When many of us think of Old Orchard Beach, we think of the last word in the name: Beach! And, with summer on our heels, soon tourists and locals alike will be flocking to Old Orchard Beach to tan our pale, winter skin in the Maine sunshine. But, as you’re hauling your beach umbrellas, towels, sand shovels, and chairs out into the sand, you don’t figure that the same area was once the runway for a legendary New England aviator.
Born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1890, Harry Martin Jones was an avid adventurer from the beginning. First, racing motorcycles; then flying airplanes. Harry learned to fly in 1912 in Saugus, Massachusetts. And it wasn’t long after that he became a well-known name in New England aviation – both for his successes, and his crashes! Jones holds many records for aviation “firsts” too. Including the first aviator of Rhode Island in 1913, at the age of 22!
On January 2, 1913, he was the first (and only) plane to land in Boston Common. His famous landing was in response to a Boston newspaper which touted a cash prize for the first pilot to do so. He did so after flying 18 minutes from Atwood Park in Saugus to Boston Common in his Wright B airplane. However, when Harry landed he found out that the newspaper rescinded the offer just two days before!
11 days later and again in his Wright B airplane on January 13, 1913, he became the first air parcel post pilot between Boston and New York, flying from Franklin Park Field in Saugus to Governor’s Island, New York. What as the first air “cargo” package you ask?! – several containers of Boston Baked Beans! Along the way, he stopped in the cities of Providence, New Haven, New London, and Bridgewater – delivering a pot of baked beans to each stop to the governor or local official. Because of inclement weather, mechanical difficulties, and a few “crash” landings, the journey took 52 days to get to New York! Truth be told the beans were probably not edible, or smelling too good by then! However, this flight was deemed the first cargo flight. In 1938, American Airlines presented him with a beanpot to commemorate this first attempt in air freight.
Perhaps another first for Jones was his flying suit gear that he wore. When he flew long distance, he wore a heated coat and gloves! The coat was heated with electric current from a generator he had hooked up to the flywheel of the airplane engine. The gloves he wore were also headed. It could be said that Jones designed and constructed the first electrically heated aviator’s suit!
However, even with all his “firsts,” Jones was involved in several accidents early on in his flying. The earliest crash was recorded on May 25, 1913 when he crashed into the Narragansett Bay (South of Providence, RI) while doing a post-game flying demonstration at a baseball game. He had planned to drop a box of baseballs from the plane at an altitude of only 50 feet to the players below on the field! Yikes! However, as he circled the baseball field to prepare for the “Baseball Drop” his engine quit and wouldn’t restart. Instead of crashing into the spectators, he glided into the Bay, where he crashed and the plane sunk. Jones was unhurt physically, but I’m sure his pride was bruised! On August 9, 1914, he crashed into the Narrow River in Narragansett, Rhode Island. Then, on June 18, 1915 he crashed into a hillside after taking off from Harvard Aviation Field. It was during this accident that he was fined – for not having a Pilot’s License! He pled guilty and had to pay $100. Sadly, the two passengers that were with him that day were fatally injured.
Soon thereafter the Great War began and Jones became a civilian flight instructor at Brooks Field in San Antonio, Texas where he trained pilots to be flight instructors. But, by 1919 the war was over and he had relocated to Maine for different kind of flying – passengers and sightseers.
Beginning in 1919 Harry gave airplane rides up and down the beach to many passengers – for a fee of $1.50 for a 10 minute ride! In fact, in his flying career, he carried over 100,000 passengers! By that time, it was nearing 1939 – and rides were $5! In addition to sightseeing flights, for $25 he would take passengers round trip from Old Orchard Beach to Portland. Jones also gave private flight instruction. He could train a pilot in the skills needed to be proficient for $300. If only flight training were that cheap today!
Later that year, on June 14, 1919, he made the first airmail newspaper delivery in Maine, flying from Portland to Augusta. The first airmail flight in Maine would follow on October 24 of that year, flying also from Portland to Augusta.
By 1920, aviator Harry Jones was a household name in Old Orchard Beach. He also caught the eye of the police – but not for bad reasons! It was in that year he was made the first aerial policeman in Maine. He wore a police uniform and even his airplane had a police badge painted on it! To aid in water rescues an “aerial” life buoy was affixed to the fuselage.
Harry Jones’ flying career continued in Maine. Around 1924 Harry met shoemaker and businessman, Robert Hazzard. Hazzard prided himself on making good shoes for an inexpensive price ($4 a pair). By 1927 Hazzard agreed to pay for Jones a new aircraft, but had some advertising ideas in mind. Jones decided on a Stinson SB-1 Detroiter. Hazzard advertised his business name on the plane, and had “$4”and “Shoes” written under the wings so people could read it from the ground as Jones flew along the beach.
Harry Jones and his Jones Flying Corporation in Old Orchard Beach had several airplanes in his hangar over the years, including a Curtiss JN-4C (Jenny), Bellanca CH monoplane, a Standard J-1 biplane, a Curtiss HF “Flying Boat,” and a Sikorsky S-39 light amphibious airplane.
In the early 1930s, Harry Jones became the first Commissioner of Aviation in Maine. With his direction, 18 airports were built throughout the state. He later worked for Pratt & Whitney, Brewster Aircraft, and the Wright Aeronautical Corporation. Then, in 1943 he became an Inspector for the Civil Aeronautics Administration (the precursor to the Federal Aviation Administration). During WWII, Jones was a test pilot. Harry M. Jones “flew West” on April 15, 1973 at the age of 82 years old, forever a pioneer of aviation in Maine.
The Friendship Oceanfront Suites (formerly the Friendship Motor Inn), on East Grand Avenue in Old Orchard Beach, Maine now occupies the site of Harry Jones’ airplane hangar. The beach area in front of this area, down to the pier, made up the airfield. In fact, the area that is the swimming pool today is exactly where Jones’ hangar once stood! So, if you’re at Old Orchard Beach this summer (or any beach), look to the sky and think about all the aviation “firsts” of legendary Maine aviator Harry Jones.
Interested in learning more about Harry Jones and his Maine connection?
Harmon Museum – Old Orchard Beach Historical Society (The Harry M. Jones Collection – collection includes artifacts, photographs, postcards, and scrapbooks)
Owls Head Transportation Museum – Has an original 1918 Standard J-1 airplane painted to represent the one flown by Jones. There’s also a Curtiss Jenny on display there, like the one Jones flew. http://owlshead.org/collections/detail/1918-standard-j-1
Old Orchard Beach has a Memorial Plaque honoring Jones at the Library/Memorial Park.
http://www.earlyaviators.com/ejones.htm – (open as cached page) account of the First Air Parcel Post flight
During my research, I found conflicting dates for the first attempt at air freight/cargo. Dates of both 1912 and 1913 were recorded. The number of days it took to get from Boston to New York also varies between 39 – 56. Also, it has been rumored or suggested that new batches of baked beans were brought to Jones during his cargo flight so they were fresh when he arrived to each city!