Louisiana Aviation Since 1910
Early Aviation in Louisiana
The 1910 New Orleans Aviation Tournament
The new daredevils captured the attention of the entire country, and Louisiana was no exception. While many marveled at the very act of flying, others quickly saw business potential. In New Orleans a committee under the leadership of Crawford H. Ellis envisioned aviation not only as a new tool for business, but also as an excellent way of promoting the city itself. In 1910 they followed the lead of other cities and invited the world’s most eminent aviators to New Orleans for a tournament. The meet, scheduled for Christmas Eve until January 2, promised $10,000 in prizes.
The heralded "birdmen," as they were called, and their airplanes arrived in New Orleans, not by air, but by train. The most famous of the group were John B. Moisant, an American of French Canadian descent, and his mascot kitten, Paris-Londres, who had accompanied him on a recent flight from Paris to London. Moisant immediately captured the hearts of New Orleanians when he made an unscheduled flight over the city for 46 minutes and 10 seconds, breaking the world’s record for the longest flight over a city. Thousands watched as he performed spirals over Lafayette Square. For over a week, spectators turned out at City Park to watch aviators perform stunts and attempt to break altitude, speed, and duration records. In a Blériot monoplane French aviator René Simon broke the world’s record for one mile in 57 seconds. In a land-air race with an automobile, Moisant came in a close second.
The meet came to a tragic end on December 31 when Moisant crashed in Harahan, just outside of New Orleans, as he prepared to compete for the Michelin Cup, awarded annually for the longest continuous flight. In 1946 the new international airport in Kenner was named in his honor.
The Airmail Route
Promoters of air travel hoped to establish the industry through a demonstration of its practical uses. They found a likely target in the mail system. In 1912, more than a dozen years before airmail became a regular service, French aviator George Mestach delivered mail from New Orleans to Baton Rouge in 1 hour and 32 minutes, marking the second airmail delivery in the United States. Although he ran into a fence and broke the plane’s propeller upon landing on the Louisiana State University campus, the jostled Mestach managed to deliver a letter to Governor J. Y. Sanders.
Businessmen viewed aviation as a tool for securing trade and commerce with countries abroad, especially in Central and South America. In the 1920s such boosters as the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce and the Young Men’s Business Club (YMBC) campaigned for federal airmail service and promoted aviation activities. In 1925 the YMBC constructed Alvin Callender Field, named after the only New Orleans pilot to be killed in World War I.
In 1923 New Orleans became one of two cities in the United States to test the effectiveness of incorporating air delivery for foreign mail. The government awarded the contract to World War I veteran Arthur Cambas, who hired former naval aviators and formed New Orleans Air Line. Departing from a hangar at the end of Poland Avenue, seaplanes brought mail from New Orleans to Pilot Town at the mouth of the Mississippi River, allowing mail bound for South America to reach steamers twelve hours after they left New Orleans. The service also brought mail from incoming ships into the city.
Airmail service expanded in 1928, when the federal government selected St. Tammany–Gulf Coast Airways to provide delivery from New Orleans to Mobile, Birmingham, and Atlanta. From there, another plane would carry mail to New York. On May 1, 1928, the first plane left Alvin Callender Field in Belle Chasse with 12,000 pieces of mail weighing 196 pounds.
Lindbergh Visits New Orleans
Just a few months after Charles Lindbergh became the first pilot to complete a transatlantic flight, he visited New Orleans as part of his nationwide effort to promote aviation. He flew into New Orleans at Callender Field in the Spirit of St. Louis, the same plane he flew across the ocean. The city enthusiastically welcomed the hero: 15,000 schoolchildren gathered for his appearance at Tulane Stadium, and 700 civic leaders attended a banquet at the Tip Top Room of the Roosevelt Hotel. Three years later, another famous aviator, Amelia Earhart, visited the city.