EARL FRITTS
AKA Earl V. Fritz
 

 
 
I need a photo of him. If you can help, please contact me.
 

 
  Comment Monday, August 30, 1999  

 
  Local history column by Mark Simonson thedailystar.com  

 
 
New form of transportation took flight locally in 1910
     Well, the summer vacation season is slowly winding down. Before you know it, many will be busy booking flights for the Thanksgiving and holiday season flights to go home, or their `dream vacation` to wherever for the big `Y2K` observance. We never think much these days about times without flying as a travel option, but this area has quite a bit of history to contribute to aviation, after the Wright Brothers got the bugs out of their invention.
     The first flight around Oneonta was in 1910. A `barnstormer` became quite an attraction at the 1910 Oneonta Fair, promising to provide thrills to the fairgoers. Unfortunately, the pilot took off from a farm pasture on Oneonta's south side, but crashed shortly after takeoff and never got to the fairgrounds. A year later though, another pilot, Walter Johnson, successfully gave flying exhibitions at the fair.
     Oneonta boys Frank Burnside and Earl Fritts were at that demonstration, and needless to say, the flying bug bit them. By the end of 1911, the two pals had graduated from the new Thomas Brothers Flying School, in Steuben County's town of Bath. These two became one of the first in the world to become licensed to fly an aircraft.
     Fritts came back to the Oneonta area to `barnstorm` a bit, but soon retired from flying. Burnside continued and accumulated an impressive Thomas Morse biplane in July 1913, at 12,950 feet! Burnside stayed on as an instructor with the Thomas Brothers, and eventually moved with the company to Ithaca. But he also flew in some early `flicker` movies by the Grossman Picture Corporation. He piloted for stars such as Irene Castle, Lillian Walker, and Edith Day. In 1914, Burnside made the first flights from the U.S. to the Dominican Republic, Rio de Janeiro, and from Miami to Havana. He also became a pioneer of air mail flying.
     The first major airfield came to Oneonta in 1927. D.F. Keyes converted 190 acres of land on the Oneonta Plains, for such use. That's now in the area where NYSEG Corp. and the National Soccer Hall of Fame are located. It became Keyes Airport. At first there were no hangars for the airplanes. Eventually, there were three runways up to 1800 feet long, going toward the soccer fields of today, and another parallel to Country Club Road. Pilot Carlton Hinman of Cooperstown first landed his Canadian Curtiss airplane at Keyes Airport. Keyes was not the first airport around Oneonta. Another was run by Charlie Georgia, but the exact location is uncertain.
     In a separate but significant chapter of local aviation history, Scintilla of Sidney, now Amphenol, built magnetos for airplane engines. During World War I, a group of engineers in Switzerland developed an outstanding magneto. After the war, a Chicago promoter Laurence R. Wilder obtained the American agency and brought the magneto to the U.S. in 1921. Scintilla was located in New York City at the time.
     Meanwhile, Sidney had recently lost its big manufacturer, the Hatfield Automobile Company, as it just couldn't compete with Detroit. A former Hatfield official, Winfield Sherwood, volunteered without pay to search for a new industry for the village. Sherwood hit paydirt in 1924, as he invited Scintilla officials to Sidney, convincing them to bring this superb magneto manufacturing line to the Tri-Towns. They moved into the old Hatfield plant. By 1928, Scintilla had a much better factory, and was purchased a year later by Bendix Aviation Corporation. Somehow, the company survived the Great Depression, and by 1939, was filling orders for airplane magnetos for the Allies in Europe.
     Next time, after Labor Day, we'll put on the helmets, shoulder pads, and head out to the ol' gridiron!
 
City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears weekly on this page. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or
e-mail him at simmark@stny.rr.com

 
Editors Note: This informative article by Mark Simonson, the Oneonta city historian and freelance writer for the Daily Star, Oneonta, is reprinted with the kind permission of the author. We are grateful for his contribution.
 

 
 
ONLINE RESOURCES
Using the Google search engine on "Earl V. Fritz", you will find just one very important link.
 
 
Early Aviation in Broome County, New York
Copyright 2004 William L. Camp. All Rights Reserved.
     This page offers a fascinating story of the development of aviation in Broome County, New York. It includes multiple references to many familiar, and some unfamiliar, pioneers such as James J. Ward W. E. Johnson, Cromwell Dixon, Lincoln Beachey, Charles K. Hamilton, C. C. Witmer, William R. Hemstrought, Earl V. Fritz, George L. Newberry, Robert Fowler, Calbraith P. Rodgers,
     It appears to me that the Earl V. Fritz mentioned in this story may well be the Earl Fritts who is identified on this page.
 

 
 
 
 
The date of his death is unknown.

 
Editor's Note:
If you have any information on this Early Bird,
please contact me.
E-mail to Ralph Cooper

 
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