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Firsts In Flight In The Skies Of Texas

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This week, we’re looking back at some firsts in Texas aviation:

First person to fly a plane in Texas. (Sort of. Maybe.) Jacob Brodbeck was one of many German immigrants who settled in Luckenbach, but he was the only one of them who might have invented the first airplane before the Wright Brothers were born. The “air ship” that Brodbeck tinkered with for 20 years had a rudder, wings and a propeller powered by coiled springs. To increase the flight time, Brodbeck designed two interdependent clock motors. He rigged each motor to rewind the other one so that when one motor became unwound, the second motor engaged to rewind the first one.
Details of Brodbeck’s alleged first and only flight are sketchy and contradictory. Some say it happened in a field about three miles west of Luckenbach, but it might have happened at San Pedro Park in San Antonio in 1865 — or was it 1868? All accounts agree that the flight ended with a crash.
First official airplane flight over Texas. Louis Paulhan, a French superstar of European aviation, came to America in 1910 for a series of exhibitions, including one sponsored by the Houston Post and the Western Land Company. The Post reported 3,500 people showed up the first day to witness “the greatest invention of the present era.”
The audience apparently didn’t expect much. When Paulhan flew south by southeast for a bit, then circled back over the spectators and landed, a good many of the people, thinking that’s all there was, prepared to leave. But Paulhan was simply making a quick engine repair. He took off again minutes later and flew three more times, each flight lasting about 10 minutes. The second day of the airshow attracted 6,000 people.
First pilot to get a license in Texas. That would be Slats Rogers, a railroad engineer who was so good at building kites he decided to build an airplane in 1911. He began construction at a blacksmith shop in Cleburne, but he moved the operation to his hometown of Keene when the Cleburne City Council declared his airplane a public nuisance. The airplane he finished, and which almost finished him, was distinguished by a wing that drooped and a pilot — Rogers — who didn’t care. He took what he called Old Soggy No. 1 up for a test flight in 1912. With apologies to Brodbeck, we believe this is also the first verified airplane built in Texas.
First female pilot in Texas. Bessie Coleman, a sharecropper’s daughter who grew up poor in Waxahachie, was the first female and the first black American to get a pilot’s license, and the first American of any gender or race to have an international pilot’s license, which she received in France on June 15, 1921.
Bessie left Ellis County as a young woman and attended college in Oklahoma until the money ran out, then worked her way to Chicago to pursue her lifelong dream of learning to fly. But she found very few flight schools that accepted women and none that accepted black students. With her own savings from running a successful chili parlor in Chicago, and some extra financial assistance, she went to France and got her license there.
After making her first American flight in June of 1922, Coleman became the barnstorming sensation known as Brave Bessie. Her first Texas flight was in Houston in June of 1925. In April of 1926, in Florida, her plane nosedived and then spun out of control. Bessie was ejected from the cockpit and died when she hit the ground.
Coleman’s contributions received scant attention for decades but have since been recognized with a U.S. Postal Service commemorative stamp in 1995 and by organizations dedicated to her dream of “giving a little color” to U.S. aviation.
First pilot in Texas to have a baby. Beaumont school teacher Retha McCullough (Mrs. E.C. Crittenden) received her pilot’s license in 1929, the first woman to receive her pilot’s license in Texas. She flew for three more years but gave up the still-risky pursuit after the birth of her first child.
First pilot have his licensed revoked. Slats Rogers again. His pals bet him he couldn’t fly his plane between two Dallas skyscrapers. He won the bet but lost his pilot’s license.
First Texas business licensed by the government to sell aircraft in Texas. The Texas Aero Corporation of Temple opened for business in 1928 with a $150,000 grubstake. Less than a year later it was worth a cool million. George Williams, who learned to fly but never got a pilot’s license, started the company. His brother, E.K. Williams, publisher of the Temple Daily Telegram, promoted the venture with a plane that delivered the newspapers from a height other newspapers never attained.
George Williams and Roy Sanderford designed the company’s first aircraft, the Temple monoplane. George A. Carroll, a pilot and mechanic from Killeen, added adjustable landing lights and a fireproof mail compartment to the basic design. They followed that with other models, including the Sportsman. British aviation enthusiast Lady Mary Heath hailed the Sportsman as "the best performing airplane in its class today."
The stock market collapse of 1929 rattled the company and forced it to downsize, but the crash that finished the company for good came in 1932 when George Williams and a student pilot died in an airplane crash.
First Texan to walk on the moon. Born in the Panhandle town of Wheeler on March 15, 1932, Alan Bean was the lunar module pilot on Apollo 12, the second manned mission to the moon. He is the fourth person to have ever walked on the moon and first Texan. In 1973, he was the spacecraft commander for Skylab 3, where he spent 59 days in space. Bean retired from NASA in 1981 and has devoted his time since then to painting, mostly scenes from his space explorations. He is 84 years old and lives in Houston.

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