Growing up a half-century ago, John Ezrow became infatuated with flight.
“I was one of those kids who built plastic model airplanes,” Ezrow said. “Later, I flew the Estes rockets, the little model rockets that you put together and shot off.”
These days, the 57-year-old former Lockheed Martin employee stays connected to the sky by volunteering at the Fort Worth Aviation Museum. And like his fellow volunteers and the museum’s management, Ezrow is eager to see Fort Worth lay claim to its place in the evolution of powered flight with Saturday’s opening of First Flight Park.
“It’s a way to honor our history, recognize the early start of aviation and Fort Worth’s place in that,” Ezrow said. “It says: ‘Here’s a milestone in the aerospace industry.’”
A state historical marker to be dedicated at the Linwood Addition park — at Carroll Street and Mercedes Avenue, near Montgomery Plaza west of downtown — will note that aerospace industry milestone and the spot where Fort Worth joined the age of aircraft. It was the Fort Worth Driving Park, a racetrack, on Jan. 12, 1911, when Roland Garros, a member of the Moisant International Aviators, lifted off in a Bleriot XI monoplane.
Well, the location is close, anyway, said Fort Worth Councilman W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman.
“The first flight wasn’t exactly on that spot, but it’s close,” said Zimmerman, who will be among the dignitaries at the dedication. “There’s a railroad track just to the east of Montgomery Plaza, and there was a racetrack just to the west of that track, and that’s where the first flight was.”
Considering that the Fort Worth area is steeped in aviation history, there’s a dearth of places that help people remember that history, Zimmerman said.
“We’re looking to try to change the consciousness level of the area about aviation,” Zimmerman said. “You’ve heard the old slogan ‘cowboys and culture.’ I think aviation is at least as significant as cowboys and culture in this area.”
Aviation turned Fort Worth from a cow town and oil town into an aviation center of the world, said Jim Hodgson, the aviation museum’s executive director.
“It gave Fort Worth wings,” Hodgson said. “That’s what that first flight meant to us.”
It definitely meant a lot to Amon Carter Sr., the Star-Telegram’s founding publisher. It was Carter who led a team of Fort Worth Aeronautical Society members to Dallas and persuaded the Moisant troupe to come to Cowtown, Hodgson said.
Six years later Fort Worth entered the air race in earnest as part of a deal with Canada in which three airfields were built — in Benbrook, Everman and Saginaw — where Canadian pilots could train for combat in World War I, Hodgson said.
“Part of the deal was that they would train 300 Americans for aerial combat,” Hodgson said. “In 1918 the airfields were turned over to the U.S. because we entered the war.”
Appropriately, the man who brought the first airplane to Fort Worth had a hand in many of Tarrant County’s other avionics milestones. Carter was part owner of American Airways, which became American Airlines. Before World War II, he helped bring the Convair bomber plant (now Lockheed Martin) to Fort Worth. After the war, he was instrumental in convincing Bell Aircraft Corporation to put a helicopter plant in Hurst.
Hodgson said that more than 67,000 aircraft have been built in or near Fort Worth, lifting the local economy by about $1 trillion, adjusted for inflation.
“We’re in the top three in the nation, at least, in aircraft production,” Hodgson said. “I challenge anyone to prove that more planes have been produced anywhere than in the area from west Fort Worth to east Grand Prairie.”
So it’s high time that Fort Worth dedicate a space to the industry that launched it into the air, Zimmerman said.
“What would Fort Worth be like if it didn’t have American Airlines, the Joint Reserve Base, Lockheed and Bell?” Zimmerman said.