Charles Keeney Hamilton

 

Charles Keeney Hamilton (1881 or June 1885 – January 22, 1914) was a pioneer aviator nicknamed the "crazy man of the air".

He was, in the words of the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission, "known for his dangerous dives, spectacular crashes, extensive reconstructive surgeries, and ever present cigarette" and was "frequently drunk".] He survived over 60 crashes

Hamilton was born in New Britain and was a hot air balloonist and parachute jumper at fairs and circuses at the age of 18.  Three years later, he became friends with aeronautical engineer and aviator A. Roy Knabenshue and began piloting dirigibles. On the day Louis Bleriot flew the English Channel, July 25, 1909, Hamilton was sailing his own airship across the Bay of Osaka in Japan.


On February 19, Hamilton became the first to fly an airplane in Tucson, Arizona. In San Diego, he became just the third American flier to remain aloft for at least an hour, crossing the ocean to Mexico and back. Hamilton became the first to fly in the state of Washington, when he piloted the Reims Racer over Seattle on March 11. 

The very next day, he went up again, drunk, and "Swooping like a rapacious bird from a height of 500 feet  the Curtiss biplane, with Charles K. Hamilton, dived into the newly formed lake at The Meadows". He had to be fished out of the lake, but suffered only minor injuries. Undaunted, he flew at Tacoma, Washington, and crossed the border to become the "First Air Visitor to Vancouver, B.C." on March 25.

On June 13, 1910, Hamilton won a prize of $10,000, sponsored by The New York Times and the Philadelphia Public Ledger, for being the first to fly from New York to Philadelphia and back.

He departed from Governors Island in New York harbor at 7:30 am and reached Philadelphia at 9:26 am. With a stopover in Philadelphia, the round trip took a little over 11 hours, at an average speed of nearly 51 miles per hour.

He received a hero's welcome in New Britain, and, on July 2, 1910, made "the first public flight in the State" there. It was also the first in New England.

Hamilton died of tuberculosis or "a lung hemorrhage after a long bout with tuberculosis" on January 22, 1914. He was buried in Hartford, Connecticut on January 26. Those familiar with his short career claimed he had earned a quarter of a million dollars, but he spent it and died almost broke.