Hillery Beachey was born in 1885 in San Francisco, California. His brother Lincoln was born 2 years later in 1887. Hillary started his aviation career flying balloons and flew a dirigible at the Lewis & Clark Exposition in Portland, Oregon in 1905. His brother Lincoln followed him into flying and soon graduated to airplanes. At the 1911 Los Angeles airshow when his motor failed and he went into a nose-diving spin that no pilot had ever survived, Beachey did what no pilot had ever done: he turned into the spin, regained control, and landed safe and sound. Lincoln soon surpassed his brother and after a flying exhibition at Niagara Falls in June 1911 where he flew under Honeymoon Bridge, his popularity soared.
The world’s governments were not anxious to commit to any one airplane design in fear it might become obsolete. They would rather see them demonstrated in flight. This, coupled with the public’s desire to see airplanes for the first time, made airshows very popular and Lincoln Beachey was the star who invented figure 8, the vertical drop and the loop-the-loop. He would touch the top of moving trains and dive-bombed the White House and Congress to show how unprepared the US was for air warfare. Just recently at the San Francisco International Exposition, Beachey had a large wooden model made of the Battleship Oregon, and had it anchored a mile offshore of San Francisco manned with 100 sailors which he bombed with smokebombs in front of a crowd of 80,000. Orville Wright said of Lincoln Beachy: “An aeroplane in the hands of Lincoln Beachey is poetry. His mastery is a thing of beauty to watch. He is the most wonderful flyer of all.”
On March 14, 1915 Lincoln Beachey was at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition hoping to perform the first exhibition of inverted flight in a monoplane. In front of a crowd of 70,000, he successfully turned the plane onto its back. When he pulled on the controls to pull the plane out of its inverted position, the strain caused the rear spars in wings to break, and the crumpled plane plunged into the bay between two ships. Lincoln Beachey survived the crash but drowned in San Francisco Bay.
Lincoln Beachey climbing into his monoplane on March 14, 1915 at the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition just before taking off for the last time.
Lincoln Beachey at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition taking off on his final fatal flight – March 14, 1915