Max Lillie
Photo Courtesy of Carroll Gray

Max Lillie

Max Lillie - World's Greatest Aviator
     Max Lillie was the original flight instructor for the Best brothers.
Photo & legend from Robert J. O'Connor, 4-1-05

       The United States was slower than France in issuing pilot's licenses and establishing the rules under which they could be granted. Regulations published in 1910 stated: "All candidates shall satisfy the officials of the Aero Club of America of their ability to fly at least five hundred yards, and of their capability of making a gliding descent with the engine stopped, before their applications will be entertained. Up to the time of Belmont Park, twenty-five such licenses had been issued . The first nine of these were as follows:  
Aero Club of America
1. Glenn Curtiss Curtiss biplane and motor
2. Frank P. Lahm Wright biplane and motor
3. Louis Paulhan H. Farman biplane,
Gnôme motor
4. Orville Wright Wright biplane and motor
5. Wilbur Wright Wright biplane and motor
6. Clifford B. Harmon H. Farman biplane
Gnôme motor
7. Thomas S. Baldwin Curtiss biplane and motor
8. J. Armstrong Drexel Blériot monoplane,
Gnôme motor
9. Todd Shriver Curtiss biplane and motor

Expert Aviator's Certificates
1. Max T. Lillie
2. Glenn L Martin
3. Lieutenant T. DeWitt Milling, USA
4. Lieutenant Henry H. Arnold, USA
5.. Captain Charles deF. Chandler, USA
6. Captain Paul W. Beck, USA
7. Lieutenant Benjamin D. Foulois, USA
8. DeLloyd Thompson
9. Lieutenant Harold Geiger, USA
     July 8: Not until 1913 was sufficient interest aroused in the United States to warrant a contest for water craft. Under the auspices of Aero & Hydro , a Great Lakes "Reliability Cruise" was organized for the week of July 8--the course to follow the shoreline from Chicago to Detroit via the Straits of Mackinac. It was heralded as the biggest competitive aerial event of the year.
     Most of the pilots who had taken up the practice of flying over water were on the entry list - a total of fifteen names. John B. R. Verplanck, an affluent sportsman from the Hudson River Valley, and his seasoned pilot, Beckwith Havens, entered a Curtiss flying boat with a 90-hp Curtiss motor, as did Charles C. Witmer, Jack Vilas, G.M. Hecksher, and Navy Lieutenant John H. Towers, Antony Jannus, Hugh Robinson, and Tom Benoist entered Benoist flying boats, each with a Hall-Scott motor of 100 hp. Others on the original list were Max Lillie piloting a Walco monoplane flying boat with a 70-hp Sturtevant motor.
     Of the first thirty-three fatal accidents, the twin-propellered Wright biplane accounted for more than a quarter. As a consequence of this unlucky record, the American machine came to be looked upon by many flyers as a "killer". In addition to Ralph Johnstone and Arch Hoxsey (the "Heavenly Twins"), who died in 1910, pilots killed in Wrights over the next few years included such skilled Americans as Calbraith Rodgers, Howard Gill, A.L. Welch, Philip O. Parmalee, and Max Lillie- holder of Expert Aviator's Certificate No. 1. In nearly every instance the aviator, sitting on the leading edge of the plane with no protection forward, was pitched out when the plane crashed.
Most of this comes from Henry Villard's book, CONTACT, Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1968

I have found a very nice article on Max in the
The article is titled
"The Flying Pioneers of Aviation"
by Harold E. Morehouse


Daily Journal and Tribune,
Knoxville, Tennessee: September 16, 1913,
Transcribed by Bob Davis - 7-15-04
"Aviator Lillie is Killed,"
"Galesburg, Ill., Sept. 15. - Aviator Max Lillie was killed in his first flight at the Galesburg district fair today when his machine fell. Lillie died shortly after spectators reached him.
      The accident was due to the collapse of a wing as Lillie was making a turn. Mrs. Lillie fainted in the grandstand when she saw her husband fall. The aviator was crushed by the engine, which landed on his head and chest.
      Lillie was born in Stockholm thirty-one years ago snd came to America in 1903. For several years he was in the contracting business in St. Louis. He had made hundreds of flights without a serious accident and for several years conducted a school for aviators in Chicago."

via email from Sherry Eckle, 6-22-09
      Hello, I am a granddaughter of James and Nellie Best. I was reading an old 1914 almanac and on pg 413-414 aviation fatalities are recorded. Max Lillie died Sept 15, 1913 in Galesburg, Illinois due to engine trouble.
      When I talked to daddy ( Van's son, James Richmond Best) about this last week, he hung his head. He said Max was flying with grandpa and Joe's engine.
      Daddy is 87 years old and healthy.

     You will find an entry for Lillie on the Find A Grave website. It includes two photographs of the St. Peters Cemetery.
Contributed by Pete Jones, 6-24-10

Editor's Note:
If you have any information on this pioneer aviator,
please contact me.
E-mail to Ralph Cooper
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