Fred Eells
Pioneer New York State Aviator - Plane Builder

Collection of Steve Scully
     Fred G. Eells was born in Bath, New York December 20th, 1886; attended local schools, then learned the machinist trade. He became very interested in aviation following the early Curtiss experiments at nearby Hammondport, and as a result built a glider in 1909 and even made a slope to glide from.
     He then made a Curtiss-type pusher biplane powered with a 25-30 H.P. Kirkham automobile engine and there is evidence that Eells was associated with the motor manufacturer Charles Kirkham in this work, for it was called the Kirkham-Eells plane. The machine was completed about mid-July, 1910 and Eells began ground tests and short hops. The first week of August he was making circles and doing some very creditable flying, and on August 16th he circled the city and flew over a portion of it.
     Eells continued practicing and gave his first paid public flying exhibition at the Naples, New York Fair September 15th and 16th, 1910 before a huge crowd. That month they started advertising the Kirkham-Eells Aeroplane Company, Bath, New York for "complete planes, motor, propellers and exhibition flights arranged." In October Eells made lfights at Rochester, New York and on the 19th he attempted to win a prize offered by J. D. Moore of the Temple Theatre for a certain flight there. While trying for this Eells had a smashup, but was not injured. By the 21st he had the plane repaired and was flying again, but on October 22nd he had another smashup damaging his plane and sustaining injuries.
     Eells continued the 1910 season with the Kirkham-Eells machine but in January, 1911 Kirkham announced his first aircraft engines, abandoned the plane venture and went into the aviation engine business by himself. Early that year Eells became associated with the Rieflin Bros. of Rochester, New York to form the Rieflin Headless Aeroplane Company there. A headless Curtiss-type biplane was built, using a 4 cylinder 50 H.P. Wells & Adams aircraft engine built in Bath, New York. This plane was flying about mid-year and Eells made a number of successful flights with it during the remainder of the season, on occasion flying over the city taking aerial photos of the town, using a camera attached to the plane near his seat. He had also carried a number of passengers.
     There is evidence that the Rieflin brothers dropped out of the venture after that season, but Eells remained in Rochester during the early part of 1912 flying this plane on floats at Irondequit Bay. Now called the Wells Hydro it still used the Wells & Adams engine. On june 27th Eells made a 73-mile flight there with this plane in 1 hour, 23 minutes, but was forced down when he ran out of fuel. Later in 19112 he started flying exhibitions and flew at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania on October 3rd and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania October 12th where he made several flights over the old battlefields.
     In early 1913 Eells became associated with the Thomas Brothers at Bath, New York on flight test, instruction and exhibition flying activities. A water flying School was started at Conesus Lake with a Thomas biplane hydro and Eells was in charge as Chief Instructor. There he also did some of the initial flight testing of the new Thomas flying boat intended for the Great Lakes Cruise Contest.
     In addition to operating the school Eells also did some exhibition work for the company. He made flights at Glen Haven, New York the last two weeks of July with Walter Johnson and Charles Hermann, then flew a Thomas hydro alone for one week at Monessen, Pennsylvania in early September at an "Old Home Week" celebration. From there Eells flew the hydro at the Perry Centennial Celebration at Put-In-Bay, Ohio September 19th to 26th. This was a water flying event held by the Inter-Lakes Yachting Association in commemoration of Perry's victory in the Battle of Lake Erie. Also flying at this event were Walter Johnson and Frank Burnside of the Thomas Bros. Company, Tony Jannus and William Bleakley of the Benoist Company and Beckwith Havens of the Curtiss Company.
     Eells' aviation activites are unknown through 1914 to 1916, but reportedly he was in France at the start of World War I, at which time he returned to the United States and became a Naval Aviation Instructor at the Hampton Roads Naval Air Station, Virginia. There he was also engaged in some bomb dropping experiments. During this period he enlisted in the Navy and was enrolled as Chief Quartermaster on January 21, 1918 and was released from active duty there November 30, 1918, but remained on Reserve Duty. Eells received an homorable discharge from this assignment on September 30, 1921 as Chief Radioman, from the 9th Naval District, Great Lakes, Illinois.
     After World War I Eells became "fed up" with aviation and returned to New York State where he became a machinist and tool maker for the American Can Company of Geneva, New York. He remained there until retirement and during this time owned and operated an Aeronca light plane for sport flying. Upon retirement he moved to Florida and settled at Tavaris where he continued to do neighborhood repair work at times and enjoyed fishing. After gradually failing health Eels passed away at the Waterman Memorial Hospital, Eustis, Florida on November 6, 1965 at age 78. He was survived by a sister and a niece, both of Hammondsport, New York. His remains were returned to Bath for burial in Nondaga Cemetery.
     Flying Pioneer Fred G. Eells was truly one of the early birds of American Aviation history. A good mechanic, he built his own first planes and taught himself to fly them. One of the first to join the aviation movement in the United States, a close lifetime friend of Glenn Curtiss, he was the first to fly over Bath and Rochester, New York. He was always intently concerned and continually striving to improve aircraft in every way possible. His name must be well recorded in the annals of early American aviation history.

