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Recalling the 75th — seeing the first airline flight as we know them

3 June 2013

Recalling the 75th — seeing the first airline flight as we know them

27º 54′ 30″ N / 82º 27′ 14″ W

The first day of 1984 was a cold and clear one in the Tampa Bay area and a great day to honor the 75th anniversary of airline flight as we know it — regularly scheduled flights in winged aircraft.

A mere decade after the historic Wright Brothers first powered flight in 1903 business man P.T. Fansler began the first airliner service, a service which regularly ferried passengers across Tampa Bay using an “air boat” design by Thomas Benoist which was the Benoist XIV — an aircraft that could carry two to three persons between St. Petersburg and Tampa in a matter of minutes when the road trip would take the better part of a day (there were no bridges that spanned the bay back in the day). This airline was called, simply enough, the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line and the first flight was piloted by Tony Jannus on 1 January 1914.

Ed Hoffman Sr. often honored this flight in homebuilt aircraft of his design, such as the Hoffman X-4, but he went the extraordinary “extra mile” by building a flying replica of the aircraft flown by Tony Jannus that historic day, the Benoist XIV Air Boat. Standing on a minor headland marking the entrance to the Davis Island Yacht Basin we were hopeful that it would be a good vantage point to photograph the aircraft as it arrived from St. Petersburg. You can judge how good a vantage point it was but we recall the thrill of hearing as well as seeing the aircraft fly by the position. It was easy to project back to 75 years, to 1914, as the (replica) Benoist XIV flown by Tony Jannus flew by performing what had not been done before, winging passengers on regularly scheduled flights — events like this, done after hard and determined effort, bring history alive so we can have a visceral instead of imaginative understanding of that history. What better way is there to learn?

Pilot Ed Hoffman Sr. in flight with the replica Benoist XIV Air Boat on the 75th anniversary of the first regularly scheduled airline flight on 1 January 1984 — photo by Joseph May

Pilot Ed Hoffman Sr. in flight with the replica Benoist XIV Air Boat on the 75th anniversary of the first regularly scheduled airline flight on 1 January 1984 — photo by Joseph May

Ed Hoffman Sr. flying with replica Benoist XIV and his son Ed Hoffman Jr. flying chase in xxx — photo by Joseph May

Ed Hoffman Sr. flying the replica Benoist XIV and his son, Ed Hoffman Jr., flying chase in the Hoffman X-4 “Mullet Skiff” — photo by Joseph May

— photo by Joseph May

On final, Ed Hoffman Sr. smoothly pilots the replica though he knew a support wire on the propeller shaft had sprung (the best pilots make hard look easy) — photo by Joseph May

xxx Davis Island Yacht Basin — photo by Joseph May

Just before meeting the water, Ed Hoffman Sr. brings the replica Benoist XIV to the beach in the Davis Island Yacht Basin, much like Tony Jannus did on that historic day 75 years before — photo by Joseph May

New Year’s Day in 2014 will mark the 100th anniversary of Tony Jannus and his historic flight marking the beginning of the airline industry as we know it. The Florida Aviation Historical Society (FAHS) has great plans for that day — a project entitled Flight 2014 which will recall and commemorate the Centennial of Airline Flight. Famed pilot and aircraft collector Kermit Weeks, of the Fantasy of Flight museum and aircraft collection, is also engaged in this historic event. Famous for flying each of his historic aircraft in their authenticity, with no modernization, Kermit Weeks is having his replica Benoist XIV built with the intention to fly it across Tampa Bay on 1 January 2014. How rare is it to get a second chance to see such an event — a signature anniversary and a flying replica aircraft? If you missed witnessing the 75th anniversary flight you are in luck, you can plan to see the 100th anniversary flight! See you there 🙂

FAHS  provides this brochure Flight 2014 Brochure (2.9 Mb PDF) for a concise and exciting description of the event and also this opportunity to participate as a sponsor with Flight 2014–Sponsor Benefits (218 kb PDF). Centennial celebrations with a true-to-form flying replica aircraft in a beautiful setting are rare gems and great opportunities for businesses as well as persons — and having your name publicly part of Flight 2014 is priceless.

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Our thanks to the Florida Aviation Historical Society for their research which was so valuable for this post — especially Ed Hoffman Jr., Will Michaels (President Flight 2014 Planning Board) as well as Capt. David McLay (FAHS PR and ever helpful in regard to Travel for Aircraft)

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. 3 June 2013 10:33

    It is with great pride I have seen this project come together, and I have seen folks from FAHS, Tony Jannus Society and Fantasy of Flight, pull collectively toward such a lofty goal as the Flight 2014 centennial celebration.
    Though we have lost our beloved FAHS president and friend who recently died, he also will be remembered for his dedication to this project; everyone has worked hard for a long time to make this happen. There are private fortunes being spent, and many hours of personal time being spent by folks you’ll never know about, but the glory, still lies in the accomplishment…
    The measure of success will be on January 1st 2014 as the shoreline crowds cheering when Kermit Weeks appears over the misty morning waters in that noisy Benoist Flying Boat replica, just 50 or 60 feet high the gentle waves toward Tampa…

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      4 June 2013 21:25

      Well written JR — Joe

  2. 3 June 2013 11:52

    Thank you for this fabulous look at aviation history.

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      4 June 2013 21:26

      It is a vital part of aviation’s history we think so we are more than glad to share 🙂

  3. 4 June 2013 14:49

    (From Kitty Hawk, NC)
    Outstanding! Joe, your report was published in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the ripple effect of this informative piece now extends from coast-to-coast… We are all looking forward to January 1st, and trust you will be able to join us in St. Petersburg. Many thanks, indeed, for all you do to keep aviation and aviation history alive for your readers. We are hoping to secure additional sponsorships/underwriting to make the Centennial event a first class affair.
    With best personal regards,

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      4 June 2013 21:28

      Thanks you very much, as always David. Good luck and I will be there 25 years later — in the same spot though with different camera gear 😉

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