William Knox Martin.
William Knox Martin in His Plane - 1919
Courtesy of Olivia Korringa (Martin) - 9-14-03
From FAA Aviation News/ July, 1972
Courtesy of Olivia Korringa (Martin) - 9-14-03
     To the inhabitants of the sleepy, isolated mountain villages of Colombia, nothing had ever created such a stir in their lives as the unexpected arrival, in the summer of 1919, of a huge mechanical bird, its engine screaming out the news that "El Intrepido Aviator American," William Knox Martin, had returned to South America.
     Colombians were treated to their first sight of an airplane earlier that year when, in the town square of Cartagena on the Atlantic coast, a young foreigner with a mysterious crate of goods appeared and proceeded to assemble a surplus military Jenny before their eyes. To the onlookers, many of whom had never laid eyes on either a train or an automobile this was a miracle of the first order.
     As the personable young "Yanqui" put the finishing touches on his Jenny with a flourish., leaflets were distributed among the crowd announcing Martin's willingness to accept paying passengers for short flights over the town, as well as his desire to interest businessmen in financing an airmail and passenger service in Colombia that would connect the semi-isotated ( inland) capital of Bogota with major cities located on the coast. Such an air route would pass over the Colombian Andes, three formidable ranges which cross the country north to south, rising to heights over 18,000 feet, with the deep river valleys of Cauca and Magdalena between them.
     The tranportation system Martin proposed staggered the native imagination. By the beginning of the 20th century less than 75 miles of roads existed in the country, physically as large as England, France and Germany combined. The steep and unstable mountain passes of the Andes made road and railway construction next to impossible. mail from the coast took as long as a month to reach Bogota, moving up the Magdalena River by boat and then being packed by mules over the mountains. The brash Americano's proposal to fly over this route in less than six hours at first stunned and then interested a group of investment-oriented Colombians who were in a financial postion to back an airline. But first they must be convinced by an actual flight to Bogota.
     "El Intrepido's" appearance in South America was no mere coincidence. Martin had become convinced that the airplane was destined to topple the physical barriers of this subcontinent as early as 1913 when, at the tender age of 19, he accompanied an exploratory expedition up the Orinoco River in Venezuela, flying a Curtiss biplane with a 60 hp Rosenberger engine. An unfriendly reception on the part of local Indians and alligators turned back the travelers after 200 miles, and Martin flew to the coast vowing to return at a later date.
William Knox Martin.
  When Martin flew a flimsy biplane up the Orinoco River in Venezuela in 1913 he was only 19, but he was determined to conquer the forbidding jungle wilderness from the air.
Courtesy of Olivia Korringa (Martin) - 9-26-03
       In the six year interim, young Martin, who was born in 1894 at Salem, Va., gained a world-wide reputation as a truly intrepid aviator. In 1915 he was engaged by Pancho Villa and General Zapata to fly for the Mexican revolutionary forces. Martin transported cargo and bombs, the latter consisting of long-fused sticks of dynamite, which he lighted from a glowing cigar and dropped over the side on Government fortifications. Between flights he was not above taking part in Pancho Villa's cavalry raids.
     Martin's reputation as a one-man air force spread across the Pacific, and in 1916 he went to China to train military pilots for Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's revolutionary movement. Next Martin hopped over to Japan and demonstrated his flying skill for the delight and amazement of the Emperor. Next he turned up in Seattle as a test pilot for Boeing and next in England as a member of the R.A.F., later transferring to the United States Marines Flying Corps when this country entered World War I.

$100,000 CAPITAL

Pacific Aero Products Company
Will Make Planes and
Teach Flying
     Aeroplanes and accessories will be manufactured and aviation taught by the Pacific Aero Products Company, which was incorporated yesterday for $100,000. The only officers and stockholders of the organization are W. E. Boeing, E. N. Gott and J. C. Foley. The Boeing hangar, at the foot of Newton Street, on Lake Union, and a woodworking shop at Oxbow comprise the recent plant of the incorporation.
     For the present the company will content itself with the manufacture of aeroplanes and giving instruction in flying. The company already has one aeroplane, a twin pontoon seaplane, completed. A sister craft will be ready in ten days, and two smaller machines are about 65 per cent complete. Several students are now enrolled in the flying course and are receiving instruction at the hands of W. K. Martin, of San Diego, an experienced aviator brought to Seattle by Mr. Boeing.
Newsclipping from Seattle Washington, 1915,
Courtesy of Olivia Korringa (Martin) - 8-16-05

