Sunday, October 29, 2006

When aviation landed in Houston

The Houston Post touted it as the opportunity to see the “greatest invention of present era.”

In fact, the Post co-sponsored the event, so naturally the newspaper would play up the spectacle.

In the end, Frenchman Louis Paulhan’s flight over South Houston was the first documented flight of a heavier-than-air flying machine in Texas.

By the time Paulhan arrived in Houston, he was an accomplished aviator and record holder. His two-day appearance here in Feb. 1910 was part of a tour that included stops in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and New Orleans.

Some notes from his appearance in Houston:

*Paulhan flew a Farman biplane.

*Admission, which included a round-trip ride on the Galveston, Houston and Henderson railroad, cost $1.25 (about $26 today). Those arriving by automobile paid less.

*The first flight was delayed a few hours because his plane was not assembled early enough.

“When the mammoth dragonfly-looking machine left the earth, a murmur disturbed the previous silence, and within an instant, the retreating aviator received a welcome from 3,000 throats,” the Post reported in its Feb. 19, 1910 edition.

During that first flight, Paulhan flew south-southeast and circled back over the spectators. Once he landed, a “great many thought the flights for the day over and boarded waiting trains for Houston.”

Actually, Paulhan landed because of engine trouble, according to the Post. Once that was fixed, he flew three more times and stopped when it started to get dark.

Paulhan eventually returned to Europe, setting more aviation firsts. He flew in WWI and became a seaplane builder once the war ended.

Anyone interested in local aviation history should tour the 1940 Air Terminal Museum at Hobby Airport.

A historical marker about Paulhan’s Houston appearance is here.

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