January 26, 2014

Indian Motorcycle Takes to the Skies

Originally posted on Riding Vintage.

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The engine pictured above is one of two, 7 cylinder engines built by Hendee Manufacturing Company (the makers of Indian motorcycles) in 1911. They mark Indian’s brief entry into the field of aviation and were named the Indian Aero Motor. Indian’s design borrowed heavily from the French Gnome “Omega” engine, in particular using a fixed crankshaft around which the crankcase and cylinders rotate. ┬áIt was able to produce 50 hp at 1,100 rpm and with a displacement of 513 cubic inches, the Indian Aero Motor was not only powerful, but lightweight, weighing only 185 lbs.

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Somehow, one of these motors got into the hands of Earle Ovington, a young aviator and inventor from Illinois who had served as a lab assistant to Thomas Edison as a boy. Ovington also studied aviation in France and chose a French plane, the Bleriot XI, to accept the Indian Aero Motor. He added an inverse curved wing and two additional steel straps underneath the wing (for six total) to produce a plane capable of flying at high altitudes. Of course, this was 1911 and high altitudes meant 500 feet above the ground.

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At the same time that Ovington was building his plane, the US Postal Service was trying to adopt airmail as part of their delivery service. Ovington caught wind of this and volunteered his services and plane, free of charge. On September 23rd, 1911, Ovington was sworn in as an official mail carrier and boarded his plane in Garden City, NewYork. He took off from Garden City and flew to Mineola, making the first airmail delivery in history.

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His mail sack contained 640 letters and 1,280 postcards which he dropped from his plane while circling the city at 500 feet. The sack burst open upon hitting the ground, scattering the mail as Ovington flew back to Garden City.

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Filed under History, Panhead Jim's Blog by PanheadJim

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