- Historic Sites
The Birdmen At Belmont Park
It was quite an air meet. In 1910 it was sensational to see 14 planes aloft at one time, and the spectators seemed to feel the airplane was here to stay.
April 1956 | Volume 7, Issue 3
Grahame-White made a masterly flight, touching down back at Belmont well before 3:30 P.M. , with a time for the 33-mile course of 35 minutes, 21.3 seconds. LeBlanc’s time, in his lower-powered plane, was far slower. By four o’clock Grahame-White was in the sideline boxes, chatting with friends and accepting congratulations. When Moisant took off a few minutes later in his newly acquired plane, hardly anyone paid much attention. When Moisant’s plane came in sight again a little after 4:30, most spectators assumed he had turned back without completing the course. But he had completed it. He touched down, his time was taken. He had beaten Grahame-White by just under 43 seconds.
Almost as soon as the announcement was made, Grahame-White let out a roar like a stabbed tiger. He demanded that the race be run over again. The Aero Club officials said he could run it over again for the record if he wanted to, but Moisant had won the prize. Grahame-White challenged Moisant to race him over the course again for a $10,000 bet. Moisant declined to do it in a 5o-horsepower plane.
J. Armstrong Drexel promptly jumped into the uproar on Grahame-White’s side, declaring that the Aero Club and its meet managers had gone out of their way to give the glory and the prize to an American. There was, it is true, some question about the starting time. This had originally been specified to be not later than 3:45, but the limit apparently was not restated when the race was postponed, and the question was whether it still applied. Drexel, however, soared far above mere quibbling. He denounced the meet managers for general inefficiency; he intemperately accused them of trying to commercialize aviation. This charge they indignantly denied, but Drexel would not be mollified.
Amid the turmoil Ralph Johnstone’s setting of a new world’s altitude record of 9,714 feet on October 31, the final day of the meet, went almost unnoticed. That night the Aero Club had scheduled a dinner at the Plaza Hotel, to which all contestants were invited, for announcements and awards. Drexel not only refused to go but announced a dinner of his own, to which all contestants were also invited, at Sherry’s the same evening. About half the fliers went to Drexel’s dinner, for whether they agreed with him about Grahame-White or not, many of them were disgruntled with the Aero Club.
Grahame-White went to Drexel’s dinner. He left early, however, in time to go to the Aero Club affair and accept the Gordon Bennett Trophy and prize money totaling $13,600. The money may have come in handy, for his plane had just been attached to secure a judgment against him. Moisant won $13,500, including $10,000 for the Statue of Liberty race. The Aero Club declared the meet officially over. Drexel wrote an angry letter to the newspapers and resigned from the club.
But while dissension split the Aero Club, calmer observers took considerable satisfaction in the news of those nine days. Not all the gratifying headlines came from Belmont. Far to the north, in the wilds above Quebec, Augustus Post and Allan Hawley had turned up alive and well, guided to civilization by a party of trappers. Moreover, they had won the Gordon Bennett Cup for balloons with a nonstop distance in their America II officially determined at 1,355 miles.
And at Belmont itself, for all the records broken and the glory won, the best news was that in the entire meet there had been not a single fatality, and few injuries to amount to anything. This was in welcome contrast to many other trials of speed and daring—such as, for instance, the Vanderbilt Cup automobile race that had been held on Long Island earlier in the month. In the course of that race four people had been killed and twenty more or less seriously injured. But it was, perhaps, not quite fair to compare the two. The longest race at Belmont was the Gordon Bennett; the Vanderbilt Cup had been more than four times as long as that, and its winning speed almost five miles an hour faster.