“Great Race” author flying same route as 1919 Army aviators

Local News

A writer is flying into the history of one of the most influential events in aviation history.

Former Washington Post Reporter John Lancaster is working on a book titled “The Great Race” which details a transcontinental air race that took place in 1919. 

63 U.S. Army aviators took off from New York’s Roosevelt Field with the goal of flying to San Francisco and back to display that planes could fly safe over long distances.

It did not go as planned as only 8 planes completed the trip and 7 men died.

In preparation for his book Lancaster is flying the trip himself, making stops at each of the 20 towns and cities the original participants did.

The first stop on the journey was at the Tri Cities Airport in Endicott.

Lancaster says to tell a story like this you need to have some point of reference for the experience.

“If I’m going to be writing about Binghamton New York it seems to me that I should stop here see what it looks like. You want to see what the terrain looks like, you want to listen to the accents people have. Just want to get a feel for the route. Obviously a lot has changed in a century but there is still a lot of useful information to be gleaned I believe from traveling this route,” he said.

At many of the stops Lancaster will be talking with local historians.

Here in Broome County he talked with historian Roger Luther.

Luther says that this was a spectacle that many of the community members were eager to see.

“Thousands of people turned out to watch the planes come in. They marked a huge circle on the landing strip with lines and in the center instead of x marks the spot they put a b for Binghamton. That would be seen from the air for the pilots and that’s where they knew to land for their first stop,” said Luther.

Luther says the first causality of the race happened when one of the pilots overshot the B and crashed into a telephone pole while turning back around.

Lancaster noted that while he’s flying the same route, the GPS and satellite weather system in his plane is obviously not a luxury the pilots of 1919 had.

He says they had no radios, very little weather information and used railroad maps and compasses for direction.

For more information on The Great Race and to follow Lancaster’s journey, visit https://1919AirRace.com.   

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