Look! Up In The Sky!
Before the World War, most people of Rutherford County had only heard about airplanes, or “aeroplanes” as they were called.
After the 1918 Armistice, some of the Army pilots, now enamored with the thrill of flight, sought to continue their pursuit of aeronautics. A few purchased their own planes, either new or war surplus, and began “barnstorming,” or staging exhibitions of their flying skills for the general public.
The shows were put on for a fee, of course, which enabled the crowds to witness the pilots’ skills. For an additional fee, they could actually participate by going on sightseeing rides. This allowed the fliers to receive some income from their newly found profession.
Some of the earliest recordings of these events in Rutherford County were printed in November 1919 in the Sun newspaper.
November 6, 1919
Authorities in Forest City have a contract with a Spartanburg firm for a flying machine to come Saturday, the flyer is known as the “Liberty Flyer.”
November 12, 1919
The airplane which was scheduled to fly over Henrietta and Caroleen on Monday did not come owing to the fact parts to the plane were broken when the machine landed in Lincolnton and the parts did not arrive from Washington. S. B. Tanner had originally secured the services of the pilot and plane in Charlotte where he is living at this time.
November 20, 1919
BIRD MAN VISITS HENRIETTA-CAROLEEN
Thousands saw the Liberty Flyer do many stunts, an air parachute drop, and looping the loop. The Henrietta-Caroleen people enjoyed last Saturday afternoon when the airplane visited the town. The weather was ideal for flying. As the airman was expected at one o’clock, a large crowd was eagerly scanning the sky in the direction of Spartanburg from which place the man was expected to start. Suddenly the airplane appeared as a mere speck against the western sky but in a few minutes the roar of the engine could plainly be heard and then the plane looking like some giant bird with the sun gleaming on its side, was directly overhead and for an hour the Bird Man entertained the crowd by such stunts as looping the loop, the nose spin, and other stunts which are common enough to the airman, but are thrilling to one viewing an airplane for the first time. He would soar high in the air till it would be seen to turn over and over with a straight drop toward the earth till it would seem to the onlookers that he must be really falling, then the machine would be righted and away it would go again.
The feature of the entertainment was a parachute jump from the airplane when it was 3,000 feet in the air. At first it looked like a scrap of paper then as the crowd realized that a man had actually jumped with a parachute, which was slowly opening and looked like a small red, white and blue umbrella and the man a tiny dot, but as he rapidly neared the earth he could plainly be seen swinging this way and that until a safe landing was effected much to the relief of the expectant crowd, which for a moment lost sight of the of the plane, so interested were they in the parachute, however the man in the plane continued to circle around getting nearer the earth until with a final swoop to within twenty five feet of the ground he waved goodbye and within a few minutes disappeared in the distance.
It’s likely a number of Cliffside citizens went up to Henrietta that day to watch all the fun. Or, it being a Thursday, most may have stayed back to work their shift—and keep an eye on the progress being made on the new Memorial Building then under construction.
For the final aviation event of 1920 the Sun announced an upcoming event that moved the airplane into the realm of advertising. The December 16th headline read:
AIRPLANE COMING SOON! “Gilmer’s stores will send a Santa Claus over the county this week. You will recognize it by its brilliant yellow hue. Santa Claus will ride with the aviator and drop Christmas souvenirs and messages to the ground. Watch out for Santa Claus’ airplane!”
One day in 1925 the Sun announced an event of which it was extremely proud, involving a flyer who was visiting the county:
Sid Malloy, an aviator and his trusty ‘Waco,’ one of the latest model three-passenger commercial airplanes, delivered this issue of the Sun to our subscribers at Spindale, Forest City, Caroleen, Henrietta and Cliffside. The Sun went to press at 4 o’clock and before five, papers were delivered to the above towns. This is the first time in all history that newspapers have been delivered by airplane in Rutherford County.
It wasn’t made clear whether the pilot landed in each town to drop the bundles of newspapers, or whether he tossed them out while flying over. In any case, it must have been a thrill for the newsboys to be involved in such a feat.
The aerial exhibitions became a staple of the annual county fairs. Their appearance almost certainly guaranteed a large crowd of faithful watchers, and their interest in the pilots and the new machines seem to be insatiable. In 1921, the Carolina Flyers of Charlotte were featured at the Rutherford County Fair. The Sun’s report of September 22 announced the aerial stunts to be presented in the 4 days in October: wing walking, loop to loop, and others, and the chance to fly as passengers for $10 each.
Excerpts from an article, Early Rutherford Aviation, by James H. Ruppe. This originally appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of The Cliffside Chimes, official newsletter of the Cliffside Historical Society.