blanche made the trip in 41 days, stopping in over 20 cities in 13 states. She ended up driving for a total of over 5,000 miles from east to west. As a result of the publicity she received, Jerome Fancuilli offered her a chance to learn to fly with the newly formed Curtiss flying School and Exhibition Team. Jumping at the chance, she arrived in Hammondsport in August and was personally taught by Curtiss. Blanche’s first solo flight on September 2 and her final test flight only four days later, resulted in her claim to fame as the first female pilot in the United States. Her first exhibition flight was for the Curtiss Co. in Fort Wayne, Indiana on October 23. This earned her the nickname “The Tomboy of the Air”. Blanche participated in many flying exhibitions during her career for several flying teams including Jimmy Ward and Baldwin’s Red Devils. in 1911, Blanche became not only the first woman to make a long-distance flight, but also the first female stunt pilot. One year later, Blanche became the first female test pilot in the United States. After a serious crash in 1913, Blanche felt it would be best to hang up her wings and give up flying. She moved to Hollywood to pursue a career staring in films. This change resulted in two silent films about her time in the air as well as becoming a script writer. She worked in film the next 14 years. Returning to Rochester in the late 1920s, Blanche worked over the next 25 years as a news reporter, a radio personality as well as promoting the start of the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum. Blanche Stuart Scott passed away on January 12, 1970 at the age of 84.
Bold Blanche ready for take-off

Ruth Nichols: First Female Flying Boat Pilot

Born on February 23, 1901 in Rye, New York, Ruth Nichols grew up in a wealthy household. Her high energy and spirits made her a young lady who was always dreaming of adventure. In the hopes that Ruth would gain acceptance in to high society, her father bought her an airplane ride as a graduation present. Little did he know that his daughter would take up an enormous interest in learning how to fly! Ruth attended Wesley University in the Fall of 1919, but ended up taking time away from school to learn how to fly a Curtiss Flying Boat in 1923. Her instructor was Harry Rogers, a licensed pilot from the Curtiss School of Aviation. After graduating, Ruth became the first female seaplane pilot in the United States in September 1923. Ruth flew with Harry Rogers over the new few years. Ruth took up working in a bank for income. When she was not working in a bank, she was working towards earning her seaplane pilot’s license, which she achieved on June 24, 1927. Over the next couple of years, Ruth flew periodically with Harry Rogers when not working, finally earning her seaplane pilot’s license on June 24, 1927. She became the first licensed female seaplane pilot in the U.S. In 1928, Nichols found her aviation career publicized when she acted as copilot to Rogers on the first nonstop flight from NY to Miami on January 3. She would be the first woman to do so and was labeled the “Flying Debutant”. This earned her a position at the Fairchild Aviation Corporation as the first female executive in the industry. In 1929, she accepted a job representing the Curtiss Aeroplane & Motor Corp. in a promotional tour for Aviation Country Clubs. Flying a Curtiss Fledgling, accompanied by a Curtiss Robin, Ruth visited 43 states, 96 cities and flew over 12,000 miles in six months. After setting a women’s flying record in June of 1930 for a flight from New York City to Burbank, California, Nichols earned her regular (non-seaplane) pilot’s license. The flight took 16 hours and 59 minutes. In 1931, she was the first woman to try to fly across the Atlantic. Despite crashing in New Brunswick, Canada, she managed to set three women’s records at the end of the year. These records for for altitude, speed, and distance. In 1923, Nichols became the first female airline pilot, flying for the New York and New England Airways. Over the course of her career as a pilot, Nichols participated in many competitions and exhibitions, promoting women’s place in the world of aeronautics. By the time of her death in 1960, Nichols had set 35 records, flew over 140 aircrafts, and participated in several charities such as Save the Children Federation, Wings of Mercy Missions, and UNICEF. Nichols also held the position of Lieutenant Colonel in the Civil Air Patrol. On September 23,1960, Ruth Nichols passed away at the age of 59.
Nichols accompanied by Harry Rogers (far left) and Ernest Jones (center)
Frederick L. de Reimsdyke

Frederick L. de Reimsdyke: First Dutch Pilot

Born in 1890 to wealthy parents in the Netherlands, Frederick L. de Reimsdyke became very interested in flying after watching Glenn H. Curtiss compete at the first International Air Meet in Rheims, France in August of 1909. At the age of 19, he immediately contracted with Curtiss to purchase an airplane and be taught to fly. That November he arrived in Hammondsport to purchase a Curtiss Pusher powered by a 25 hp, 4-cylinder water cooled engine. This would be the first foreign sale of a Curtiss plane. During November and December of 1909, Glenn H. Curtiss personally taught de Reimsdyke to fly. His solo flight on December 20 earned him the title of first Dutch pilot. Instead of returning to the Netherlands, Frederick had his plane shipped to Paris, France so he would be able to compete in air meets all across Europe. His first air meet was held at the Grand Heliopolis Air Meet in Cairo, Egypt in February, 1910. De Reimsdyke did not perform well, earning only $500. He was recognized as the first Dutchman to fly in Egypt while operating an American built aircraft to compete. Frederick retuned to France and on March 9 and qualified for his French pilot’s license no. 34, making him the first licensed Dutch pilot. (The United State and the Netherlands did not issue pilot’s licenses at that time.) Frederick de Rheimsdyke participated in several more air meets with little success. Discouraged by his poor winnings, several mechanical errors and an under powered machine, he gave up flying in 1912.
de Reimsdyke and Curtiss

