Fort Worth

Fort Worth’s first flight to be celebrated Saturday

Three men -- the one in middle is possibly Roland Garros -- standing in front of bi-wing propeller plane that was used in the first flight over Fort Worth on Jan. 12, 1911.
Three men -- the one in middle is possibly Roland Garros -- standing in front of bi-wing propeller plane that was used in the first flight over Fort Worth on Jan. 12, 1911. Star-Telegram archives

On a windy January afternoon in 1911, Frenchman Roland Garros, a pilot with the Moissant International Aviators, flew a Bleriot XI aircraft above a crowd of 17,000 spectators in Fort Worth.

Garros’ adventure would mark the first-ever powered flight in Fort Worth, helping to eventually build North Texas as into a major aviation center.

On Saturday, members of the aviation community and public will gather at First Flight Park, 2700 Mercedes Ave., behind Montgomery Plaza, to celebrate the 104th anniversary of that flight.

“Even though we call it Cowtown, aviation transformed Fort Worth and North Texas from a rural, agricultural community into an industrial center,” said Jim Hodgson, executive director of the Fort Worth Aviation Museum. “Fort Worth would never be the same after that flight.”

After the 1911 flight, civic and business leaders, including Amon G. Carter Sr., continued to develop the aviation industry in Fort Worth, Hodgson said. In 1917, Carter and others lured the Canadian Royal Flying Corps to conduct pilot training here in the winter. And by October 1917, three military aviation training fields were built, near Saginaw, Benbrook and Everman.

In 1924, the Fort Worth Aviation Club was formed to establish a new municipal airport and encourage airmail and passenger service. Soon afterward, the city established a new airport on the north side, which became Meacham Field. In 1941, an Air Force plant was built, and Fort Worth became known as “Bomber Town,” entering the worldwide aircraft industry, Hodgson said.

“When you get down to it, Fort Worth built airplanes that won the Second World War,” Hodgson said. “That is pretty incredible.”

Today, one in five people in North Texas is employed by some aspect of the aviation industry, Hodgson said, and the aviation industry added about $40 billion last year to the North Texas economy.

To honor the city’s aviation history, the Fort Worth Aviation Museum will celebrate Saturday with a presentation of colors by the Phoenix Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol, remarks by Vernon Anderson of Bell Helicopter, an aircraft flyover (weather permitting) and a mass balloon launch, all at First Flight Park.

Saturday afternoon at the Fort Worth Aviation Museum, “Wings Awards” will be presented to individuals or groups that have made a significant contribution to the preservation of North Texas’ aviation heritage. This year’s recipients are:

▪ B-36 Peacemaker Museum for its years of preserving the history of the B-36.

▪ Morning Star Partners, of Fort Worth, for its preservation of the National Air Transport Travel Air 5000 used in the 1920s and later owned by Amon G. Carter Sr.

▪ Cowtown Aerocrafters, of Justin, for its restoration of Carter’s Travel Air 5000.

▪ Harry Hansen, of Hamilton, for his years of dedication in conservation, preservation and restoration of the Travel Air 5000.

If you go

▪ The anniversary celebration of the first powered flight in Fort Worth is 10 a.m.-noon Saturday.

▪ First Flight Park, 2700 Mercedes Ave., behind Montgomery Plaza.

▪ Activities will include paper airplanes for children, presentation of colors by the Phoenix Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol, remarks by guest speaker Vernon Anderson of Bell Helicopter, an aircraft flyover and a mass balloon launch.

▪ At 3 p.m., “Wings Awards” will be given at the Fort Worth Aviation Museum, 3300 Ross Ave.

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