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(from the Introduction)
Most people today consider Chicago to be an “aviation capital” only in its demonstrated ability to thoroughly disrupt air travel throughout the nation. Many who are older or have an interest in Chicago history realize that Municipal/Midway Airport was the nation’s aviation crossroads for decades.
Chicago’s first elevated train began operation on June 6, 1892. Chicago & South Side Rapid Transit Railroad operated nearly 50 steam engines on an elevated track from a station at Congress Pkwy. and Wabash Ave. going south to the terminus at State St. and 39th St. (Pershing Rd.). By the following year, the line extended to Jackson Park for the World’s Columbian Exposition. Part of this line has been incorporated into the current Green Line.
Iowa-native Carl S. Bates attended Armour Institute[a], in Chicago, where he was taught by Octave Chanute, among others. Bates started building a plane of his own, a smaller version of Curtiss’s plane. While trying to build airplanes, Bates discovered the need for reliable, lightweight engines so he built his own. He formed the Bates Aero Motor Co. which produced high-quality air and water-cooled engines.
On July 14, 1912, Katherine Stinson became the 4th woman pilot (Federation Aeronautique Internationale license #148) in the U.S. after training at Max Lillie’s Flying School. Her flight test required flying figure-eights and climbing to an altitude of 500 ft. At the time of her licensing, Stinson was the only woman pilot in the country. Harriet Quimby and Julia Clark had both died and Mathilda Moisant had retired from flying.
As commander of the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, Capt. William Moffett formed an aviation training squadron in June 1917. Moffett’s attitude on the importance of aviation was greatly influenced by his North Shore neighbors and ACI members, particularly William Wrigley Jr., Jack Vilas and Pop Dickinson.
Floyd Smith filed a patent for the first unattached parachute on July 27, 1918. Born in Chicago, James Floyd Smith[a] and his wife, Hilder, worked as trapeze performers in a circus on the West Coast. He built an airplane and in June 1912 received License #207.
Following a painful business experience in Wichita, Matty Laird resolved never again to rely on outside investors to produce his designs. Over the next few months, Laird built up some capital by participating in exhibitions and ferrying news reporters to various events such as the Kentucky Derby and Indy 500.
A group of Chicagoans, some of whom had previously attended flying schools, were displeased with the high cost of learning to fly. They formed the Edgewater Flying Club as an alternative to provide lower cost flight lessons.
Edgewater Flying Club was a non-profit organization in which the participants paid a membership fee to share the purchase of equipment and other fixed costs. Charges for flight time were based on actual operating costs.
At 2:45 am Friday June 27, 1930, a night watchman discovered a fire in a hangar at Pal-Waukee Air Port. It destroyed one plane but quick action by the staff kept the fire from engulfing the hangar, unlike the Municipal fire a few days earlier that destroyed two hangars and 27 planes.
E.L. Cord, best known as the designer of the Auburn, Cord and Dusenberg automobiles, had started Century Air Lines in March 1931. Because Century didn’t have any air mail contracts to subsidize its operations it had to rely solely on passenger revenue.
Chicagoan Howard Levinson, a month shy of his 85th birthday, became the most senior pilot to receive his initial Airline Transport Pilot License on May 24, 2008. He pursued the ATP, the license required to fly for the airlines, because it was the only fixed-wing license or rating that he didn’t have.