by Vera Hogan,
With a "wing and a prayer," members of the Osbert E. Williams Flying School in Fenton help a fellow student prepare for take-off.
Several bicycle parts and baling wire were used to keep these early planes together.
TRI-COUNTY TIMES - SPECIAL SECTION
SUNDAY, AUGUST 9, 1998 - PAGE 7
During the early 1900s, more than 1,000 automakers, big and small, were out to prove their
version of the "horseless carriage" was the only way to travel.
Then there were those who dreamed of flight.
Daredevils they could be called, with a desire so strong to fly high above the rest, that safety was perhaps too low a priority.
Fenton had its share of young men who sacrificed theri lives in the name of aviation.
In 1914, a stranger named O.E. Williams arrived in Fenton. He was a barnstormer, having earned the title of aviator performing stunts at state and county fairs.
According to a former Fenton historian, Williams first came to Fenton to repair a hydroplane for a wealthy Flint sportsman who had a summer cottage at Long Lake (Lake Fenton).
Williams like it in Fenton and decided to stay. He soon attracted a group of young men who shared his passion for flight and believed there was a future in aviation.
He found a vacant building on LeRoy Street , just south of the present community center.
At this location, Williams started the O.E. Williams Aeroplane Co., where he and a group of boys began assembling what they coined "aeroplanes."
A flat pice of land at the north end of Lake Fenton was used as a landing strip.
It wasn't too long before the young men decided they would like to fly the new contraption on their own, and the Williams School of Aviaiton was formed.
Construction of the early aeroplanes were considered somewhat flimsy. There was no elaborate fuselage and the motor had a bad habit of conking out during flight.
Much like a model airplane of today, the propeller was made of pieces of wood that were glued and pressed together. Hay wire was often used to secure and strengthen the strut connections.
The fact that these contraptions made it off the ground and sometimes remained airborne, despite the techniques used to build them, was a marvel to the young would-be aviators.
Word of the Williams school and the aeroplane reached beyond the local borders, causing young boys from other cities to leave home to seek their wings in Fenton.
According to an October 1930 issue of the American Aero Philatelic Digest, young fellows, whose middle names were "Dare," mastered the art of stunt flying and were ready to put this mastery to a test.
"Passengers were taken up to be thrilled," according to the Digest. "If the frame made too much noise on account of being too loose or broken, it was brought down and a piece of wire found, wrapped around the faulty part and the flight was completed."
About a dozen young men eventually left Fenton to display their flying talents elsewhere.
Over the next several years, all of them, including Williams, lost their lives doing what they loved most.
In April 1928, the last of Fenton's air school pilots, E.G. Knapp, fell to his death in Texas.
The Associated Press reported, "Last of Fenton Air School --Knapp's Death Takes Last of Fenton Fliers who Sacrificed Lives for Aviation
Source: Tri-County Times article by Vera Hogan
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