Forgotten Stories of the Finger Lakes....Glenn Rogers....1953-54
Collection of Steve Scully
     With the establishment of the Air Force base at Sampson, in the heart of the Finger Lakes, there is written another chapter in the never ending story of man's conquest of the air, a story in which the lakes region has played no little part.
     On December 17, 1903, the Wright brothers made the first flight in a heavier-than-air machine at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. In the years which followed, Glenn Curtiss made notable contributions to flying at Hammondsport, since called the Cradel of American Aviation. Here too, in the Finger Lakes region in 1915 was flown the Langley airplane, a ship built several years before the Wright brother's first flight.
     It is rather fitting, therefore, that an air station be located in the Finger Lakes region which has certainly done it's part in this drama of the air.
     When Sampson airmen came to Geneva, they may unknowingly rub shoulders with one Genevan, who was there when aviation was in it's early stages of birth, a man who made a name for himself among those early pioneers of the air, but whose exploits are now but pleasant memories of a by-gone day.
     Fred G. Eells, who resides at 21 Avenue B in Geneva, played an important role in those early days, and his name was as well known in the flying circles of the early 1900's as are those of present day air heroes to this generation.
     Fred Eells started his career as a machinist and toolmaker while in his teens, and during 1903 and 1904, he was associated with the engineer Kirkham in the building of the first motorcycle engine for Glenn Curtiss, who was yet to become famous in aviation.
     The success of the Wright brothers fascinated young Eells and, contrary to the popular notion of those early days that a man had to be born with flying ability, he began to experiment with gliders. He completed his first glider in 1908 and attempted his first flight early one morning at the Bath, New York fairgrounds with only a friend to assist him. In order to launch his glider, Eells had erected a tower about 60 feet in the air and he and his frined hauled the glider to the top platform runway by means of a rope. Stepping into the winged harness and holding the framework tight under his arms, Eells sprinted along the platform and took off into space. On his flirst flight, he soared a good many feet over the ground. Elated by his success, he tried once more, but disaster befell him as he took a nose dive to earth.
     But he had started on the road to a flying career that was to last for 9 years. Success with the glider impelled him to start construction of a plane to be powered by a Curtiss engine. Meanwhile, he was also turning his machinist talent to helping Glenn Curtiss build the latters first plane.
     Fred finished his plane and flew successfully, thus launching him on the way to his becoming the first barnstorming aviator in the country. He gave a flying exhibition at Naples, New York, in 1910 which netted him $500.00, while a three day stay at Towanda, Pennsylvania, earned him $1000.00 fior thrilling huge crowds with his aerial feats.
     He continued his barnstorming about the country, attracting thousands of people wherever he went. In that same year of 1910 he flew over Rochester with a photographers camera, and gliding earthward from an altitude of a little over 1000 feet, took pictures of the ciry--the first aerial photographs ever made.
     His was also the first plane ever to fly over the waters of Lake Ontario--not a direct flight over the lake but a sweeping two mile arc out from the entrance to Irondequoit Bay.
     After a few short years of barnstorming he returned to work with Curtiss for a short while and then in 1914 he went to Paris, France, with the son of Elmer Sperry, inventor of the gyroscope. Young Sperry had perfected an airplane stabilizer, utilizing his father's crude gyroscope, and Eells and Sperry were the first to a fly a ship equipped with such a stabilizer.
     In 1917 when the United States entered World War I, Fred was anxious to do his bit and volunteered for combat flying duty in Europe. The Navy, however, needed his talent and decreed otherwise. And so a handful of men, including Fred Eells, took naval aviation, which was just showing signs of life, and developed it into a lusty infant. It was during these years that he saw plane-to-ground communication tried successfully for the first time.
     Then came the end of the war and with it's end the release of humdreds and hundreds of pilots who turned to barnstorming as a means of livelihood. Fred Eels saw that his profession was now becoming a crowded and unprofitable affair, and so he wisely decided to return to his toolmaking and machinist trade. He first made Geneva his home in 1926 and became associated with the American Can Company. Fred seemed content to ply his chosen trade but one wonders if sometimes he doesn't have a yearning to again soar up there high among the clouds. But, on the other hand, perhaps Fred feels that he has done his job and that it is now up to the younger men of his generation to continue on with the work. Then too, the man who virtually had the skies to himself nearly half a century ago, might feel a bit crowded up there among the swarms of American eagles now filling the wild blue yonder.

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