Business

Those daring Detroit Newsmen in their flying machines

The dawn of the 20th century was an exciting time for William E. Scripps, son of The Detroit
News founder James E. Scripps.
Young Scripps was fascinated by the scientific discoveries of inventors like Thomas Edison and
Guglielmo Marconi.

The Detroit News used this fleet of chartered airplanes to deliver newspapers to vacationers in northern Michigan.

It was at Scripps’ urging that his father invested $1,000 in 1902 to support the radio experimentsof another young Detroiter, Tom Clark. Scripps and Clark later turned those experiments intothe nation’s first commercial radio station, WWJ.

Another invention that captured Scripps’ attention was the flying machine of Ohio brothersOrville and Wilbur Wright.

In 1912, Scripps taught himself to fly and became the first man in Michigan to own and fly anairplane.

Scripps was inclined to test the limits of his aircraft – a Burgess-Wright Flying Boat – andhimself.

He became a pioneer in night flight when he decided to fly his plane to Harsen’s Island in the St.Clair River after sunset. He told caretakers of the Old Club, then a resort for the Scripps family,to light a barrel of oil at the end of the club pier. Using that beacon, Scripps landed his planesafely.

William E. Scripps, son of Detroit News founder James E. Scripps, sits at the controls of a Burgess and Curtis biplane in 1910. It was built under Wright patents and is a duplicate of the original Wright brothers plane. Scripps was an avid aviator and once flew a plane under the Belle Isle bridge.

      Scripps tried a little stunt flying in 1913 when he flew his plane under the old Belle Isle Bridgeon the Detroit River. That feat was repeated accidentally more than 50 years later by a stuntpilot entertaining the crowds at the Spirit of Detroit powerboat races.

While Scripps enjoyed the thrills of aviation, he also saw the practical possibilities of flight. In1912, he took off from the Detroit River with Detroit News photographer William Kuenzelaboard his flying boat. Kuenzel shot the first aerial photographs of the city — photos that werelater published in The News.

In 1914, Scripps piloted a Curtiss Flying Boat to deliver copies of The Detroit News and to testto practicality of air delivery.

Throughout his life Scripps championed the involvement of The Detroit News in aviation. Thatinvolvement reached its peak during Scripps’ tenure as president of The News, from 1929 to1952.

A Detroit News aircraft drops photo plates taken at a University of Michigan football game in 1922 so that they can be retrieved and used in the next edition of the News.

Here is a brief history of The Detroit News “Air Corps”:

April 20, 1919:The Detroit News sponsored the Atlantic City Trophy, for flights betweenDetroit and Atlantic City. A prize of $1,000 was offered for the best record. Second prize was$500 and third prize was $250. The contest was open to everyone with any class or plane of anyhorsepower.

July 26, 1919:The Detroit News first distributed papers by plane to the Flint area in a WWICurtiss “Jenny” JN-4 aircraft. Pilot Ted Fordon recalls the flight as a risk. The sky was filledwith smoke, from forest fires that were raging uncontrolled in the Upper Peninsula, causinghazard to aircraft flights.

June, 1921:A series of photos were taken from, the air above the Detroit River of men working on Detroit’s expanding streetcar system. These photos were shown in newsreels at16 local movie theaters.

November 19, 1922:A plane was used to deliver photo plates from a University of Michiganfootball game. The glass photo plates were dropped by parachute.

January 24, 1925:A Detroit News photographer took pictures of the eclipse in the ‘Jenny’ aircraft.

April 14, 1928:The News radio station, WWJ, broadcast a program from a plane. A first forany radio station.

August 26, 1929: The Detroit News launched Michigan’s first aircraft dedicated to news gathering — a Lockheed Vega.

Detroit News officials present the News giroplane to the Henry Ford Museum at a ceremony at Ford Airport in Dearborn Nov. 27, 1933. From left, News Aeronautical editor James Piersol, an unidentified pilot, William J. Scripps, Henry Ford, William E. Scripps, Edsel Ford, W. S. Gilmore and Herbert Ponting.

February 15, 1931: The Detroit News launched its specially designed autogiro, the first of itskind used for news gathering, aerial photography and emergency distribution of papers. It had a four-bladed rotor mounted on a tripod above the body of a conventional airplane. It was poweredby a 300-horsepower Wright engine and standard steel propeller.

The unpowered rotor blades rotated automatically from the wash of the powered front propeller. The rotor blades gave the aircraft a great deal of lift, allowing it to take off in a distance of only 124 feet, hover almost motionless in the air and land in area of 50 feet.

The craft was heralded as great advance in aviation, but it was only in service a couple of years. In 1933, the aircraft was given to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn where it is still on display.

December 23, 1934:The News launches the Early Bird plane, which named in honor of agroup of pioneer airmen called the “Early Birds.” It was a Lockheed, with one camera mounted in the left wing operated by an electric motor withcontrols in the cockpit. A second camera took photos straight down from the plane through thefloor of the plane. It was operated manually from the passenger cabin or remotely from thecockpit. A third camera was located in one of the paper-carrying compartments at the rear. Ittook photos above and to the sides and rear of the plane.

The cabin contained three passenger seats, a desk for a reporter or radio operator anda compact broadcasting station used by WWJ. The News’ first Lockheed Vega airplane had a top speed of 160 mph, compared with this EarlyBird’s speed of more than 200 mph.

After Pearl Harbor, the Early Bird was “drafted” by the U.S. Army and served as a utility aircraft on the West Coast throughout World War II.

February 16, 1936:The News used its plane to help feed the starving wildfowl in the HorseIsland area near Gibraltar, during the harsh winter.

September 26, 1949: The Detroit News flashed headlines in the skies over the city night by aGoodyear blimp.

June 24, 1956: The News begins some air deliveries of newspapers to vacationers in northernMichigan.

June 19,1960: The News air fleet grows to three chartered planes to deliver copies of TheDetroit News’ “Airplane Edition” to vacationers in the northern Michigan resort areas.