100 Years Ago Today

A History Of Events And Happenings From Exactly One Hundred Years Ago

First Jewish Aviator Dies In Crash In Maryland

Arthur Welsh was born Laibel Wellscher in Russia in 1881. In 1890 his family emigrated to America. In 1901 Laibel enlisted in the Navy using the name Arthur Welsh where he served on the USS Hancock and USS Monongohela. In 1909 after watching a Wright Brothers demonstration at Fort Myer, Virginia Welsh applied to the Wright Brothers Flying School. After the Wrights rejected his initial application Welsh traveled to Dayton, Ohio where his persistence eventually overcame his lack of qualifications and he was accepted as a student. In March 1910, Welsh entered the first class of the Wright Flying School in Montgomery, Alabama. By summer he was so proficient he had become a flight instructor at the Wright Flying School in Dayton and part of the Wright Company exhibition team.

Exhibition teams had become necessary because the military was reluctant to commit to any one plane lest is become obsolete and would rather send observers to watch public exhibitions. Flight being new and exciting drew large paying crowds to air show usually held at places with grandstand seating like race tracks.
1910 and 1911 saw Welsh competing for the Wrights breaking records for speed and altitude. At the International Aviation Meet at Grant Park in Chicago in August 1911 Welsh won a $3,000 prize as the first aviator to fly more than two hours with a passenger. In summer 1911 the Wrights put him in charge of their new flying school in Long Island, New York.

Arthur Welsh (left) and Lieutenant Henry H. (Hap) Arnold, in Dayton, Ohio – 1911
Photo courtesy of National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution

In May 1912, the Wright Brothers sent Welsh to the U.S. Army Aviation School at the College Park Airfield in Maryland to serve as a civilian test pilot for a new plane, the Wright model C, on order from the War Department. The Army required the new plane to be capable of climbing 2000 feet in 10 minutes with a 450-pound load (with fuel for four hours) and have a minimum speed of 45 miles per hour.

Welsh (with his back to the camera) checking on the engine of the Wright C at College Park prior to a successful two-hour test flight on June 3, 1912. Lieutenant “Hap” Arnold (to Welsh’s left) holds the strut of the plane, and Lieutenant Leighton Hazelhurst is seated in the plane.
JHSGW photo collection

On June 11, 1912, Welsh, accompanied by Lieutenant Leighton Hazelhurst, made a final attempt to meet the loaded-climb test. Taking off at 6:00pm the plane climbed to about 200 feet and then dove downward at a steep angle to gain momentum to assist the climb. The airplane stalled and crashed into a field of daisies. Both men were killed instantly. Welsh, considered to be the first Jewish pilot, was survived by his wife Anna and 2-year-old daughter Aline.

Arthur Welsh page from the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington :http://www.jhsgw.org/exhibitions/online/arthurwelsh/index.html

Welsh’s Wright C flyer crashed in a daisy field in College Park, Maryland – June 11 , 1912
Photo courtesy of College Park Aviation Museum, Jesse Ayer Collection

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