Remembering Aviation Hero Floyd Bennett

by Charles Henry Eldridge

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       When I was a young boy, I remember my gram telling me about her cousin, famous aviator Floyd Bennett. She told me how he was the first man to fly an airplane to the North Pole!  One day, a few years later, I was walking out in back of the Queensbury Little League fields, when I came across an old decrepit paved road. Quickly it dawned on me, that it was part of an old airfield’s runway, that my gram and dad had told me about! Do you remember going into the McDonald’s, in the “Aviation” Mall on “Aviation” Rd. , and seeing photos on their walls of an old airport? Well, that was the original Floyd Bennett Airfield, and it was located where the Queensbury School Campus is today. The last remaining building, from those days, was made into a bus garage, but was originally an airplane hanger. Sadly, it was demolished a few years back. Designating that old building a historical landmark, and converting it into an Aviation Museum, would’ve been a smarter and more respectful thing to do. We must embrace our local history, and do everything in our power to keep it alive! More and more folks move to Northern New York every year, and they do not have the same sentimental attachment that us natives share. What means the world to one, often-times means nothing to another. So, we have only ourselves to blame for losses such as this.
What was formerly the Warren County Airport, has been re-named the Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport.

       Floyd Bennett was born in Warrensburg, New York October 25th 1890. He gave up school at the age of 17, and became a mechanic and part owner of a service garage. In 1917, he joined the U.S. Navy, taking up aviation training. Although he became an able pilot, his superiors ordered him to stay on as an aviation mechanic. In 1925, he was given orders to join Lieutenant Richard Byrd’s naval aviation group, which was teamed up with D.B. MacMillan’s expedition to Greenland that year. His ability as a mechanic, along with his personality, caught the eye of Byrd and he became two things, Byrd’s friend and his personal pilot.

       After the Greenland expedition, Bennett and Byrd started planning a flight to the North Pole. In May of 1926, with a carefully planned out strategy and a little luck, the two men carried out their goal, flying a 3-engine Fokker Monoplane, named the “Josephine Ford”. The two men were awarded Medals of Honor, which were very rare awards to receive during peacetime! They were also given promotions! Byrd was made Commander and Bennett (by act of Congress) was made Warrant Mechanic! Bennett was also given a special medal by the National Geographic Society, presented by then President Calvin Coolidge. They then started making plans to cross the Atlantic, in a plane called the “America”. Unfortunately though, the America crashed in a test flight, almost killing Bennett, which then left the door wide open for Charles Lindberg to make the flight. In Byrd’s 1928-30 expedition to the South Pole, Bennett, who had made most of the plans, was made 2nd in command. Before the flight was to take place, Bennett and fellow colleague Bernt Balchen were to make a trip to Labrador. There, off the coast, lay a plane that went down, named the “Bremen”, which was the first to cross the Atlantic Westwards. Strangely, on their way to salvage the plane, in April of ’28, Bennett became very sick and passed away in Quebec, Canada, at the young age of 38!
His death was mourned by the nation, and he was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.

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“Receiving Medals from President Coolidge”

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“Special Medal from the National Geographic Society”

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“Medal of Honor”

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“Floyd Bennett”

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