Washington EB Meeting, 1970
Early Bird Mural Painted by Justin Gruelle
Presented to Smithsonian Institution by Clarence DeGiers

Selfridge Monument

Early Birds will recall that, in 1959, during the presidency of Russ Holderman, we commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the final acceptance flights by Orville Wright, flown at Ft. Myers. There we dedicated a marble-based bronze marker listing the famous events in aeronautics that had occurred at that Post. That marker was placed to the right of the walk approaching the Reviewing Stand for Summerall Field, the parade ground for the Fort. This year our Plaque Committee, headed by Waldo Waterman, approved a project for a companion marker, to be placed at the left side of the approach walk, to be a Memorial to Lt. Thomas Selfridge.
     The fact that Selfridge was the first person to lose his life as the result of an airplane accident is recorded in ofur places' on his grave in Arlington Cemetery, on a gatepost of that cemetery near the location of the crash, at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and at Selfridge Air Force Base in Michigan. The Early Birds, while deploring his death, felt that the outstanding attainments of his life were more deserving to be recorded. Accordingly, an appropriate text was prepared by our Historian, and a profile of Selfrige was sculptured by Ralph Barnaby; text and likeness were cast in bronze, an ashlar of Georgian marble was quarried, and the assembled marker brought to Ft. Myer.
This is one of the leading business and social aerospace organizations in the area. A bar was set up for liquid refreshment and an enjoyable dinner followed.
     Our speaker was Capt. Robert Lavender, USN, Retired, who, in 1919 had been radio operator on the NC-3. He reviewed the history of the NC Squadron in which four prominent Early Birds, Patrick Bellinger, John Towers, and Albert Read had been in command of the NC's 1, 3 and 4, respectively, and Early Bird Holden Richardson had been co-designer of the hull form and a pilot of the NC-3.
     With motion pictures and slides, plus his own vigorous and delightful personal recollections, he described the construction of these huge 126-foot-span biplane flying boats, their flight characteristics, events of each leg of the flight, the decision to alight and take their bearings after becoming confused in the fog, the damage to the engine struts, their sailing, and drifting, into the harbor at Ponta Delgado. The NC-3 could not resume flight. There they learned that the NC-1 had sunk after her crew was rescued by the steamer "Ionia". The NC-4 had made port at Horta, Azores, and soon came winging in to join them at Ponta Delgado. From there the NC-4 flew on to Lisbon, Portugal; Marengo, Spain; and finally, Plymouth, England. Hers was the thrill of success, but the NC-3 broken and battered, was the more heroic.
This 21-acre establishment contains most of the more-than-200 aircraft which comprise the national collections. We entered the principal building which is 180 x 200 feet of floor space and houses the offices, shops, and pre-assembly areas. We were steered to the Fabric Room where the sewing machines had been pushed aside and the layout tables were spread with coffee and doughnuts.
     Our guide showed us flightcraft in various stages of repair and reassembly. The oldest was Samuel Langley's 15-feet span, steam-engined, unmanned "Aerodrome" of 1896 which had far out-distanced previous experiments with its 3000-foot flight over the Potomac, alighting gently and, after refueling had repeated this performance. It formed the basic design for the full-scale experiment of 1903 which was not successful. Beneath the Langley model was a Bleriot-XI which had belonged to Early Bird John Domenjoz. Another fellow member was recalled as we looked at Aerodrome's "Kitten" of 1920 with its early retractable landing gear and its unusual K-shaped struts. Across the aisle was a Fokker D-7 which had been captured during the latter days of World War I
From The Early Birds of Aviation CHIRP, January, 1971, Number 77

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