History Of Florida Aviation

Aviation and Southwest Florida - History Of Florida Aviation

The first Florida powered flight was made by Lincoln Beachey at the Orange County Fair in Orlando in February, 1910 winning a $1500 prize for staying in the air for 5 minutes. Two other planes competed but were not able to accomplish the feat. Beachey was able to duplicate the flights each day of the fair.

Glenn Curtiss, early aviation pioneer, in 1912 founded the first Florida flight school on Miami Beach, and founded during the 1920's the cities of Hialeah, Miami Springs, Opa-Locka in South Florida and Brighton on the north shore of Lake Okeechobee. Florida was selected for military flight training in 1917 because it had the second best weather among the states for flyable weather. Only Arizona had slightly more flyable days and Texas came in third.

Near Arcadia, Carlstrom Field and Dorr Field were principal aviation training stations for the Army. At Dorr Field fourteen hangars were constructed and training was done in Curtiss JN-4D (Jenny) airplanes as well as some rotary engine craft produced by the Glenn Martin company. Army airfields were named after military aviation heroes of the day, and Carlstrom Field was named after First Lieutenant Victor Carlstrom who had made many altitude and distance records and died in a training flight.

One of the first guided missles was made with a radio controlled bomb-carrying pilotless airplane in September 1919 from Carlstrom Field. Carlstrom Field was the principal Army Air Corps Flying School until 1923 when training was moved to San Antonio, Texas. Another first: On August 21, 1920 Lt. A.G. Hamilton established a new world's record parachute jump by descending 20,900 feet as reported in the Jacksonville News. The jump lasted 12 minutes. (Arcadia Municipal Airport is now the site of a busy parachute jump school and has a fixed base operation selling aviation fuel and supplies.)

In the twenties, Florida was booming and the first airline called Florida Airways with Eddie Rickenbacker as founder (who in 1935 became general manager of Eastern Airlines and bought Eastern in 1937) began service in 1926. Flying Ford-Stout monoplanes with 400hp Liberty engines and carrying 8 passengers and 2 crew the fleet of 4 planes began Florida service on June 1st. Fares were based on railroad pullman fares plus $5 for each hour saved, or about $30 from Jacksonville to Tampa. The flight saved about 8 hours from a train trip. Passenger service was established between Miami, Ft. Myers, Tampa, Jacksonville, Atlanta, and Macon.

In March of 1942 Carlstrom Field in Arcadia was reopened for Army flight training and was operated by Embry-Riddle, a civilian contractor. Over 8000 cadets were trained there. Barracks and buildings were designed with a Colonial style architecture and six hangers were set on a curved flight line and the entire area was encircled by a fifty-foot wide roadway. After the war, the State of Florida bought the field and in 1947 converted the site into the G. Pierce Wood Memorial Hospital, a mental hospital named after a north Florida legislator who lived in Arcadia. The circular site can easily by seen by pilots flying overhead today.

Dorr Field, east of Arcadia and about 7 miles from Carlstrom Field was reopened in 1942 by John Riddle and operated as a civilian contract school for training Army aviators. At it's peak it had 700 cadets in training using Steerman training planes. Riddle also operated schools at Clewiston. In 1944 the Embry-Riddle interests were sold to John McKay. After the war, the field was converted to a minimum security prison. Twenty-five British cadets who died during training at the area's airfields are interred in the Arcadia Oak Ridge Cemetery. For years a Memorial day service has been held with the British flag raised and lowered to bagpipe music to commemorate the British cadets who served their during the war. Kate Smith, the late singer, was credited with starting the custom. She had lived in Clewiston.

In Avon Park, the Lodwich Aviation Military Academy used a winter resort hotel housing 200 cadets on the banks of Lake Lillian for cadet training beginning in October of 1941. Later wood barracks were added. The golf course clubhouse was converted into a ground school. The school was operated by Al Lodwick, a president of Stinson Aircraft Corporation and was managed by Fred Spatz, the brother of Army Gen. Carl Spaatz.

John Riddle and John McKay, a Miami attorney operated the Riddle-McKay Aero College in Clewiston, starting in September 1941. Like the other civilian operations Clewiston also trained British pilots. Riddle Field at Clewiston trained 2500 RAF pilots during the war. In 1945 it was closed and reopened in 1947 as the Airglades State Airport. In January 0f 1942 a site called Buckingham, east of Ft. Myers was chosen by the Army for a gunnery school and 2400 workers were employed to construct the new Buckingham Air Base. Completion was September of 1942. It was to house 3000 men including 1400 students and 400 officers. Today, Buckingham is headquarters for the Lee County Mosquito Control and it's aircraft and an aero park with homes.

In Ft. Myers, the Page Field airport was to have 2000 men stationed for a bombardment squadron. The field was nicknamed Palmetto Field. Both Buckingham and Page Field returned to civilian service in September 1945. Page Field was the area's only commercial airport until May 1983 when the Southest Florida Regional Airport was opened. Page Field is now a general aviation airport.