Illinois

Thomas Baldwin invents first flexible parachute and first practical dirigible

1880-Thomas Baldwin of Quincy, Illinois, invented the first flexible parachute. Baldwin used the parachute to enhance his hot air balloon exhibition. "Orphaned at an early age, [Baldwin] became an acrobat with a traveling circus when only 14 years old and then progressed step by step to prominence as an aeronaut, inventor of a flexible parachute, builder of the first practical dirigible in the United States, and pioneer designer, builder, and flyer of airplanes."

Chicago hosts the first U.S. international aviation meet

1911-Chicago hosted the country's first International Aviation Meet.
The nine day International Aviation Meet drew nearly all the well-known American aviators and five celebrated foreign flyers. A novel plan for distributing a large part of the prize money according to flying time made it especially attractive to skilled flyers. Until that time, aviators had insisted on being paid for their appearance, even if they failed to fly. A remarkable record of 206 hours of flying time over the nine day competition proved that airplanes could indeed fly. Lincoln Beachy set the world altitude record

Thomas Baldwin's Airship #4
Aviator and inventor Glenn Curtiss pilots Airship #4, a dirigible Thomas Baldwin (a native of Quincy, Illinois) designed with Curtiss's help for the engine work. In 1908, the U.S. Army contracted Baldwin to design Dirigible #1, the Army's first airship.
Katherine Stinson
On July 24, 1912, Katherine Stinson became the fourth woman in the United States to obtain a pilot's license. She learned to fly at Max Lillie's Flying School at Cicero Field in Chicago. On July 18, 1915, at this same field, she became the first woman in the world to perform a loop-the-loop.

Aviation Firsts Logo

of 11,642 feet. Honors for total duration went to Calbraith Rodgers, a comparatively unknown pilot. "Using a slow but reliable Wright biplane he remained in the air more than three hours on each of the eight days, 'lolling in his seat each afternoon, legs crossed and dangling, a cigar in the long holder he held in his mouth.'"

Katherine Stinson becomes first woman to obtain a pilots license in a Wright aircraft

1912-Katherine Stinson becomes the first woman to obtain a pilots license in a Wright aircraft. "Small and frail in appearance, she seemed unsuited to be an aviatrix. . . . Veteran pilots insisted that she would not be able to handle the controls of a Wright Biplane on windy days. However, after three weeks, she easily passed the complicated tests for the Aero Club of America pilot's license, becoming the first woman to accomplish that feat in a Wright machine, and set out on a spectacular career as a exhibition flyer and instructor."

All quotes in this article are excerpted from Balloons to Jets: A Century of Aeronautics in Illinois, 1855-1955, rev. 2000, by Howard L. Scamehorn