Crowd Crushes Into Felts Field


Derby Stragglers Flocking into City

September 22, 1927

Clearing skies and sunshine by noon started a heavy flow of people to Felts Field, Parkwater.   By 10 o’clock a crowd of 5,000 anxiously awaited the arrival of two planes from New York in the New York to Spokane Air Derby.

Two events filled the morning.  The first was the “high speed pursuit” between the Navy and Marine pilots.   The usual stunt flying followed along with parachuting and stomach-churning dives hurling toward the ground. 

The most daredevil event was the “wing-walking” where a pilot stepped gingerly onto the wing of a bi-plane and dared to walk the length to the end and return.  His copilot had to keep the plane steady and not jerk it.

Few had the courage to do it, so it was considered the main feature of stunt flying. In between a lot of pilots took to the sky to test the turns on the racecourse and show off their skills.  A lot of the races were timed trials breezing around the four pylons anchored to the field and floating high in the sky.

There were to be air races all afternoon and in the morning the crowd watched pilots practicing on the racecourse.  They buzzed around and around, and the crowd was thrilled to watch them show off.

Adding to the crowd, the railroads were offering discount tickets and excursion trips from outlying areas and planned to add 8,100 more visitors to the three-day event.  Seattle alone had over 600 arriving on the trains.

Roosevelt Field New York

On Tuesday September 20th 1927 15 planes set out as the sun rose heading to Spokane’s Parkdale Field.  The distance was 2,275 miles.

A plane crashed shortly after leaving.  Ray Radtke plummeted into a field in Morristown, New Jersey and died immediately.  Ralph Hudson his mechanic died on the way to the hospital. 

Emil Burgin turned back to New York with a blocked oil pump shortly after takeoff.  Thirteen planes were left in the race.

This is the second of three transcontinental races sponsored by the National Derby Association being held.  The rules are that the plane has to be capable of carrying the pilot and two passengers maximum.   But the planes are also allowed to replace the extra people with fuel or other weight.  None carried a third person. 

The route allows for one overnight stop in Minneapolis.  Also 5-minute compulsory stops in Cleveland, Aberdeen S Dakota, Miles City, Montana, and Butte, Montana.  Prizes are $10,000 for first place, $5,000, $2,000, $1,000, and $500 for fifth place. 

By the time Minneapolis was reached, only 12 planes were left in the race.  Les Miller in the “Spirit of St Paul” is in the lead.  By Fargo Charlie Meyers of Detroit was in the lead.

The Derby was a non-stop race from New York to Spokane that had started that day.   It was estimated that over 21,000 people would view the event in the two cities, although the figure seemed optimistic.

Three of the planes have received protests because they had “specialty curved racing wings”. 

Nick Mamer of Spokane was one of the 15 planes taking off third and his plane had the curved racing wings that were such a controversy.    Bruce McDonald was his co-pilot.

The Race Goes On

Word reached the crowd around noon that, after flying 29 hours and 2,200 miles, Eddie Stinson of Detroit had been forced down at Missoula.   He was 220 miles from Spokane and he had made his own plane.  He was able to trade planes in Missoula and continue on – seeking the $10,000 prize money.  But he was technically disqualified because of the forced landing, and he had not been “non-stop”.

“I thought I might be able to work the problem out before coming to Missoula, but the problem got worse.”   “I had sought altitude, climbing to 10,000 feet.”  “But the motor would not “pull” and I headed right into Missoula to land.”  “I spent between 2 and 3 hours maneuvering above a field where I felt I might land in an emergency.”


The winner of the morning practices was Al Litzenberger of Erie, Pennsylvania.  He soared in his Waco Class B plane and cruised effortlessly around the pylons.

Long before noon the Reserve Section was filled.

Gerald Smith of Tacoma had just arrived in his “City of Tacoma” flying an Eaglerock Series B Airplane.

RR Johnson next touched down in a Swalllow and right behind him was JB Sinodski of Coffeyville, Kansas. 

Johnson had just learned to fly with Nick Mamer being his teacher.

Next landing was AW Stephensen of Dillon, Montana piloting a Waco Airframe. A group of National Guard flyers competed with the private planes doing practice turns.

The crowd was filled with interesting people.  CR Hayes publisher of the Creston Review had come down from Canada.  And standing next to him was Chuck Smith of the Bonners Ferry Sentinel.  And the town was filled with dozens of dignitaries like George Bowen of New York, a financier, and Frank Davis of Detroit, a very wealthy contractor.  Merchants, lumbermen, government officials, and dignitaries filled the crowd.

The Sousa Band was in town to give two concerts.

People watched with eager anticipation as each arrival landed on the grass field.

The race was from New York to Spokane. Twelve airplanes were headed west to claim the prize money.

The Winners

Eugene of Tarryton, PA in a TravelAir raced 8 times around the ten-mile course winning the $1,000 prize and the Western Cup trophy. 

Next Lt Hal Johnson flying a 712 horsepower Curtis engine will break the world speed record  

Batten finished first in the "Pursuit Game".  He won the “free for all” pursuit game with faster turns and gaining more distance ahead of the pack behind him.

The final event of the New York to Spokane Derby was 100 planes flying in formation over the city and across Felts Field. Every kind of craft from tiny pursuit ships to old war time lumbering planes will join in.  Before the flyby the planes will be lined up in a long line to permit the spectators to get a close look at each plane.  It will take two hours to launch the entire group and they have never flown together in formation before so there is risk and uncertainty.

There will be trophies.  Participating are planes flying in from 36 states.   The Aero Digest Trophy will go to acrobatic sport planes.  The Aviation T&C Detroit trophy will be awarded for speed and turns.  There will be a Dayton Daily trophy light plane trophy for the most ingenious design.






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