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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The "California Arrow" Visits Elmira

The “California Arrow” from the Atlanta 
Constitution, Nov. 6, 1904.
By Diane Janowski
Elmira City Historian
In 1906, the Elmira Sunday Telegram advertised “Chemung County Fair September 17 - Two Daily Airship Flights by Captain Thomas S. Baldwin who demonstrated his ability to Navigate the Air at the St. Louis and Portland Expositions.”

Baldwin was a showman and entrepreneur who specialized in balloon ascents, and in 1885 was the first person (or one of the first) to use a parachute at airshows. When he realized that the public was becoming bored with hot air balloons, he thought of a way to energize them.

Alberto Santos-Dumont in France had developed a dirigible – a balloon with a motor capable to maneuver through the air. Baldwin went to France to study Santos-Dumont’s designs.

Baldwin was very interested in Hammondsport native Glenn Curtiss’s motorcycle engines and the possibility of combining a balloon with an engine. In 1904, after seeing a Curtiss motorcycle in action, he ordered a V-Twin engine from the G. H. Curtiss Manufacturing Company, and mounted it on the California Arrow. A wooden cedar frame held the engine. The pilot stood on the frame, and used his weight to balance the airship.

The aerodynamic cigar-shaped gasbag was made of silk sealed with linseed oil, and filled with hydrogen. The bag was 54-feet long, and was painted silver. The whole apparatus including the engine weighed 520 pounds.

It was a triumph. Baldwin came to Hammondsport to meet Curtiss. The California Arrow was the first successfully flown dirigible in the United States.

The Arrow was scheduled for its first Elmira flight from the Chemung County Fair on the afternoon of Thursday September 19, 1906, but the rudder broke in practice. At about 6:30PM, the crew finished repairs and Baldwin took off for a trial flight around the fairgrounds. He promised to visit Elmira the next day.

The next morning, with winds slightly too strong for flying dirigibles, Baldwin ascended 2,000 feet above the fairgrounds, then headed south along the hills east of the city until he was over East Clinton Street. Then he turned right and cut across Elmira towards City Hall. When he was discovered, the fire bell tolled, factory whistles were blown, and Elmirans climbed to the tops of downtown buildings and expressed their shouts of approval. The Arrow circled City Hall, then turned north to fly over the north side for the return trip, much to the delight of Northsiders.

The airship landed at the fairgrounds after being airborne for thirty minutes. Baldwin stated that it was one of his most successful ascensions, and the first flight that he had made in New York State. It was also Elmira’s first look at a dirigible.

The California Arrow was destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake on April 18, 1906. It, and four other airships were in storage at Baldwin’s Market Street factory. With only one airship remaining, Baldwin moved to Hammondsport to be closer to Curtiss’s expertise. In collaboration with Curtiss, Baldwin received an Army contract in 1908 and built three dirigibles. He built several airplanes between 1911 and 1913. In 1914, he built a dirigible for the Navy. Years later he enlisted in World War 1 in the Signal Corps as Chief of Balloon Inspection and Production. Baldwin died in Buffalo in 1923.


Sources:

Elmira Gazette September 12, 19 and 20, 1906

Elmira Telegram September 19 and 20, 1906 

http://www.glennhcurtissmuseum.org/

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