I sort of know about what I speak because I researched and wrote the biography of pioneer aviator Art Smith, who was born in Fort Wayne and who at the age of 14, decided he would build his own airplane and fly it, even though he had never seen a “flying machine.” And he did just that. (ART SMITH, PIONEER AVIATOR, McFarland & Co, 1983).
By 1915, Art Smith was the main featured attraction at the San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exposition. He flew spirals and downward spins, upside-down, and thrilled the crowds with his daring night exhibitions. The Emperor, who admired all things technological, invited Smith to Japan to give a series or flying exhibitions. Art accepted and was the first to fly at night in that country. He was honored and touted around the globe, almost like a pop-star today, and he made lots of money. With the onset of W.W. I, however, the Art Smith story changes. It’s all in aviation history.
The FW Historical Museum has a number of Smith’s medals and artifacts on display. In 1918, a group of flying enthusiasts, led by Howard Hughes’ personal pilot Bob Wearly established the National Airmail Museum at Smith Field. In the Fort Wayne airport terminal building, there is a fine display of Art Smith’s artifacts, and a replica of his “flying machine” hangs where travelers can see and envision how fragile and dangerous flying was in the early days of aviation. I am in possession of many of Art Smith’s original photographs and clippings, having received them from a friend who was a friend of Art Smith’s best friend, Al Wertman. In the future, I will have to make decisions as to where these should go.
It seems that man has wanted to fly since the beginning of time. Leonardo de Vinci, Christina Huygens, Isaac Newton and many other inventive engineers, artists, and scientists contributed to the understanding of “drag” on the surface of an object exposed to the force of air and density. Notables such as George Cayley, Otto Lilienthal, and of course the Wright Brothers made huge contributions to modern aviation. As early as 1860, Great Britain had an Aeronautical Society. Once a person gets hooked, there’s no turning back. Even my good husband did his high school Science Fair project on Daniel Bernoulli’s principles of pressure and velocity. Yes, as an adult, he learned to fly and even became a flight instructor.
Interestingly I sometimes get phone calls from people who are either writing or researching aviation history asking me questions. People presume I am an aviation historian. I hate to disappoint them, but am not, even though I did have the chance to communicate with Charles Lindbergh’s secretary, Jean O. Saunders, who gave me information about his work. I do know a great deal about aviation history, but because I don’t use that information every day, when I am asked a question, I have to go research it myself.
But I digress. Today I am thinking of Art Smith, the brash, adventuresome Hoosier teenager, who one summer watched a buzzard glide on air currents and became inspired to fly, and I am reminded there are other writers who find Art Smith’s story intriguing. Some have written articles and books about Smith. Some give me credit for my work. Some don’t. One person used my words from my biography of Smith, almost verbatim. The article was published in a glossy magazine, and when I read it the article, I was astonished. My words, my research, my work, and not a single credit! An aviation enthusiast and published writer friend of mine noted it, and he too was upset and called the magazine and gave them a “piece of his mind.” Nothing came of it, of course, but I knew and he knew the work was plagiarized. And so the world turns. My motto is to give credit where credit is due.
As the jet aircraft flew high above my world and the tiny white line dissolved, I could not help but wonder about the pilot and the people on that “airship” --who they were, where they had been, and where they were going. They were flying high.