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Biplane and pilots, Old Orchard Beach, ca. 1924
Biplane and pilots, Old Orchard Beach, ca. 1924Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

Aviation and news about visiting aviators was always a big topic in the Evening Express and Press Herald newspapers. Guy Gannett and his father were avid aviators and followed current events relating to air travel intently, William Howard Gannett flew his plane all over the world and even sent back international news to Guy's papers. In 1928 the Sunday Telegram ran an article “Outlook for Aviation in Maine Brighter” that discussed an overview of the growth of aviation in Maine, which included a look at the airports in the state and an outline of notable people in the industry.

Famous pilots such as Charles Lindbergh and Frances Grayson made stops in Maine, specifically in Old Orchard Beach for events, or for several emergency landings before attempting a transatlantic flight. These frequent visits offered Gannett's Maine audience a steady stream of coverage on the topic.

Captain Harry M. Jones

Pilot Harry M. Jones, WWI flight instructor, had a hangar and operated a small airport at Old Orchard Beach, which served as the epicenter of early aviation in Maine. The hard-packed sand surface provided a landing strip and runway for the post war craze of flying. It was also an ideal landing spot for long distance Atlantic flights, there was no need for the pilot to go further inland after the arduous journey. Jones began his business of flying sightseeing passengers in his biplanes in 1919, and by 1928 he was recognized as one of the pioneers in the industry, as noted in the January 1st, 1928 edition of the Portland Sunday Telegram,

"In the matter of planes Maine has one commercial filer whose experience qualifies him for consideration with the best pilots recognized in any part of the world. Captain Harry M. Jones who operates his plane for himself and for Robert P. Hazard deserves perhaps more credit than any other citizen of Maine for the healthy point of view with which aviation is regarded here."

Charles Lindbergh at Old Orchard Beach, 1927
Charles Lindbergh at Old Orchard Beach, 1927Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

Charles Lindbergh

On July 24, 1927, Col. Charles Lindbergh made an unexpected landing at Old Orchard Beach. Inclement weather at his original airfield necessitated his Old Orchard stop, which drew the attention of locals and tourists. Local police offers guarded Lindbergh's plane, "Spirit of St. Louis", in which he made his historic flight across the Atlantic Ocean only two months prior. Lindberg's emergency landing signaled to the people of Maine that aviation had finally "arrived" in the state.

Frances Grayson

On October 10, 1927, female aviator Frances Wilson Grayson, along with her crew, landed her Sikorsky S-36 amphibian plane the "Dawn" on Old Orchard Beach. Her goal was to set up base in Old Orchard for her transatlantic flight to Copenhagen. Her crew consisted of Wilmer Stultz, pilot, and Brice Goldsboro who was in charge of navigation. Grayson would do some of the flying as well.

Frances Grayson, Old Orchard Beach, 1927
Frances Grayson, Old Orchard Beach, 1927Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society/MaineToday Media

While living in Manhattan, Grayson was inspired by Charles Lindbergh's historic flight in May, 1927, and she became determined to be the first woman to match his feat. Miss Grayson landed in Maine to much fanfare and excitement. Poor weather hampered her attempts to make the flight from Maine; during the first attempt the plane turned around immediately due to high winds, and the second flight her pilot Wilmer Stultz made the decision to turn around after 500 miles due to dangerous weather.

Not deterred from her failure in Maine, Frances Grayson attempted to complete the trip again on December 23, 1927. Her flight plan was to fly from Long Island to Newfoundland and then eventually to London. Grayson and her crew took off at 5:07 P.M. from Long Island. The crew radioed that something was wrong later in the evening and the plane never reached Newfoundland; their remains were never found and the last time they were seen was off of the coast of Cape Cod at 7:10 P.M. Frances Grayson was 35 years old when she died.