from a photo showing
Group of Early Bird flyers
n front of Wright Memorial
Collection of Wright State University
in front of Wright Memorial
From left to right, 1st row: J. William Kabitzke, Orville Wright, Charles Wald,
2nd row: Walter Brookins (partially seen:, Roderick M. Wright, John C. Henning, Captain Kenneth Whiting, Bernard L. Whelan, C. Albert Elton, Robert G. Fowler.
In the center at rear, George A. Gray.
Collection of Wright State University
Daily Journal and Tribune,
Knoxville, Tennessee: November 16, 1912,
Transcribed by Bob Davis -10-13-07
A simple yet nearly tragic incident at Sea Cliff, Long Island, on the 10th of October last demonstrated most emphatically that the practicability of an airship with pontoons - a hydroaeroplane - as a life-saving apparatus.
Walter Strohbach, aged twenty-three, a chauffeur of Flatbush, has the distinction of being the first person rescued from a watery grave by means of a hydroaeroplane. The greater distinction of being the first hydroaeroplane operator to save a drowning man comes to Charles Wald, aged thirty, an enthusiastic aviator.
Strohbach was upset from a rowboat during bad weather in Hempstead harbor, and Wald, a mile away, conducting experiments in a thirty-five-mile-an-hour gale, swooped down in his hydroaeroplane upon the exhausted and sinking man and saved him.
Since this repeated demonstrations prove conclusively that the hydroaeroplane not alone can be used to rescue men overboard, but is available also to save imperiled persons from doomed ships on lee shores in the wildest weather.
The matter of efficacy of hydroaerplanes as coast guard life saving appliances has been brought to the attention of the United States government and the Volunteer Life-Saving Service and efforts are being made to put hydroaeroplanes into practical life-saving service along with the life-boat, the life-line and mortar and the breeches buoy.
Let Wald, the aviator, tell the story, for I went out to his hangar at Sea Cliff and discussed the matter with him.
The hangar is a wide, low shed by the waterside, with rolling doors that open the front to permit the wide winged hydroaeroplane its entrance and exit.
But Wald? Well, Wald is a boy of thirty. That is, he has a man's years upon him, but his every action and all his enthusiasm are boyish.
Consider a smooth-faced little fellow, sallowed by the sun; his height five feet five; his weight 130; small hands, small feet, sinewy and alert; a quick but quiet way, the confident air of the mechanic who knows - that's Wald, the aviator, first man to save a life from a flying machine.
"Strohbach?" he said in response to my first question. Well, he was a chauffeur holidaying out here and he went out into the bay in a rowboat in a rising gale and got capsized.
"I was just shoving my machine out of the hangar," said Wald, taking me to the waterside and pointing out over the sound, "and had taken the water when I heard the cries of people along shore who had seen the accident; these and the drumming of feet down the plank causeway told me something out of the ordinary was taking place out on the water.
"A glance down the cove and out upon the rougher water of the bay showed me an overturned rowboat with a man clinging to it while a hundred yards away and being carried farther out by the strong ebb tide, I saw, bobbing up between the whitecaps, the head and splashing arms of a man who was giving every evidence by the awkward energy of his actions that he was an inexperienced swimmer.
"I threw the motor and the propeller began to hum. Another half minute and the machine was moving, gaining speed at every turn. The pontoons hit the white caps at the mouth of the cove and the old water bird skipped like a hard flung flat stone from wave to wave. She looks like she was bumping the bumps when she does that but she rides like a feather bed in twice the gale this was."
Wald was living the scene again and his eyes brightened as he turned and indicated just where the water flyer took the waves.
"When I first sighted the overturned boat," he went on, "it was about two miles away. The spray from where the pontoon bows struck the water stung my face and showered over the planes (wings), but with a hop, skip and a jump and riding like a rocking chair, the old flyer hit the high spots on the bay, and before you could have counted a hundred I was within fifty feet of the struggling Strohbach, now almost all in and going under.
"I could see his friend, who was still clinging to the capsized boat, was in no danger and that motor boats were being started up along shore to get ot him, so I kept my eye on the weakened man in the water, and shouted to him to hold up.
"Then I shut off the motor, and turned the rudder so that we scraped the right pontoon within eight inches of him. As soon as I had stopped the engine I stepped down on the frame that holds the aeroplane to the pontoons, and, as we went past the man in the water, I reached down and held on like the proverbial drowning man, and the impetus of the moving machine carried us still into the wind for fifteen feet, when the drag anchor of his bulk in the water stopped our headway, and the 35-mile wind we were into began to blow us back.
"I let the man get his breath and strength as we drifted back, and then, bringing him around between the pontoons, helped him up into the passenger seat. He was weak and full of water, and he wasn't quite aware of what had happened to him until I got the engine started again and brought him back to the hangar."
