Teaching the World to Fly
Students of the Air
For Glenn H. Curtiss, building and selling airplanes was 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.
Emory Conrad Malick, First African-American Aviator
Emory C. Malick was born in Seven Points, Pennsylvania on December 29, 1881, the third child of thirteen in the Malick family. A skilled carpenter and master tile-layer by trade, Emory took an interest in aviation around 1910 and experimented with gliders. While not a pilot, he was a member of Aero Club of Pennsylvania and decided to explore building his own aircraft.
While living in Philadelphia, he enrolled in the Curtiss School of Aviation Class of 1912 and attended the winter camp in San Diego, California. He completed the course for his diploma in March to which he also earned pilot’s license # 105 to become not only the first African-American aviator but also the first African-American licensed pilot in the United States.
Beginning his career as an aviator in 1914, Emory acquired his first airplane powered by a Curtiss engine. After having to assemble it by himself, he flew a demonstration over Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania “to the wonderment of all’ as one newspaper was quoted.
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 branched out on his own again and obtained a WACO Curtiss OX-5 powered aircraft and when not working as a skilled tradesman, he “barnstormed” around the northeast selling rides and flying demonstrations.
1928 would be the last year Emory would take to the air. While he never flew again both as a pilot or as a passenger, Emory would appear at air shows displaying his early 1914 Curtiss OX2 engine, reminiscing the pioneer days and supporting the other aviators. When asked why he would not fly again he said “I had my fun, and now I’m done.”
Emory Malick passed away in December of 1958 at the age of 77.
Tom Gunn: First Chinese Aviator
Born in San Francisco, California in late 1893 to Chinese nationalist parents, Tom Gunn took a strong interest in aviation when he attended an air meet there in January of 1910. He quickly arranged to attend the new Curtiss Aviation School opening in San Diego that winter and transferred to Hammondsport, New York shortly after to graduate in the first class of 1911, becoming China’s first aviator. Taking an interest in flying, Gunn not only decided to invest in designing and building flying machines and by November of that year had successfully completed one of his own design.
His first aviation meet was on January 20, 1912 in Los Angeles, California. Three weeks later on February 13, Tom qualified for his pilot’s license no. 131 making him also China’s first licensed pilot. 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. 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 at the end of the year with the responsibilities as Chief Aviator of the Republic.
Shortly after Tom’s success, other Chinese nationals would enroll and learn to fly at the Curtiss schools, which 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 Curtiss Flying Boat and two aircraft of his design and arrived six days later in Honolulu, Hawaii. There he planned to stay over and fly in exhibitions. Originally planning to stay a month, political events in China delayed his return. However, in early 1914, due to a change in government the new leader there placed a bounty on Gunn’s head fearing he would return to cause an insurrection. Thus, Gunn ended up in Manila opening up a flight school there instead.
1915 found Tom flying exhibitions in the Philippines and British Hong Kong, eventually getting permission to fly on mainland China to raise money for flood relief funds and humanitarian organizations. He eventually assumed his intended roll in the Chinese Army.
In late October 1919, Gunn arrived in the United States charged by the Chinese Government to purchase aircraft of the newest type for the country as a result of Japanese intervention in Northern China. Tom worked tirelessly the rest of his life to build a modern Air Force for China.
Tom Gunn would pass away as a result of a vehicle accident in 1925.
Blanche Stuart Scott: First Female Pilot
Blanche Stuart Scott was an adventurous child growing up in Rochester, NY. Born there in 1886, encouraged and indulged by her wealthy father, Blanche became a champion ice skater, trick bicycle rider and took up sports intended only for males. At the age of 13, she learned to operate the family car and was allowed to drive alone to the shock of the city. As a license was not required yet, the authorities were unable to stop her, making Blanche the youngest documented auto driver in the city.
In 1903, Blanche’s father passed away just after her 17th birthday to which her mother promptly sent her off to finishing school. Having none of society’s restrictions or family wealth, she moved a few years later to New York City to obtain a job.