William Knox Martin.
  Lt. W. Knox Martin as an instructor in the Canadian Royal Flying Corps in 1917, before transferring to the U.S. Marines in WW I.
Courtesy of Olivia Korringa (Martin) - 9-26-03
       Wounded, decorated and discharged, Martin bought a surplus Jenny and headed for South America again in 1919, nurturing his ambition to found a trans-Andean airline. This time he went to Colombia, where he had been assured that the hazards would be purely vertical. He quickly demonstrated the effectiveness of the airplane for transportation by delivering mail between the coastal cities of Cartagena and Baranquilla, and personally designed an airmail stamp for the service.
     To call attention to the presence of aviation in Colombia, Martin sturnted at low altitudes over the countryside, buzzed rooftops and performed figure eights around the twin spires of Baranquilla's cathedral--where four years later he was to be married to a local beauty, Senorita Isabel Vieco.
William Knox Martin.
William Knox Martin in His Plane - 1919
Courtesy of Olivia Korringa (Martin) - 9-14-03
       His instant fame as "El Intrepido," notwithstanding, the mountains still remained to be crossed. Martin had to fly his battle scarred aircraft to Bogota before anyone would actually finance a Colombian airline. In August of 1919 Martin made his long awaited attempt. By easy stages he flew his Jenny up the Magdalena River as far as Honda, a small valley town about 75 air miles northwest of Bogota. From Honda he planned to fly to the capital by way of Facatativa, a village nestled on an Andean peak some 18,000 feet above sea level.
     His Jenny engine was rated generously at 180 hp with a maximum speed of 80 mph, and his navigational instruments consisted ot a hand-held 75-cent compass. He took off at 5:05 p.m., on August 5, with many good wishes and much discouragement from those who knew the mountains.
     But Martin was an old "iron compass" hand, and he chose to fly Facatativa precisely because one of the few railroad tracks in the country led directly to that mountain hamlet. Making his way with difficulty because of low hanging clouds, iced rigging and a sputtering engine, suffering from nose bleed, headaches and other symptoms of hypoxia, Martin managed to find his way into the Facatativa Pass and down to the plateau on which Bogota, at 8,659 feet, was situated.
     Martin's airborne arrival in the isolated mountain capital (the first aerial crossing of the northern Andes) was probably the most exciting event in the history of the city. He became a hero on the spot, and very soon afterwards, the first "air minister" of Colombia. Before the year was out, the Compania Bogotania de Aviacion was formed with Martin at the helm.
     Over the next four years he risked his neck with frequent flights between Bogota and the coast, his only passenger a pet ocelot, while the company was acquring larger aircraft and training South American pilots in the schools he esablished. By the time it was absorbed by Avianca in 1940, Bogotania Airlines was a national institution and William Knox Martin the widely accepted father of Colombian aviation.
     By that date Martin was long gone from the scene. In 1923 he married, gave up daredevil flying and settled down in Baranquillla to make his living as a journalist and artist. Three years later he brought his wife and family, now including two young sons and a third on the way, back to his home town of Salem, Va., and returned to flying on a less flamboyant scale as a corporation and ferry pilot. Ironically, his only serious accident took place in an automobile, and he died of his injuries at Watertown, N.Y. on July 28, 1927.
His untimely passing all but erased his name from the honor scroll of aviation in his native land, but every August, during the Independence Day celebration in Colombia, William Knox Martin is remembered with affection and pride by millions of South Americans whose national progress owes much to "El Intrepido Aviator American."

William Knox Martin.
'El tigre del aire'
Cromos, 1919.
from the Biblioteca Nacional de Colombia
William Knox Martin
Credencial Historia
Tomado de:
Revista Credencial Historia.
(Bogotá - Colombia).
Edición 179
Noviembre de 2004
via email from Gian Picco, 7-7-05
     "Aunque en 1913 el aviador alemán George Schmitt había efectuado los primeros vuelos en aeroplano sobre territorio de nuestro país, en Barranquilla y en Medellín, Colombia no entraría en la era de la aviación hasta 1919 en que el piloto estadounidense William Knox Martin hace un extenso vuelo sobre Barranquilla, el 14 de Junio de 1919; sube a Bogotá, donde efectúa su primer vuelo el 29 de septiembre y asombra a la multitud con piruetas aéreas espeluznantes. El 19 de septiembre Martin vuela sobre el Campo de Olarte, a 20 kilómetros de Bogotá, lo que obliga al Ferrocarril del Norte a prestar un servicio especial de trenes para llevar al numeroso público ávido de presenciar el nuevo espectáculo. Como consecuencia de las hazañas de Knox Martin, se constituye en Septiembre en Medellín la Compañía Colombiana de Navegación Aérea; en octubre el Gobierno colombiano ordena comprar una flotilla de aeroplanos para la recién creada Escuela de Aviación, y en diciembre se establece en Barranquilla la Sociedad Colombo Alemana de Transportes Aéreos, Scadta. W. Knox Martin, que abrió para Colombia los espacios aéreos, es el personaje del año."
English Version
     Although in 1913 the German aviator George Schmitt had made the first flights in it airplane on territory of our country, in Barranquilla and Medellín, Colombia would not enter the era of the aviation until 1919 in which American pilot William Knox Martin makes an extensive flight on Barranquilla, the 14 of June of 1919; it raises Bogota, where it makes his first flight the 29 of horrifying September and astonishes to the multitude with piruetas aerial. The 19 of September Martin fly on the Field of Olarte, to 20 kilometers of Bogota, which forces the Railroad of the North to serve special of trains to take to the numerous public eager to be present at the new spectacle. As a result of the feats of Knox Martin, the Colombian Company of Airplane navigation is constituted in September in Medellín; in October the Colombian Government orders to buy a flotilla of it airplane for just created Aviation school, and in December the Colombo Society of Aerial Transports settles down in Barranquilla German, Scadta. W. Knox Martin, who opened for Colombia the airspace, is the personage of the year.

