On this day in 1910, early aviation pioneer John Moisant and the International Aviators group dazzle the crowd in Richmond with their aerobatic flying act.
In the Fall of 1910, following some successful races in New York, John B. Moisant and his brother Alfred formed the International Aviators, LTD. This was one of the earliest flying exhibition teams in America. This “flying circus”, which included such other early pioneers of the air as the “Crazy Man of the Air” Charles K Hamiliton and well known French aviator Roland Garros, went on a “barnstorming” tour across the United States, Mexico and Cuba. Their first stop was in Richmond in late November.
Moisant and his International Aviators were scheduled to put on their show on November 25th, but thanks to high winds on that day it was pushed back to the afternoon of the 26th. About 7,000 spectators gathered at the State Fair Grounds, which in 1910 was located along North Boulevard, Hermitage Road and Sherwood Avenue, near where The Diamond currently sits in Richmond.
At about 3p.m., John Moisant took off from the Fair Grounds in his Blériot monoplane. He circled the city, even flying over the Virginia State Penitentiary at the request of the Richmond Times-Dispatch to entertain the 1,200 inmates inside. Many other spectators gathered on Oregon Hill to watch the “Man-Bird” in action overhead.
Meanwhile, three other International Aviator pilots, Roland Garros, Rene Barrier, and Rene Simon, all Frenchmen, took to the air in their monoplanes just a little after Moisant to dazzle the crowds in the city below. The sight of the other three planes in addition to Moisant’s was not part of the planned program, so the surprise was a joy to those in attendance. This was the early days of aviation and stunt flying. Many spectators had never even seen planes in action before, let alone watched aerobatic maneuvers and fast speeds of the monoplanes. It was a very memorable day for those in attendance.
Following his flight, which lasted less than 10 minutes, Moisant spoke in front of the large cheering crowd as the three Frenchmen finished their stunts. Later in the day, after 5p.m., Charles K. Hamilton took off to perform some of his dare-devil stunts that he was known for, but unfortunately his plane had mechanical issues and he had to land after just two minutes. Thus came to an end a very exciting show for the residents of Richmond and the surrounding area. The group soon left town for their next show in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Being a pilot in the earliest days of aviation was dangerous enough, but especially so in the world of barnstorming and aerobatic stunts. John Moisant died just over a month later in a flying accident. Also, Roland Garros was shot down and killed in 1918 during World War I. Rene Simon also was reported to have been killed in a flying accident in the 1920s.Though their careers were short, the influence they had on aviation with their courage to take to the air was felt for years.