Mohan Singh: First Indian Pilot

Singh becomes noted as the first Indian pilot
Mohan Singh
Born in Himmatpura, Punjab, India in March of 1885, Mohan Singh moved to the United States in 1906 at the age of 21 and settled in Chicago, llinois. Sometime around 1911, he decided to take up flying and headed to San Diego, California to join the Curtiss School of Aviation there in January of 1912. He referred to himself as an Indian prince and as a Captain on leave from the British Indian army. Transferring to the Hammondsport, New York school, Singh completed his training and on May 1 earned his pilot’s license no. 123 to become India’s first aviator and licensed pilot. Mohan Singh, now an excellent pilot, joined up with a short-lived exhibition team in June of 1912. This pursuit folded almost immediately with the death of three of his fellow pilots in several air crashes. Returning to Hammondsport, he earned his license for flying Curtiss Hydro-airplanes. In early 1913, Mohan completed more flight training. This time earning a degree in a Curtiss Flying boat and becoming one of the few Curtiss trained pilots to be able to navigate in all Curtiss aircrafts. As a result, Singh remained as a temporary flight instructor. He accompanied Glenn Curtiss on his visit to Europe in late 1913 and early 1914 as a demonstration pilot. Little is known about Singh’s activities from 1914 to 1915. Singh moved to Los Angeles, California in July of 1916 and worked as a butler and chauffeur, giving up his flying career. Singh applied for US citizenship for several years, but was denied in 1923. In 1925, Mohan Singh renamed himself Yogi Hari Rama and traveled the country as a teacher of mystic wisdom, setting up an organization with over 10,000 members known as the Benares League of America teaching Yoga science. He returned to India in 1928 having made a small fortune off his business estimated at well over a quarter of a million dollars
Motohisa Kondo

Motohisa Kondo: First Japanese Pilot

Born in Osaka, Japan on December 5, 1885, Motohisa Kondo came to the United States against his family’s wishes in June of 1903. He came with the hopes of a better education and making his fortune. Settling in San Diego, California, Kondo studied English and business courses offered outside of formal school. Motohisa fell in love with flying after seeing Glenn H. Curtiss fly in an exhibition there in San Diego and immediately decided to enroll in Class of 1912 at the Curtiss School of Aviation’s winter camp there. Extremely talented and highly skilled at flying, he quickly graduated in early April becoming Japan’s first pilot. His goal now was to return home and become a flying instructor. With encouragement from his instructor, J. Lansing Callan, Motohisa earned his pilot’s license on April 20, 1912. His perfect score lead him to become the world’s first Japanese pilot. Originally invited to join fellow student, Mohan Singh, in an exhibition company in Chicago, Illinois, Kondo decided to stay on with the flying school as an interpreter both in San Diego, California and Hammondsport, New York. This was at the request of the Japanese Naval official to help a number of Japanese military students being trained by Curtiss. The student list included Kono Takeishi (1912), Chikuhei Nakajima (1912), C. Yamada (1912), A. W. Matsuda (1913), Tokuji Nakamura (1913), Yuwujiro Nakamura (1913) and Sekiji Tateishi (1913). While in Hammondsport, Motohisa began learning to fly other Curtiss aircraft and took up the invitation to test a new experimental aircraft built by a Curtiss friend and former employee, Charles Kirkham in Savona, New York, a few miles away. On October 6th, Kondo began test flying the Kirkham machine and while doing a series of turns, hit a windmill and fatally crashed. He died shortly after. Sadly, he would be the area’s first aircraft death. He was 26. The Japanese students present in Hammondsport at the time held a traditional Japanese funeral for him and his ashes were returned to his family in Japan by Lt. Yamada.

Raphael Marti: First Puerto Rican Pilot

Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Rafael Marti was inspired by news stories of the daredevil pilots. He decided he would become a pilot as a profession. Marti traveled to Miami Beach, Florida and joined the new Curtiss flying School recently opened there in January 1912.

In late April, he along with two other students, transferred from the California flying school to Hammondsport, New York, where they continued their lessons. At the end of the month, Marti flew his solo flight  in a Curtiss Model D in order to earn his license. He earned the title of Puerto Rico’s first pilot. However, he did not pursue a pilot’s license as they were not mandatory at that time. During his training Marti became friends with fellow student Agustin Parla (who would become the first Cuban pilot). The two lived together while training in Hammondsport. Rafael completed additional training for an extra month so as to become an exhibition pilot. Due to his incredible flying skills, he was one of the few students to be featured in the June and July 1912 issue of Aeronautics Magazine. Upon returning to Puerto Rico, Marti’s dream was to raise enough money to purchase his own airplane. He wanted to open a flying school of his own, exactly like his teacher, Glenn Curtiss had. Sadly, Marti never achieved these goals. There is no record of him ever flying in native Puerto Rico. 

Raphael Marti near his plane

Raphael Marti (far left) with colleagues of the Curtiss Flying School Class of 1912 in Hammondsport, New York
Others, from around the world and while not always first, found their way to the Curtiss Flying Schools in the United States. Here is a sampling of other international students who learned to fly with the Curtiss Flying Schools: 1) Italy – Capt. Ludovico De Filippi, R.I.N. 1913; Lt. Roberti De Vainiau, R.I.N. 1913 2) Greece – Capt. George Capitsini 1912 3) Sweden – Carl Sjolander 1912 4) England – P. A. Dunford 1912 5) Canada – Louis H. Gertson 1912 6) Russia – Dean Ivan Lamb 1912 7) Hungry – Lt. Alexander Pfitzner 1910   The world of flying was greatly advanced through the many achievements of Glenn H. Curtiss and his flying schools in the years leading up to World War I. His work influenced others to open up their own flying schools as well. Curtiss made the world of flight available to everyone, regardless of nationality, gender, or ability. He truly was Teaching the World to Fly.  
Curtiss Flying School class of 1913, Hammondsport, New York