V. DE JONCKHEERE,
BELGIAN AVIATION PIONEER
The sources of J.L. Rosman are:
book "Wingene en Zwevezele door de jaren heen"
"Gazet van Thielt" June 3rd 1911.
Those two documents have been obtained thanks to the generous help of the staff of the city of Tielt-library.
"La Conquête de l'Air", May 1st 1912
"Wings for the Navy", US Naval Institute, 1990
This documentation teaches us that V. De Jonckheere was born in Zwevezele on September 22nd 1868. After his marriage he emigrated to the United States in 1896, to return to Belgium in 1904. His business seemed prosperous enough to be able to build a nice house in Zwevezele which he named the "Little Castle" Simultaneously he founded a business in hatching machines. It was in 1909 at the Antwerp-meeting that the developments of Jan Olieslagers passed the aviation-fever on to him and in 1910 he enrolled in the aviation school of Olieslagers at St-Job-in 't Goor. He took the test for his license on September 16th of the same year and became the 44th licensed Belgian (according to the reference list in "Le Printemps de l'Aviation Belge" by Chévalier J. de Laminne) and the first West-Fleming to pass this test. Take note that he is only a few days away from his 42nd birthday.
Lucky owner of a Blériot, he registered in competition at the aviationweek at Thielt during summer 1911 and on September 15th of the same year he offered his fellow citizens of Zwevezele their first aviation demonstration. (It seemed however that two people were injured because of the low altitude at which he flew.) This didn't deter him of a second -more succesfull- demonstration 15 days later.
In 1912 V. De Jonckheere reembarked for the United States from where he didn't return untill 1921 to settle in Mechelen. He took his Blériot with him to the USA and after April 4th he was circling the Philadelphia sky. But it was on April 12th 1912 that he entered American Naval Aviation history with a night-flight attack on the cruiser Massachussets. This splendid demonstration, inspired by Lieutenant (USMC) A.A. Cunningham, provoked the establishment of a Naval Air Station on League Island, close to Philadelphia, a bit later. It is very interesting to note the important role played by a Belgian aviator in the development of the American naval aviation. This fact is not only acknowledged in the official American publication "Wings for the Navy", a recent publication, but was also news reaching Belgium at the turn of the century. The "Conquête de l'Air" n° 9 of May 1st 1912 wrote: "The Belgian aviator V. De Jonckheere, who has been staying in the United States for some time now, has made on the evening of April 22nd, in complete darkness, remarkable maneuvers above Philadelphia and especially above the battleship Massaschussets. Using his monoplane equipped with a 50 horsepower engine, he flew over the city for 45 minutes. He was lighted by five very powerful electrical searchlights and the huge crowd could follow the movements of this ballet in the night sky.
Hereafter, the pilot quickly ascended to 5000 feet, escaping the projected light beams. He turned right to the harbor where the battleship lay at anchor. He lighted a small yellow light which was attached to the front of his monoplane and made wild movements over the big ship, flying very high at times, followed by very low altitude maneuvers.
He landed safely and after setting foot on the ground he declared that if he had had bombs on board his airplane, he could very easily have dropped them on the ship.The Americans, impressed by such great skill, gave our brave compatriot an unforgettable round of applause."
Two pictures of V. De Jonckheere are known (at least we hope for the time being)
A postal card, showing the aviator in front of his Blériot in Zwevezele
The following picture, taken from the book "Wings for the Navy" and coming from the National Archives.
Copy from 1993 Magazine
Courtesy of Mr. Etienne Reunis
from Jean-Pierre Lauwers