|PILOTS AT NEWPORT NEWS, 1916|
|Left to right, back row: Jimmy Johnson,
Captain Baldwin, Carl Batts,
Left to right, front row, Andrew Cogswell, Bert Acosta, Walter Lees.
Among the first instructors were Victor Carlstrom and Walter E. Lees. They were also the first two aviators to take planes for a flight from Curtiss field on the afternoon of December 29, 1915. Carlstrom flew an early Curtiss tractor biplane, while Lees piloted the hydro-airplane (flying boat). Lees flew over the city, circling back and forth like some huge bird. Carlstrom did not attempt a lengthy flight, his machine being slightly out of order. Both aviators stated that the flights were successful from every standpoint.
Curtiss considered Walter to be his safest pilot and allowed him to take up several local passengers.
January 26 was a "red letter" day in the lives of several local citizens. Instructor Walter Lees took them on a sight-seeing flight in the flying boat. Included were Dr. J.B. Pressey, Fred Morgan, Ted Hackenberg and Miss Elsie Rauch -- the second Peninsula woman to take such a flight.
Walter Lees, it seems, is quite a ladies man. On the following day he took aloft another young lady, Miss Pinna Nesbit of Old Point, she having just made a flying trip from the Chamberlain (hotel) in Vernon Castle's racing car.
The following day, Pilot Lees "flew into the limelight" as a lifesaver. It seems that Arthur Johnson capsized while paddling an Old Town canoe about 1,000 feet offshore, and Lees dashed out in the flying boat to rescue him. It was noted that Johnson had been in no danger of drowning, but there just wasn't anything other than the "bird boat" to go after him.
And if that wasn't enough excitement for one day, a student named Cogswell walked into the whirring propeller of the flying boat and sustained a badly lacerated arm.
The war speeded up the developement of aircraft as no other factor could. Airplanes of greater speed and reliability were built and put into use. One day, we were to see the speedy French "Spad" the foreign fighter plane shipped to Newport New for exhibition purposes. Carl Batts, who had taught Paul Culver to fly the land machine, was chosen to fly it and he looped and rolled at a rate we had never seen before. Those swift planes could fly 120 miles an hour and maneuver with lightning speed. They were armed with a machine gun rigidly mounted on the plane and synchronized to fire through the propeller, therefore capable of shooting only in the direction the plane was flying. It took skill to fly and fire at the same time. It was strictly individual, hand to hand combat, or rather, wing to wing aerial combat and a battle of wits and skillful flying in those early days.