CURTISS AVIATION SCHOOL
ATLANTIC COAST AERONAUTICAL STATION, 1916
|Curtiss Aviation School
or Atlantic Coast Aeronautical Station, 1916
Paul Culver's determination to learn to fly had taken firm root, and it grew during his Prep school days and on into his college years. After he attended the great air meet in Chicago in 1914 he found it practically impossible to keep his mind on the mechanical engineering course which he was taking at Lewis Institute (presently known as Illinois Institute of Technology) and he began to slant his courses toward aeronautics, to write letters to the few aviation centers which were well known at the time inquiring the possibility of attending a flying school, and to make plans to get into aviation. He of course wanted the best flying school available. His old friend Walter E. Lees, whose career he had followed with great interest, was a flying instructor at the Curtiss Aviation School at Newport News, Virginia at the time, so Paul began to correspond with him early in 1916, asking for advice. Walter mailed him a catalogue of the school and followed that with an application blank for him to fill out for flying lessons on the Curtiss flying boat which was Walter's chief interest. The catalogue made it all sound so easy. It said "any man who has driven a fast automobile or motor boat can handle a flying boat in the air after a few lessons. It requires less skill, in fair weather, than any other type of motor driven vehicle, for one has all the world of space in which to maneuver. There are no trees, rocks, or sharp corners, passing vehicles or pedestrians to watch; ones very speed's hardly noticed, and it is simply wonderful exhiliration,--a feeling so unique that it is difficult to describe." Excited by such glowing propaganda, Paul strait-a-way made out and returned his application blanks. He was accepted, so the next thing was to try to persuade his reluctant parents to finance him. They finally agreed and Paul was on his way to a career in pioneer aviation, and to transfer his entire interest from Chicago's westside to a very different kind of school on the shore of Hampton Roads, Virginia, just outside of Newport News at a point known as the little Boat harbor.
The Curtiss School campus---if you could call it that---consisted of an area at the water's edge where stood a small club house, an early version of a student center, and which also housed the manager's office; near it stood a huge barnlike structure called a hangar. There were a few sheds scattered about, in which were motor blocks for testing engines, the drone of which, went on endlessly it seemed. Then there was a dope shop, which emitted a perpetual odor of banana oil, which was an ingredient of the dope which was used to varnish the linen fuselage and wings. There was no stockpile of spare part in the shop. When a part was broken, the airplane had to be grounded until a new one could be made. The repair shop also contained a few wooden struts, one or two extra wooden propellers, a few bolts of linen, and an old foot-powered sewing machine to stitch it up on; some extra wire and a few fittings and, oh yes, the mythical "Sky Hook", which was part of the initiation at the Curtiss School. Rookie fliers often looked everywhere for the "Sky Hook which they said their instructor had ordered them to take with them on their first flight. More than one fledgeling bit on that one!
At the water's edge, there was a wooden landing ramp over which the flying boats and seaplanes were launched, and there was a flying field nearby which was actually a strip cut through a farmer's hay field. That was the complete picture of the school, unless you included the little restaurant across the road, called the Greasy Spoon, where the flyers gathered for a cup of coffee and a sandwich.
THE DAY THE AIRMAIL BEGAN
Cub Flyers Enterprises Inc.
Our Copy is Autographed
With all good wishes
and love always
Edith Dodd Culver