"Vergara's careful documentation of Robinson's close relationship
with Glenn Curtiss and his pivotal role in the history of aviation
gives us a fresh new perspective on the 'early birds' who created
that 'wonderful era of discovery, daring, and innovation."--Arva
Moore Parks, Historian "An opportunity to discover how it all
began. . . . Hugh Robinson's story helps to put the history of
flight into the proper perspective."--Lindsley A. Dunn, curator,
Glenn H. Curtiss Museum, Hammondsport, New York Hugh Robinson
(1881-1963) was a daredevil, a compulsive inventor, an important
figure in the early history of American aeronautics, and one tough
customer. He survived test flights, fifteen serious crashes, the
"Circle of Death" circus act (his own invention), and spectacularly
dangerous international air shows. Based on the Robinson family's
trove of early aviation memorabilia and 82 rare photographs, this
biography describes his passage from childhood--when he attempted
to fly his homemade bicycle off a 100-foot-high hill--to his final
years as a consulting engineer for National Scientific Laboratories
in Washington, D.C. Obsessed with a desire to fly, Robinson's first
experience aloft was in 1907 (four years after the Wright Brothers
had flown for twelve seconds at Kitty Hawk) in a dirigible with a
40-horsepower engine of his own design. The air was calm, the
engine was not powerful enough for controlled flight, and Robinson
drifted about the countryside knocking down power lines over East
St. Louis until he finally came to rest in a tree, where he spent
the night. In 1909 he met famous aviator Glenn Curtiss at the St.
Louis Centennial Exposition. Thanks to the propeller Curtiss lent
him, Robinson succeeded in making three short flights at the
Exposition, all straight ahead, in a single-wing monoplane he had
designed and constructed. In 1911 Curtiss hired Robinson to be
engineer and chief pilot at his "aviation camp" in San Diego, where
he was instrumental in the development of the first hydroplane and
helped teach the first military pilots to fly. He became Curtiss's
main hydroplane exhibition flier--giving most observers their first
opportunity to see people in flight--and chief instructor at the
Curtiss camp in Hammondsport, New York. Later, he demonstrated and
sold the Curtiss hydroplane on the French Riviera. After returning
to the States he joined Tom Benoist in St. Louis, where he helped
design, build, and test-fly the Benoist Flying Boat, the first
commercial airplane in the world, based in Tampa, Florida. In this
story of pioneers who stumbled into the air, George Vergara writes
with admiration, enthusiasm, and sometimes with his heart in his
throat, conveying the excitement of what it must have been like to
fly at 10,000 feet, "feeling like a feather in the wind," with
nothing but a small board between pilot and ground. George L.
Vergara is a cardiologist and amateur aviation historian who
learned to fly during his service in the U.S. Navy. He is a
founding member of the Miami Historical Museum and a resident of
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