A. Roy Knabenshue
Providing for a large family was difficult on a telephone man’s wages, so Roy turned to ballooning to supplement his income. All of his relatives staunchly opposed this venture. After all, his father was editor of the Toledo Blade and the family enjoyed a fine social position. “I could not engage in a business that would lower and drag the family name through the mire…” Roy said. As a result of this, during his early flying days Roy used the name “Professor Don Carlos” to avoid embarrassing his family.
- He was among the first in America to pilot a steerable balloon.
- In 1904 he piloted the first successful dirigible in America at the St Louis World’s Fair.
- The Wright brothers hired him in 1910 to manage their Exhibition Company and participate in various meets throughout the country.
- In 1913 he built the first passenger dirigible in America calling it White City.
A. Roy Knabenshue made outstanding contributions to aviation as an aeronaut making balloon flights. He was among the first to pilot a steerable balloon, one of the pilots of the first successful American dirigible, a builder and exhibitor of dirigibles of his own design, manager of the Wright Brothers’ Exhibition Team, and a leading builder of observation balloons during World War I.
Knabenshue, of Toledo, Ohio had a great curiosity about aerial navigation and made balloon flights in his early teens. In 1900 Thomas Scott Baldwin, an early balloonist and parachutist, began experimenting with motor powered balloons. These experiments resulted in the construction of the first successful dirigible in America, the California Arrow, powered by an engine that Glenn H. Curtiss built. It made its first successful flight on August 3rd, 1904 at Oakland, California. Later that year Knabenshue flew the California Arrow at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of St. Louis, competing against all domestic and European dirigibles, and won the Grand Prize for his performance. In January 1905, Knabenshue raced the California Arrow against an automobile between Los Angeles and Pasadena, California and won handily. Knabenshue returned to Toledo and began to build dirigibles of his own design. In July 1905 Knabenshue flew his airship Number One from the Lucas County Fairgrounds to the roof of a building in downtown Toledo and returned.
Knabenshue made many successful airship flights in 1905 at state fairs and also engaged in promoting public exhibitions. In August 1905 he flew his 69 foot long Toledo II airship at Central Park in New York City, stopping all business and street traffic. Knabenshue’s third dirigible was completed and flown in exhibitions at Hartford, Connecticut, Providence, Rhode Island, Worcester, Massachusetts and London, Ontario in 1907. In late 1907 Knabenshue began to build a three-man airship designed to carry passengers as well as for exhibition work. In May 1908 Roy made an ascent at Toledo in this airship with two others aboard. In January 1910 Knabenshue participated in the First International Air Meet at Dominques Field, Los Angeles, racing his dirigible against others.
By late 1909, public interest began to turn to airplanes and the Wright Brothers decided to put on flight exhibitions. They employed Knabenshue to plan exhibitions for the Wright Fliers being trained at a flying school in Montgomery, Alabama opened in March 1910, now known as Maxwell Field. In 1910 the Wrights opened a school at Dayton, Ohio, and additional pilots for the team were trained. Knabenshue arranged for the first exhibition at the Indianapolis Speedway in June 1910. In July, the team performed at Atlantic City and in August the team made exhibition flights along the Chicago Lake Front. In October the team also participated in the Belmont Park International Air Meet.
In 1912 Knabenshue started a dirigible passenger flight service in Pasadena, California. In 1914 he flew his dirigible White City over Chicago. This blimp had made history in 1913 and 1914 with aerial sightseeing over the Midwest. During World War I, he built observation balloons for the Government. Later, Knabenshue worked for the National Park Service and an aircraft instrument repair organization.
Roy Knabenshue died on March 6th, 1960.
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