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Wisconsin Marks Centennial of Flight

Arthur Pratt Warner, the first person to fly a plane in Wisconsin. Warner made several 50-foot hops on a Beloit, Wisconsin area farm on November 4, 1909.

One-quarter scale model of the Warner-Curtiss plane built by EAA Chapter 60 in Beloit, Wisconsin.

October 29, 2009 — One hundred years ago next week (November 4th) Arthur Warner became the first person to fly an airplane off Wisconsin soil. Warner accomplished this feat after assembling his aircraft, which had arrived in crates without instructions, on the Morgan farm in Beloit. In 1909, aircraft were still as exotic as a Segway Human Transporter is today. Marketing an aircraft was also an exotic concept as Glenn Curtiss, who met Warner when the latter joined the Aero Club of America in 1906, arranged to sell his aircraft through a car dealership in New York, which used the display as a way to increase traffic in its showroom. Warner paid $6,000 for the plane and became the first private citizen in America to purchase an aircraft. It is this moment and others that the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame is commemorating as part of its year-long Wisconsin Centennial of Flight celebrations.

The history of aviation in Wisconsin is a comprehensive mix of dreamers, warriors, and entrepreneurs. Alfred Lawson built military trainers for the U.S. military but only delivered one before World War I ended and the contract was canceled; Lawson later built the first airliner and flew it to Washington, D.C. and won a tentative airmail contract, however money and a flight test crash doomed his prospects. Army Air Corps pilot Richard I. Bong is known as the “Ace of Aces” for his prolific shoot-down record during WWII. General Billy Mitchell, a controversial figure in his time, was widely regarded as the father of the U.S. Air Force.

In contemporary times, Wisconsin’s biggest contribution toward aviation has been the EAA. According to Michael Goc, vice-president of the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame, the state is very proud of what EAA has created and has become. “EAA is a product of its time and its people,” Goc said. “If you look at that WWII generation, they were very much attuned to doing things themselves. It was not inconceivable for a man, primarily, to be out in his garage and building something.” That spirit of homebuilding would inspire another homegrown product as Cirrus Aircraft began in Baraboo, in south central Wisconsin, before moving on to become the second-largest manufacturer of single-engine piston aircraft.

“We’re very proud to be part of Wisconsin’s aviation heritage and salute all who have played a part in our state’s first 100 years of flight,” said Tom Poberezny, EAA Chairman/President. “EAA was founded in Wisconsin and has flourished in the state. At the same time, EAA has helped make a Wisconsin city – Oshkosh – an iconic place in today’s aviation world.”

The Hall of Fame has planned several events in Beloit, including a re-enactment of the first flight on November 4th in a Slipstream Genesis light-sport aircraft, produced in Beloit. Members of EAA Chapter 60, Beloit-Janesville, which built a one-quarter scale model of the Warner Curtiss aircraft using 1911 Curtiss Model D plans as a basis, will be honored in front of community leaders for their efforts. Events also include an address by Dr. Tom Crouch, Senior Curator of the National Air and Space Museum.

EAA RadioInterview with Michael Goc, VP - Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame

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