Disappointed with the opportunities offered, Blanche contacted the Willys-Overland Co. in early 1910 with an idea of her driving their car cross-country from New York City to San Francisco, Ca. as a sales promotion. In agreement and sponsored by Willys, Blanche, accompanied by a female reporter, Gertrude Phillips, made the trip in 41 days driving over 5,000 miles of mostly unpaved roads and stopping at over 20 cities in 13 states. Blanche became the first woman to drive across the US 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 Glenn H. Curtiss, doing her first solo flight on Sept. 2nd and her final test flight on Sept. 6th to become the first female aviator in the United States. Her first exhibition flight, the first woman to do so, was for the Curtiss Co. in Ft. Wayne, Ind. on October 23rd and was billed as “The Tomboy of the Air”.
Her aviation career included flying exhibitions for various teams including Jimmy Ward and Baldwin’s Red Devils. In 1911, Blanche became the first woman to make a long distance flight. While flying for the Glenn L. Martin Co. she became the first female stunt pilot in 1911 and the first female test pilot in the United States in 1912.
Blanche gave up aviation in late 1913 after a serious crash. Moving to Hollywood the following year, Blanche worked in the film industry staring in two silent films about her exploits and as a script writer over 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 and helped acquire aviation memorabilia for the U. S. Air Force Museum 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.
Ruth Nichols: First Female Flying Boat Pilot
Born on February 23, 1901 in Rye, New York, Ruth Nichols grew up, dreaming of adventure. As a high school graduation present father bought her an airplane ride, little knowing that he added fuel to her desires.
In the fall of 1919, Ruth attended Wesley University. However, following in the footsteps of other well-known Curtiss taught female aviators such as Lilian Atwater (1912), Julia Clark (1912), Mrs. W. A. Davis (1912) and Mary Anita Snook (1916); Ruth took time off in 1923 to learn to fly a Curtiss Flying Boat under the instruction of Harry Rogers a licensed instructor for the Curtiss School of Aviation. Receiving her flight diploma in Sept. of 1923, she became the first female seaplane pilot in the United States, graduating from college a year later.
Over the next couple of years, Ruth flew periodically with Rogers when not working in banking, earning her seaplane pilot’s license on June 24, 1927 to become 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 New York to Miami on Jan 3. She would be the first woman to do so and was nicknamed 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.
In June of 1930, Nichols earned her regular pilot’s license #7559 and set a Women’s Transcontinental Record flying from New York City to Burbank, California in 16 hours, 59 minutes. In 1931, she was the first woman to attempt to fly solo across the Atlantic. While unsuccessful, she would go one to hold three major women’s records by the end of the year – altitude, speed and distance. The following year she became the first female airline pilot by flying for the New York & New England Airways.
Over her career, Ruth Nichols set 35 aviation records, flew over 140 different aircraft and devoted a great deal of her time flying for humanitarian efforts such as Relief Wings, Wings of Mercy Missions, Save the Children Federation and UNICEF and held the rank of Lt. Colonel in the Civil Air Patrol.
On September 23, 1960, Ruth Nichols passed away at the age of 59.
Frederick L. de Reimsdyke, First Netherlands Pilot
Born in 1890 to wealthy parents in the Netherlands, Frederick L. de Reimsdyk became enamored with 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 areoplane and receive lessons to fly. That November, he arrived in Hammondsport, New York to take ownership of 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 the months of November and December of 1909, Glenn H. Curtiss personally taught de Reimsdyk to fly. His solo flight on December 20th earned him the title of Netherlands first aviator. Instead of returning to the Netherlands, Frederick had his plane shipped to Paris, France with the intentions of competing in many of the air meets now being arranged around Europe.
His first air meet would be the Grand Heliopolis Air Meet in Cairo, Egypt in February, 1910. Finding himself up against many more experienced and well-financed pilots, de Reimsdyk did not show well, earning only $500, but was recognized as the first Dutchman to fly in Egypt and with the only American built aircraft to compete there.
Frederick retuned to France and on March 9th qualified for his French pilot’s license no. 34, making him the first licensed Netherlands pilot. (The United States and the Netherlands did not issue pilot’s licenses at that time.)
