An Aeronaut's POV

On April 18, 1909 the Indianapolis Star published an article that presents the perspective of an "Aeronaut" or balloon pilot. This article was a direct result of the public interest in upcoming Aero Club of America national championship balloon race scheduled for June 5, 1909 at the Indianpolis Motor Speedway. The article discusses this event, the personalities involved and the general sensations of balloon travel. To the last point the commentary of Speedway Co-Founder and President Carl Fisher provides the description.
Fisher's "Indiana" is noted as one of two Indianapolis balloons entered, the other being the Indianapolis of Dr. Goethe Link and Russe "R.J." Irvin. Both balloons were in the process of being constructed by Captain George L. Bumbaugh and his assistants. In the case of Fisher's balloon, the Indiana, Bumbaugh was reportedly made of the latest materials - Italian hemp and linen, veneered, three-ply with downturned seams in glue. The balloon had two different baskets. One carried eight people comfortably with blanket closets, seats, hampers and lockers. The other, designed for the race, was much smaller and built for two. Fisher planned to use the larger basket to christen the balloon on its initial ascension - accompanied by newspapermen.
A point of the article that is important to bring to the surface is that it reports that as of the date of its publication there were a total of 21 licensed balloon pilots in the United States. I want to flag this point because it has been reported elsewhere - such as in Jerry Fisher's biography of Carl - that Carl Fisher was the 21st licensed balloon pilot in the United States. If this article is accurate he obviously was not as it also reports that Fisher still had to take his night time ascension to be awarded his license. The article explains that the licensing process required each candidate to take 10 ascensions including one alone, one at night and two with a licensed pilot. Fisher still needed to perform his night ride. That said, it is very likely Carl was among the top 25 licensed pilots in America.
At the time the article was published the May 15 deadline for entries had not been reached but already a quality field was assembled. Beyond the two Hoosiers several interesting personalities are discussed in the article. The implication is that these men were entered as competitors but that is not explicitly clear. These people include Glenn Curtiss who went on to have a brilliant career as an aviator, Captain Thomas Baldwin who is credited by the article with "probably knowing more about lighter-than-air craft than anyone else in the United States and Cortlandt Field Bishop, who is identified as the president of the Aero Club of America. A. Holland Forbes, who, with Augustus Post survived one of the most harrowing balloon accidents in history when their craft, the Conqueror burst into flames at 4,000 feet.
Perhaps the most noteworthy personality of all was a Captain Alexander Bell who is mentioned as an associate of Curtiss. This is without doubt THE Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone. In addition to his expertise in telephony Bell was a dedicated aviator and a founder of the Aerial Experiment Assocition which is where he and Curtiss joined forces most significantly. Each balloon required a pilot and assistant. The pilot handled the valves and the assistant read reports from the anneroid, compass and barometer.
Other likely entries came from A.C. Triaca of New York and Charles Coey of Illinois in his balloon, Chicago. Albert B. Lambert and Eugene Honeywell were entered representing St. Louis. Apparently the fact that the balloon championship was in Indianapolis and not St. Louis was a surprise and a testimony to Fisher's salesmanship and the appeal of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. At the time there were seven regional clubs affiliated with the Aero Club of America and the Aero Club of Indiana was the third largest. Fisher was president and Howard Marmon was vice president. In those days the crossover between men leading the automobile industry and those in aviation was significant. Other officers were Dr. Link, treasurer; Irvin, superintendent and Bumbaugh, general manager.
The colorful part of the article comes from a long quote by Fisher on the sensations of flying. In his description Fisher stresses the importance of dressing warmly as the temperature falls rapidly after 4,000 feet, at the rate, he said, of 10 degrees per 2,000 feet. He remarks that objects on the ground appear increasingly smaller during ascension to the point of not being recognizable at 7,000 feet. Perhaps most interesting in today's context of the "green" movement is that Fisher notes that once he rose above the air immdiately above the city the atmosphere is clear and pure. From his perspective above the clouds, "It is here that one realizes the filthy air surrounding the city."
Higher in the atmosphere Fisher reported that he felt no problem breathing except that his heart raced. He describes a "snapping" in his ears but says that free of the ambient noise of city life he could even hear his pocket watch tick. "Above 6,000 feet there is the quietness of death," he said.

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