Thursday, April 19, 2012

First Aerial Film of New York City - 1912

Country: United States
Frank Coffyn's Hydro-Aeroplane Flights
Vitagraph Film Co. / 16 February-March 20, 1912
Producer: J. Stuart Blackton
Frank Trenholm Coffyn (October 24, 1878 -- December 10, 1960) was a member of the Wright Brothers Exhibition Team and a pioneer aviator. This film was part of his first independent work after going out on his own. This is the first hydro-aeroplane with pontoons to successfully use New York waters for take off and return. Coffyn is also the first pilot to take a press photographer along, Adrian C. Duff of the American Press Association, who took the first aerial photos of the city.*
The New York Herald, 1912
Frank T. Coffyn flying his hydro-aeroplane, took his craft off from the Battery yesterday afternoon for a sixteen minute flight that covered a course toward the Jersey shore, half a mile up the Hudson River, then back and across the Navy Yard and over the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges at a height of 1,500 feet, then back beneath each bridge and home to the landing raft. Thousands of spectators stood at the Battery for hours to see the new machine. The wind was so strong that he was almost blown out of his seat. At the Brooklyn Bridge, he was only fifteen feet below the roadway and was caught in the warm blast of a tug's smokestack.
The aeroplane was able to land and take off from the ice floes because of two hickory runners which protected the aluminum floats. These were built and designed by Coffyn and Russell A. Alger, governor of the Aero Club of America.
New York Times, Feb. 17, 1912, 'Coffyn Finds Hole In Air Over Bay':
Metropolitan Magazine, May 1912 (excerpt)
WATER-FLYING / A NEW SPORT by Henry Woodhouse
A Convincing Demonstration
THIS last was a convincing demonstration. It convinced the man in the street, as nothing ever before had, that the day when he can take to the air without first making his will is drawing nearer. To the hundreds of New Yorkers, who deserted their offices to crowd to the water-front to watch Coffyn, it was a matter of wonder that this craft did not seem to have any limitations. Again and again hundreds would hold their breath watching the winged thing skim the water heading straight for the ice, expecting to see a smash. But they were pleasingly disappointed; for each time the machine slid on the ice, speeding on its runner swift and light, and ere long it was in the air, circling like a strange, big bird. Then the spectators looked at one another and the comments ran something like this: Did you ever! . . . Can you beat that! . . . and some remarked that they had seen Wilbur Wright fly over that same spot during the Hudson-Fulton celebration, or Curtiss at the finish of the Albany-New York flight, or Atwood or Ovington in their over-the-city flights, but had never felt over impressed. But this was different, they could see it at close range, it did what they would have liked to do, and seemed as easy as anything.
Helicopter Magazine / May 1946 -- Pg. 34 (excerpt)
Toward the end of my two year contract with the Company, I was loaned to Russell Alger, of Detroit, to teach him and his brother Fred, to fly. Their homes were located on the edge of Lake St. Clair, so it was decided to attach pontoons under each of the two skids of the Model B Wright plane. John W. Hacker, a well known motor boat builder, was requisitioned to construct them. They were of mahogany, covered with varnished cloth, and on September 30, 1911, I made my first flight with them, but they were too lightly constructed and did not survive the test. Hacker then built aluminum pontoons, with a wood ash frame work, and these were the first of their kind ever constructed for a plane.
My contract with the Wright Company having expired, I shipped the plane, equipped with the aluminum pontoons, to New York with high aspirations of setting myself up in my own business. So I finally approached J. Stuart Blackstone [sic], president of the Vitagraph Company of America, in the prospects of obtaining good aerial moving pictures for his motion picture company. After a lengthy discussion I persuaded him to let me try this, and armed with a sizable contract in my pocket plus a newspaper photographer who had never been in a plane, I took off my seaplane to take moving pictures of New York City and the Bay on one of the coldest days in February 1912. Through John McKenzie, who was later in charge of Laguardia Airport, I was granted permission by the Dock Department to use Pier A at the Battery, making it the first seaplane base operated by the City of New York.
*Three of Adrian Duff's aerial shots of New York can be seen here:

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