Frederick de Reimsdyk would participate in several more air meets with little success. Discouraged by his poor winnings, several mishaps and an under powered machine, he would drop out of aviation in 1912.
Mohan Singh, India’s First Aviator
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, Illinois. Sometime around 1911, he decided to take up flying and headed to San Diego, California to enroll in the Curtiss School of Aviation there in January of 1912. He billed himself alternately 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, earning pilot’s license no. 123. Not only was he now India’s first aviator but also their first licensed pilot.
Now completely immersed in aviation, Mohan Singh, praised as an excellent pilot, signed on with a short-lived Exhibition team back in Chicago in June of 1912. This venture folded almost immediately with the death of three of his fellow pilots in various air crashes. Returning to Hammondsport, he earned his diploma for flying Curtiss Hydro-aeroplanes.
In early 1913, Mohan completed more flight training, this time earning a diploma in a Curtiss Flying boat becoming one of the few Curtiss trained pilots to be qualified in all Curtiss aircraft types. As a result, Singh stayed on temporarily as a flight instructor and then accompanied Glenn Curtiss on his visit to Europe in late 1913 and early 1914 as a demonstration pilot.
Not much is known as to his activities in 1914 and 1915 as his ruse as a military officer and prince may have caught up with him. Singh moved to Los Angeles, California in July of 1916 and worked as a butler and chauffeur, giving up his flying career. Instead he worked unsuccessfully on attaining a US citizenship for several years which was denied in 1923.
In 1925, Mohan Singh renamed himself Yogi Hari Rama and traveled the country as a guru 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 venture estimated at well over a quarter of a million dollars.
Motohisa Kondo, First Japanese Aviator
Born on December 5, 1885 in Osaka, Japan, Motohisa Kondo came to the United States against his family’s wishes in June of 1903 to advance his education and make his fortune. Settling in San Diego, California, Kondo studied English and enrolled in various educational business courses offered outside of formal schools.
Motohisa became enamored with aviation 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 San Diego winter camp. Extremely talented and adept at flying, he quickly earned his diploma in early April becoming Japan’s first aviator. His goal was to return home and become an aviation instructor. At the insistence of his instructor J. Lansing Callan, Motohisa qualified for his pilot’s license on April 20, 1912 with a perfect score earning license no. 120, becoming the first licensed Japanese pilot in the world.
Originally invited to join fellow student Mohan Singh in an exhibition company in Chicago, Illinois right after graduating, Kondo opted to stay on with the flying school as an interpreter both in San Diego and in Hammondsport, New York. This was at the request of the Japanese Naval Attaché 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 6, Kondo began test flying the Kirkham machine and while doing a series of turns hit a windmill causing him to crash. He died shortly after. Sadly, he would be the area’s first aircraft fatality. He was 26.
The Japanese students present in Hammondsport at the time held a traditional Japanese funeral ritual for him and his ashes were returned to his family in Japan by Lt. Yamada.
Rafael Marti, First Puerto Rican Aviator
Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Rafael Marti was inspired by news stories of the exploits of the new daredevil aviators and decided he would pursue aviation as a profession. Marti traveled to Miami Beach, Florida and enrolled in the new Curtiss flying School recently opened there in January 1912. In late April he along with two other students transferred to Hammondsport, New York joining Curtiss and students from the California school to open up the Hammondsport location for the season and finish their training. At the end of the month Marti flew his qualifying solo flight in a Curtiss Model D to acquire his Curtiss flight school diploma earning him the title of Puerto Rico’s first aviator. 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 Augustin Parla (who would become the first Cuban aviator) and the two roomed together while in Hammondsport. Rafael would stay on an extra month for additional training as an exhibition pilot. Gaining a reputation for his flying skills, he would be one of several pupils featured in the Curtiss Schools of Aviation advertisements in the June and July 1912 issues of Aeronautics Magazine.
On returning to Puerto Rico, Rafael Marti’s goal was to raise funding to purchase an airplane of his own and open a flying school there but was never able to achieve that goal. There is no record of him having flown in Puerto Rico. Rafael Marti passed away in Santurce, San Juan, P.R. in 1931.
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.