Stephen F. Austin State University

First airplane created a real buzz in 1918 (August 2013)

First airplane created a real buzz in 1918 (August 2013)

First airplane created a real buzz in 1918
By Van Craddock

Funny, isn't it, what we take for granted nowadays? Take airplanes.

It's hard to imagine the excitement of 95 years ago when Gregg County was about to be visited by its very first airplane.

Powered flight was in its infancy in the summer of 1918. On July 26 that year, the drone of an engine was heard high above Longview.

"Some parties were already looking for the plane as parties in Gladewater had seen the plane go over and had telephoned the news here for our people to be on a lookout," reported the Longview Times-Clarion newspaper.

(Not only was aviation in its early days. Automobiles were still new, too. Just six years earlier, in 1911, Longview boasted 16 horseless carriages and one motorcycle).

"When the plane was first sighted, practically every person in Longview was on the door-step watching the sky. Visitors and business suspended operations … railroad boys mounted box cars and several citizens hurried to the roof of the First National Bank building to watch the flight," the paper said.

It was understandable residents clambered atop the bank building for a look-see. At four stories (plus basement), it was Longview's tallest building.

The excited citizens waved at the tiny airplane as it flew low over downtown, then turned west looking for a place to land. Moments later it descended toward Utzman's pasture a short distance from town.

"Immediately, a great stream of cars filled with eager citizens began a violation of the speed laws, city officials joining the chase and the (plane) was hardly on the ground when great throngs of people were visitors to the spot," the Times-Clarion noted. Mayor G.A. Bodenheim was the first to arrive. The mayor, dressed (as always) to the nines with top hat, red boutonniere and gold-headed cane, "extended the visitors a hearty welcome as Longview guests" and "offered any assistance that might be needed, practically turning the keys over to the visitors."

The airplane, described as a C-709 trainer, was being piloted by two U.S. Army officers, a second lieutenant Evans and a first lieutenant named Wright (presumably no relation to Orville or Wilbur).

Evans said they were from Fort Worth's Carothers Field and on a training flight to Shreveport, La., some 60 miles east of Longview.

However, about four hours into the flight the trainer was running out of fuel and needed to land. Longview was handy.

Bodenheim and others arranged for the plane to be gassed up while the locals got their first close-up look at a real flying machine. The airplane finally took off from the pasture at 11:52 a.m., the Times-Clarion said, "lifting its outstretched wings to the gentle breezes and in the presence of a great crowd. It left the ground with a graceful swing and rose higher and yet higher, sailing away in the deep sky above."

Once more the craft turned its nose directly over downtown Longview "and in a few minutes was lost to sight as the citizens uptown who heard the whirring buzz stood with shaded eyes and watched it in its bird-like sail."

It had been quite an event … the day the aviation age finally came to Gregg County. The airplane visit was the talk of the town. Well, at least until Aug. 1, a week later, when a blaze broke out in the First National Bank and Longview's tallest building became a burned-out shell.