This year, St Pete is celebrating the centenary of an important first: the world’s first scheduled flight.
It may seem incredible, but the very first scheduled flight left the St Petersburg Municipal Pier on 1 January 1914 and took 23 minutes to fly the 29 kilometres to Tampa – that was 11 hours less than traveling between St. Petersburg and Tampa by rail.
Tony Jannus was the pilot and the plane was a wood and muslin Benoist XIV biplane, a flying boat. There was no airport in St Pete at the time, so both takeoff and landing took place on water.
The one and only customer was a former mayor of St. Petersburg, Abe Pheil, who paid $400 in a charity auction to be the first passenger, sitting on a wooden bench next to the pilot in the open cockpit.
The Airboat line went on to operate daily flights for about two months, followed by a more irregular and on-demand service for another couple of moths. In its short life, the company carryied more than 1,200 passengers who paid $5 each.
Tony Jannus was killed in World War I in an accident while training Russian pilots over the Black Sea for the Curtiss Aeroplane Company. R.E.G. Davies, curator of air transport at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, said of Jannus, “Of all the early aviators, his career and achievements were possibly the most influential before the outbreak of the First World War. Had Jannus lived, Charles Lindberg would have had a worthy rival.”
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