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Full Flight
A road map of New Hampshire’s aviation history

07/13/17
By Matt Ingersoll listings@hippopress.com



 The history of aviation and flying in New Hampshire goes back more than a century, to before the invention of the first successfully flown airplane by the Wright Brothers in 1903. This timeline includes some of the most important people and innovations in the Granite State’s aviation history, several of which are preserved and commemorated today through exhibits at the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire in Londonderry.

 
The first flight
According to Wendell Berthelsen, director of operations for the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire, the earliest record of anyone flying any type of aircraft in New Hampshire was a hydrogen gas-powered balloon by French inventor Jean-Pierre Blanchard in Portsmouth in 1796. Blanchard had successfully flown the balloon for the first time in Paris 12 years earlier, in 1784, and was in the Granite State as part of several “aerostatic experiments” performed across the U.S. between 1793 and 1797. He charged visitors $1 admission to ride in the balloon.
 
Civil War reconnaissance
Considered to be a leading pioneer in ballooning, Jefferson native Thaddeus Sobieski Constantine Lowe is credited with organizing the Lincoln Balloon Corps, which performed aerial reconnaissance during the years of the Civil War and used balloons that were fueled by coal.
“He actually did surveillance for the White House for the North to see what the South was doing [during the war],” Berthelsen said. “He would bring a telegraph operator in the basket with him and report back to the White House what his findings were.”
A vintage balloon basket, with a mannequin model of Lowe dressed in Civil War-era attire, is today on display in the Museum.
 
NH’s first airplane
The Wright Brothers would invent the first successfully flown airplane in 1903, and it was just seven years later when the first airplane flight took place over the Granite State. It was on September 27, 1910, at the Rochester Fairgrounds, according to Berthelsen. Archibald Hoxsey, who worked for the Wright Brothers at the time, was the pilot.
The flight was one of several “Air Meets” held across the country throughout 1910, made up of exhibition teams of aviators employed by either the Wright Brothers or by aviator Glenn Hammond Curtiss to travel and introduce the public to the airplane. These Air Meets also ended up being the first airplane flights at several other states, including North Dakota, which was also flown by Hoxsey, as well as Vermont, just three days earlier than New Hampshire.
“The plane was shipped initially up to New Hampshire by train before it took flight at the fairgrounds,” Berthelsen said. “[Hoxsey] was one of several Wright Brothers pilots who came up to fly their airplanes.”
 
The first commercial airport
The building that houses the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire is itself a part of the Granite State’s aviation history, Museum Executive Director Jessica Pappathan said.
Construction to build an airport in Manchester began in June 1927. Just five months later, in November, Robert Fogg became the first person to take off from and land an aircraft at that airport. Fogg was also the first private resident in the Granite State to own a licensed aircraft.
Other Granite State firsts included aviatrix Bernice Blake, who became the first licensed female commercial pilot in the state in 1931, and the Doodle Bug, the first biplane designed and built in the state, in 1929.
In 1940, the airport was named an Army Air Corps Base, with more than 100 additional buildings constructed in just 90 days.
“[The terminal] officially went out of service in 1962, but was used for other purposes for some period of time,” Berthelsen said. “During the expansion of the airport in the mid-to-late ’90s, it was eventually ...  converted into a museum.”
The terminal reopened officially as a museum in 2004 when its foundation was moved across two runways to the airport’s southeast side, where it is found today, Berthelsen said.
 
A homegrown hero
Derry native Alan Shepard Jr., who became the first person in the United States to travel in space in May 1961, rode his bicycle to the Manchester Airport as a teenager to sweep out its hangars in exchange for flying lessons, Berthelsen said.
“Carl Park Sr. was the one that taught him how to fly out of a hangar — he operated the terminal buildings at the time,” he said.
Shepard would go on to graduate from Pinkerton Academy in Derry and then the United States Naval Academy, serving in the Navy during World War II and later becoming a test pilot in 1950. Nine years later, he became selected by NASA as one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts.
“We have a couple of panels in the museum about him, as well as a plaque dedication in our terminal building,” Berthelsen said. “He’s also talked about on a number of our tours.” 





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