Wedding of Lieut. Martin to
Senorita Vieco Surprises
Friends at Salem, Va.
Unidentified Newspaper
March 20, 1923
Collection of Olivia Korringa, (Martin), 1-11-05
Special to The Washington Post.
     Salem, Va., March 20.--News has just been received here of the marriage of Lieut. W. Knox Martin, famous aviator of Salem, who is now flying in South America, to Senorita Isabella Vieco. The wedding ceremony, which took place in Panama, December 7, 1921, was performed by the Rev. Mr. Roberts, of the First Baptist church of the Canal Zone. The annoucement comes as a surprise to the relatives and friends of Lieut. Martin and is accompanied by the news of the birth of a son, Knox, Jr., at his home in Colombia, January 12 of this year.
     Lieut. Martin is the son of the late Samuel M. Martin and Mrs. Lida Knox Martin, of Salem. He introduced the first aeroplane into Venezuela and Colombia, and was the first man to fly over the Andes Mountains. He made that record trip in his biplane from Honda to Bogota on Christmas day, 1920.
     Mrs. Martin is the daughter of the late Gen. Vieco, of the colonial national army, a member of an old Spanish familly of the days of the conquistadores. She is the sister of Gen Julio Vieco, who was killed in the Colombian revolution, and to whose memory a statue-monument has been erected in Baranquilla.
     The aviator, with his family, is expected to visit his old home in Salem this summer.
Translation of The Commemoration of the 75th
Anniversary of the first Airmail Flight in South America

Courtesy of Olivia Korringa (Martin) - 9-27-05

William Knox Martin.
William Knox Martin's Sons
     William's daughter, Olivia, has shared this interesting photograph of his three sons with us. In addition to the full size photograph, along with a brief note regarding their storeis, you will find a link to Knox's website on which are displayed a number of his artistic endeavors. You can access this page by clicking on the title above.
Courtesy of Olivia Korringa (Martin), 6-27-07

William Knox Martin.
William Knox Martin Statue
Courtesy of Olivia Korringa (Martin) - 5-11-07
William Knox Martin.
William Knox Martin Memorial Plaque
Courtesy of Olivia Korringa (Martin) - 5-11-07

     If you search for "William Knox Martin" using Google, (8-22-03), you will find about 14 links.
       If you search for "AVIANCA +historia +'William Knox Martin'" using Google, (8-22-03), you will find about 93 links. One the most useful is the following.  
CRONOLOGIA HISTORICA DEL CORREO EN COLOMBIA (Chronological History of Mail in Colombia)
     This paragraph was selected and machine-translated from the Correos de Colombia website. To read the whole story, in Spanish, just click on the title above.
     The pilot Knox Martin, makes the First Postal Flight, between the city of Barranquilla and Colombia Port transporting in his small airplane an extraction with 60 letters inside. The airmail is born of this one form in the world, because there are no antecedents, before this date, on benefit of airmail services. The 18 of September the National Company of Airplane navigation is based that makes the first flights transporting official offices of mail. The first contract with the national government for the correspondence transport is signed; infortunadamente this one does not arrive at the decided term, because the life of the Company is very short and disappears to the few months of its foundation. 05 of December citizen Colombian and German they found on Barranquilla German the Colombo Society of Aerial Transports "SCADTA", that would later become National Airways of Colombia "AVIANCA".
     You may want to check some of the other links which are available from the search above.

       In July 1927, Martin was a passenger in car that crashed in Watertown, N.Y. The crash broke his back and left him in pain for two days before he died at the age of 36. His remains were sent back to Salem to be buried in the family plot in East Hill Cemetery.
Saturday, November 12, 2005
Salem Native propelled aviation over Andes
By David Harrison

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

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