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One of the Most Famous Men You’ve Never Heard Of

6 July 2017

Born in 1887 in San Francisco, Lincoln Beachey was a lonely kid who nobody would have suspected of becoming a hero. But he was fearless. By the age of 10 he was hurling himself down San Francisco’s stomach-churning Fillmore Hill on a bicycle with no brakes.

But what Beachey really wanted to do was fly airplanes. Then one day, while working as a mechanic at an airshow in Los Angeles, he got his big break when a star pilot became injured, and Beachey stepped up to take his place. He shot upwards, 3,000 feet into the air…when his motor failed.

When a plane stalls, one wing stalls first, throwing you into a spin, so here was Beachey spiralling downwards at an incredible speed that no one had ever gotten out of. In 1910, one in three flights ended in disaster because nobody had figured out how to get out of the deadly spiral. Whenever this happened, the pilot would try to do sensible things like turn the plane the opposite direction of the spiral or try to pull up, which actually makes it worse, but Lincoln Beachey in a split second decided to do something totally different and dived into it, turning into the spin. All of the controls came back and he was able to curl out and land the plane safely… “I suddenly could feel the airplane”.

From that day forward, aviation was never the same. If you ever go to see an aerobatics show, he invented all of the moves you’ll see, the figure 8, the vertical drop, the dip of death, and he was the first person to point his plane straight down and achieve terminal velocity.

The population of USA was around 90 million at the time and in a single year, 17 million people had been to see him fly through the air. The story goes that he had a girlfriend in every major American city and always had a diamond engagement ring in his vest pocket. Railroads changed their schedule to follow him around the country and Orville Wright called him the most wonderful aviator anyone has ever seen.

Most of all the pilots were crazy about him too and lots died trying to imitate him; the city of San Diego considered a legal injunction to bar him from flying.

Despite all of this, Beachey carried on flying and there was still one trick he had yet to master, the trick of all tricks… the loop the loop. However, when you went upside down in a plane, the motor would turn off because they hadn’t yet figured out fluid mechanics of pumping the petrol upwards in a plane, it was still done by gravity.

His priorities changed however on the way to give a speech at the Olympic Club, when he was confronted by the wife of a pilot who had died just two days before trying to imitate a move of Beachey’s. She said that he had killed her husband. It really struck him and he suddenly accepted the consequences of his actions and how many pilots had attempted his moves and lost their lives. Beachey felt as if he’d murdered all of these pilots. In that moment, he felt like he couldn’t go on and decided to retire.

So when he stepped up to the podium to give his speech at the Olympic Club, he stated that, “You couldn’t make me enter a plane at the end of a revolver, I’m done. I am tormented by the desire to loop the loop in the air, I know I can do it but I know no one else can do it and if I ever go up into the air again, I will pull off this loop the loop and then many men will be taken by death trying to do the same thing because I have done it.”

So he retired but after hearing that a Frenchman had achieved the loop the loop, he couldn’t stand it and after just three months of retirement, he returned, determined to become the best looper in the world. It took a few months of practice but he did it and he outdid the French pilot, pulling 4, 5 or 6 loops in a row at a time.

When he finally achieved the trick of all tricks, this is what he wrote..

“The silent reaper of souls and I shook hands that day, thousands of times we’ve engaged in a race among the clouds, plunging head-long into breathless flight, diving and circling with awful speed through ethereal space, and many times when the dazzling sunlight has blinded my eyes and sudden darkness has numbed all my senses, I have imagined him close at my heels. On such occasions I have defied him but in so doing have experienced fright I can not explain… today the old fellow and I are pals.”

At that point everything changed; we were no longer just managing to fly, we now owned the sky.

Now we’re offering you the opportunity to follow in Lincoln Beachey’s footsteps and own the sky. Join us for our Loop the Loop Day this summer, where you’ll take to the skies for various flying manoeuvres including the trick of all tricks, yes that’s right, the loop the loop! Click here to book your place for an event you’ll remember for the rest of your life.