Wald led me back to the hangar and we went inside and looked at the winged thing.
"It was an important day for Mr. Strohbach of Flatbush," resumed the little aviator as he patted a water-warped plane, "but it was of equal importance to the thousands the hydroaeroplane is going to save from drowning from this on. I could have picked up ten Strohbachs and brought them safely to land, and I could have picked them all up, one after another, and saved all ten at the same time."
He picked up a piece of oiled waste and rubbed the brasswork of the motor as he talked.
"Of course, with ten people the hydroaeroplane wouldn't have risen up into the air from the water, but the buoyancy of its pontoons and the strength of its engines would have been sufficient to bear us all up and bring us all in."
I then questioned him about real rescue work by hydroaeroplane at sea.
"The hydroaeroplane will not only pick up the man overboard as I picke dup Strohbach," he replied, "but it cal operate in a gale and go out to sea in the teeth of a storm and take a line out to a wreck. Not only that, but it could come along the lee side of the wreck and and pick up men, women and children who might be lowered over the side.
"When a ship goes ashore in a storm a few years from now," he said enthusiastically, "the cry will not be 'Man the lifeboat' it will be 'Man the hydroaeroplane!' - maybe the coast guards will just shorten the word to 'plane.'
"Anyway, there will be the doomed vessel pounding to pieces on the reef, and here, from the hangar at the life-saving station, will come the 'put, put, put of the hydroaeroplane's motor, and out over a surf that no lifeboat could be launched through and over a stretch of raging sea that no life line mortar could throw its lead, the life-saver aviator will fly, taking the life line and bring back cargo after cargo of precious human lives."
He got up in the driver's seat and worked the levers of the winged thing as though his eyes were on just such a scene.
Big ocean steamers could carry several hydroaeroplanes," he said, coming back to his quieter manner. "The experiment of flying from and landing on a ship at sea has been repeatedly made. An aeroplane on the ill-fated Titanic would have scouted out and brought rescuing ships out of the ice field."
"But suppose it is a real storm, a tempest?" I asked.
"It must be thought that aeroplane and hydroaeroplane cannot be flown into a gale," he answered readily. "The storm that might dash a land-flying machine against trees or buildings would have no effect on a hydroaeroplane with sufficient water surface to maneuver on.
"I have tested this machine and it is an old one of no great power, in forty-mile-an-hour storms. They all work all the better into head winds; though, according to the velocity of the wind, their speed forward is lessened."
We left the winged thing and came out of the hangar to the light and water.
"As matters are now, the work of our coast guards is hampered during a shipwreck off shore by the limited efficiency of the lifeboat and the breeches buoy," said Wald as we walked down the launching rails. "As an auxiliary life-saving apparatus a hydroaeroplane would be the means of saving thousands of lives. With a surf too high to launch a lifeboat, with the reef on which the ship is wrecked too far out to fire a life line to, the helpless life guardsmen have stood and watched scores of ships batter to pieces while they have been helpless to save."
I asked him how long he thought it would be before the hydroaeroplane would be a part of the United States life-saving equipment.
"In five years," he answered quickly, "and it should be in one. Every life station along our coast will be equipped with a hydroaeroplane in that time, and every great ocean steamer will be compelled to carry a hydroaeroplane as it is now compelled to equip with wireless."
Young Mr. Wald, hydroaeroplane life saver, knows something of the sea and ships. He was seven years in the United States custom service, three of these in the Phillippines. He is a graduate in mechanical engineering of the Pratt institute, Brooklyn.
At present, he told me, he is taking a thorough course in astronomy and navigation, as he fully expects to be the commander of a passenger-carrying-life-saving-at sea transatlantic airship by the time he is forty.
"It is coming in ten years sure!" said the enthusiastic young Mr. Wald. "Iíll lock up the hangar and walk to the station with you. Iíd like to take you home with the old water bird, but I canít land on land on pontoons, you know!"
Were Longfellow alive today he could amend "The Wreck of the Hesperus" thusly:--
"Then up spoke an ancient sailor
Who had sailed the Spanish Maine
Though storm is wild, weíll save the child
With the Hydroaeroplane!"
"1919 First plane in Huron owned by Merle Hagen and Charles Ward, a Curtiss JNFD2. Based at Walter E Smith field adjacent to corner of Idaho and 12th."
You can access the site by clicking on the title above.
This collection documents the training of an early American aviator at the Wright School of aviation, as well as the Wright Companyís early involvement in water-based aviation. The collection includes a flight diary and logs written by Charles Wald in 1912 and negatives taken by Wald.
Finding aid available.
You can access the site by clicking on the title above.
If you have any information on this pioneer aviator
please contact me.
E-mail to Ralph Cooper