Cudmore: Aviation pioneer Edward Heath; Carpet City Airport

Aviator Edward B. Heath tried to fly his first airplane at the Antlers golf course in Fort Johnson near Amsterdam in 1910 but the attempt ended in a crash.  No one was hurt.  The golf course is now called Rolling Hills.

Heath was born in Brooklyn in 1888. He lived in the Amsterdam area for a few months.  His uncle and cousin, Chester and Frank Johnson, helped Heath build his first airplane at their Johnson Machine Shop on Cedar Street in Amsterdam.

Historian Hugh Donlon reported on the flight: “Twirling the propeller for the start was hazardous and when the plane’s motor finally got the go-ahead spark, aviator Heath had to climb aboard while the ground crew temporarily restrained all 36 horsepower.  Not far down the improvised runway and traveling at tremendous speed, the wheel post broke and a wing sagged.  The pilot escaped and tow back to the machine shop was made.

“Similar disappointment came in later tests on the Mohawk River flats east of Fonda, but when the flying machine was exhibited at the Fonda Fair in October it attracted crowds.”

The Aviation Heritage website indicated that Heath’s plane, patterned after a Bleriot monoplane, did have some successful flights in the Mohawk Valley. 

After working for a time with pioneer aviator Glenn Curtiss in Hammondsport, N.Y., Heath moved to Chicago where he started a company that made airplane parts in World War I. 

He won trophies in air races and manufactured the Heath Parasol, an ultralight airplane that he marketed as a kit.  A 1928 ultralight built by Heath was called the Baby Bullet. 

Heath died in a 1931 plane crash in Morton Grove, a Chicago suburb.  He was testing a new low-wing aircraft design when the fatal accident occurred.

The company he founded — Heathkit — changed from making airplane kits to making kits for amateur radio gear, electronic test equipment and even television receivers.  The firm filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and began restructuring in 2013.  The company now has a live website at www.heathkit.com and sells electronic products.

CARPET CITY AIRPORT

On Oct. 6, 1946, two men died when a two-seater Aeronca plane crashed during a demonstration flight 12 minutes after takeoff from Carpet City Airport at the intersection of Midline Road and Route 107 near Perth.

Willis E. “Slip” Slater, 33, of 401 Locust Ave. in Amsterdam, was demonstrating the plane to Edward Rytel, 20, of Perth.  The Aeronca was owned by Ray A. Shaver of 88 Forest S. in Gloversville. 

Slater, a longtime pilot and Army Air Corps veteran, was a relief flying instructor at the local airport.  He died on impact.  Rytel, a wounded veteran and student of aviation, survived for three hours, dying at St. Mary’s Hospital.  It was not clear who was flying the plane when it crashed.

Reader Dave Noyes, who now lives in Evergreen, Colorado, wrote that he learned to fly at Carpet City Airport.

Noyes was in the Boy Scouts of America’s Air Scout program in 1947.  The Air Scout curriculum officially included only pre-flight activities, but Noyes and his fellow Scouts actually flew planes with local World War II veterans as instructors.  The leader of the group was a Navy veteran named Leon Smith from Hagaman.

The Scouts had powder blue uniforms and met in Amsterdam for classes at the Blood Building on Market Street.  The Air Scouts had World War II surplus gear at the airport — a fighter plane engine they learned to take apart and put together, a flight simulator and a miniature jet engine.

“Firing it up was quite impressive,” Noyes said.  “Pleasant memories, great learning experience.”

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