From the earliest beginnings, the human desire to make an airplane was fraught with many difficulties, but on the other hand, with incredible breakthroughs. The Wright Brothers hold an exceptional spot in history because of the great and abiding impact of their accomplishment concerning modern aircraft design. After the first boundaries have been broken and the constructed aircraft were able to cover long-range distances it was only a matter of time before the commercial aspect of flying would begin to be considered. Of course, the history of first commercial flight had its gradual development from stunt plane and site seeing passenger flights to flying airboats that flew just a few feet above the water to the first real examples of modern air travel involving regularly-scheduled overland air service using land-based runways.
During the WWI, airplanes grew a vital weapon for supremacy, guiding in a brave new world of combat. Airplanes were the prospect of war, but they had yet to establish themselves as the prospect of peace. By the end of the war airplanes could fly higher and faster, were more stable and their pilots were more skillful. Air transport encountered remarkable growth and change from the late 1920s through the 1930s. The bulk of the world’s old airlines were instituted in the 1920s and 1930s in a diversity of countries across the world.
Thomas Benoist, one of the aviation pioneers, was involved in selling airplanes and parts, and was also pilot, flight instructor, designer and manufacturer. He was a constructor of an airboat, an early version of what we now know as a seaplane, able to take off and land on water. Benoist was encouraged and helped by Percival Elliott Fansler, who was the sales manager for the Jacksonville branch of a tractor company, to establish a real commercial line between St. Petersburg and Tampa. Fansler gets an idea to start a company to transport passenger and load using a seaplane.
After an initial misunderstanding and rejection of the proposal, at last, on December 17, 1913, they signed the world’s premier airline agreement for heavier-than-air planes–10 years to the day after the Wright brothers had first flown successfully at Kitty Hawk.
The first scheduled passenger flight took place on Jan. 1, 1914. between St. Petersburg and Tampa, Fla. The first flight’s pilot was Tony Jannus, a skilled test pilot and barnstormer. He collaborated with Benoist for a long time, and achieved remarkable results, flying his airplanes and setting records. The prime paying passenger was Abram C. Pheil, a former St. Petersburg mayor. There was an auction carried for the seat on this historic flight between the cities, with people offering huge sums of money for the only seat on the airplane. They flew in an aircraft designed by Benoist.
The inaugural flight went off on New Year’s Day, 1914, with much splendor. About 3,000 people marched from midtown St. Petersburg to the docks to watch as the first ticket was auctioned off. The flight took a sum of 23 minutes to reach the 21 miles of the route. To preserve fuel and evade winds, the plane flew just beyond the waves at an altitude of fewer than 50 feet.
The flight between the two cities took about 20 minutes, while traveling by steamship took two hours or from 4 to 12 hours by rail. Traveling by automobile around the bay took about 20 hours. From the very beginning, it was evident that a new mode of transportation would bring great time-saving. This historic flight is a turning point for the world as we know it today.
Two daily scheduled round trips between St. Petersburg and Tampa Cost for the price of a one-way ticket at $5 and were allowed a maximum weight of 200 pounds gross. For each one hundred pounds of additional cargo, they had to pay $5. The airline operated successfully for three months. A total of 172 regular trips were made, and 1,205 passengers were carried. The airline served for approximately four months. On May 5th the last flight has been maintained.
The self-sustainability of this airline has never been thoroughly tested, but perhaps the words of Benoist himself speak best: “I am anxious to demonstrate the capability and practicality of aerial transportation at a price anyone can afford even if such a low rate means a revenue loss to me, for today’s loss could very well be tomorrow’s profit.” And certainly, the profits the world has gained through the efforts of people like Benoist have been immeasurable.
And as with most things in history, it is always visionaries who have been ahead of their time and contributed to the advancement of humanity. The Guggenheims – a family who merit to be cherished for their kindness and forehandedness in using their big wealth to sponsor, lead and support many diverse programs that exceedingly developed the science of aeronautics in the late 1920s. It was they who had the vision of making air travel a sustainable reality. They wanted to make a strategy to prove that commercial passenger service can be sustainable and cost-effective, safe, dependable, moreover comfortable.