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Vendredi, 18 Novembre 2011 12:30

Nov. 18, 1913: U.S. Pilot Loops the Loop

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1913: Flying at 3,500 feet over North Island near San Diego, pilot Lincoln Beachey points his Curtiss airplane downward. He pulls back on the controls at 1,000 feet, climbing until the nose of the airplane falls back beyond the vertical, and he completes the first inside loop by an American pilot.

Within weeks Beachey was “looping the loop” multiple times in succession. The maneuver became commonplace during World War I and continues to be the mainstay of aerobatic and combat pilots to this day.

Like the Wright brothers, Beachey was a young bicycle mechanic. The flying bug first bit him in 1905. His first experience was in balloons, but by 1910 Beachey decided airplanes were the place to be and learned to fly at the Curtiss Flying School from Glenn Curtiss himself.

Flight instruction at the time was crude, to say the least. Despite crashing during his first two lessons, Beachey soloed on his third lesson. By the next year, he was earning large sums of money as a famous stunt pilot, touring the country with his airplane.

Beachey set a world record for altitude in 1911, climbing to 11,578 feet. He made his money as a stunt pilot, but decided to quit after several of his fellow aviators died in crashes. Beachey said he was unhappy with the spectacle flying had become, and that spectators were hoping for crashes.

His retirement was short-lived, though, and soon he was asking Curtiss to make him an airplane with enough power to perform the loop that Russian pilot Peter Nesterov first made earlier in 1913. Beachey’s return to flying ended in tragedy when he lost control of his airplane and killed a spectator who was watching from a hangar roof.

Beachey told The New York Times he “was not attempting to loop the loop, nor to do any other extraordinary feat at the time.” He again decided to quit aviation.

But Beachey was back in the air a month later. In an airplane Curtiss had built with plenty of power, Beachey was able to replicate Nesterov’s feat on Nov. 18, 1913. The New York Times reported he completed the loop with only 300 feet to spare (.pdf), and that Beachey said said he didn’t know how he did it, “it was all an experiment.”

Beachey improved his technique and completed two consecutive loops Nov. 25. By the end of the year he had performed six consecutive loops.

He was soon setting records performing as many as 80 loops in succession. He made a mock attack on the White House and the Capitol in 1914 to show the government that it was unprepared for the aviation age.

While performing in front of a crowd at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915, Beachey misjudged his altitude during an inverted maneuver and ended up crashing into San Francisco Bay (.pdf). An autopsy concluded that he survived the crash, but died from drowning. He was 28.

Today the loop is considered an elementary aerobatic maneuver, and the current world record for consecutive loops stands at 2,368 by David Childs of North Pole, Alaska.

Source: Various

Photo: Lincoln Beachey poses in his airplane.

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