Montana Is Proud Of Its Aviation History
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, November is National Aviation History Month, and the great State of Montana has an aviation moment to celebrate in our history. There have been famous moments in man-made flight that some of us can recall from memory; the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, Charles Lindbergh across the Atlantic, the Enola Gay over Hiroshima. But did you know about this aviation first in Montana?
The First Flight In Missoula
According to a plaque commemorating the event on Fort Missoula's Parade Grounds, Eugene Ely became the first man in Missoula to fly a plane. It happened on a summer day in 1911 with thousands in attendance. He took off and landed in a field on the Fort Missoula grounds in what is now known as the Parade Grounds near Officers Row.
Ely posing with his aircraft
According to the Historical Marker Database, Ely had flown the plane several times by that point, performing the same exhibition in Helena, Lewistown, Kalispell, and Great Falls just days before.
This plaque on the parade grounds at Fort Missoula commemorates Ely and his first flight in Missoula.
According to the U.S. Naval Institute, Ely was already well-known when he flew at Missoula, having been the first pilot to take off from a naval vessel in 1910. But even after all those successful flights, Ely died when he jumped from his plane in a nosedive during a similar exhibition in Macon, Georgia.
The parade grounds at Fort Missoula. Ely took off and landed his plane on this old ballfield which is just over 600 feet from end to end.
Visitors as well as Montanans can visit the site and imagine what is must have been like to see a man fly for the first time. That's exactly what I did when I visited the site, and also thought about how spiffy I'd look in a boater hat and big aviation goggles!