The Dietz Paraplane


The Dietz Paraplane And The Dietz-Shriver/Shriver-Dietz Biplane

And Some Of The Aviators Who Flew Them

The first aircraft was sometimes mistakenly called the McCormick Dietz Paraplane, but not at the time of its construction and initial testing. It is my opinion that McCormick (Harold F. McCormick of International Harvestor) had nothing to do with this radical aircraft design. William S. Romme built, rebuilt and tested his similar design on the plains of Long Island in 1910 at Belmont and Mineola and the Paraplane was also on Long Island at Hempstead Plains and built at the Mineola Flying Field as well. Harold McCormick funded William S. Rommes efforts with his design that became known as the Umbrellaplane or Cycloplane. Because they looked somewhat similar, featuring a mast through the center and a circular configuration, some people confused the two.

Howard Dietz agreed to fund the building of the Paraplane. They formed a company in 1910, the Hempstead Aeroplane Company, for the purposes of building and developing the design. Thereafter it was known in most circles as the Dietz Paraplane.

The Paraplane had a center column or mast that was attached to a frame above the carriage. It had a large arcing circular advance wing forward of the mast and two smaller stubby angled rectangular wings coming out from the frame. The forward wing and the tail were attached to an upper framework that was some five feet above the smaller side wings. An elaborate tail section was also attached to this upper frame consisting of a flat panel directly to the center rear of the aircraft and out from there a large round surface with a rudder and elevators. A water-cooled engine mounted at the base of the mast drove a pusher propeller located halfway up the mast. A radiator and fuel tank were placed in front of the mast. The pilot's seat and wheel control were placed in front of these. The name of the aircraft came from the fact that in the large hollow mast was a parachute that would support the aircraft should it ever be needed.

Tod Shriver wanted to fly. He was already a part of the excitement of the period with regard to aviation and now having built an aircraft, he wanted to fly it. While he was taking lessons and the certification tests, the Dietz Paraplane was first flown by Shriver's friend, John "Jack" J. Frisbie, in mid-August of 1910 at Hempstead Plains, Long Island, New York. It took off in 200 feet and took 200 feet to land it.

John Frisbie taking off in a Curtiss type biplane

Also in August, Tod Shriver built a Curtiss type aircraft for Howard Dietz. The biplane became known as the Shriver-Dietz plane. The engine was a 6 horsepower, six cylinder Kirkham engine. Tod Shriver then studied and took the test and became licensed to fly, obtaining Aero Club of America license #9.

This Shriver-Dietz aircraft added to the confusion about the Dietz Paraplane. The Curtiss type biplane was flown by Shriver and friends: Captain Thomas Baldwin, John J. Fisbie and C. K. Hamilton the rest of August and September of 1910, at Hempstead Plains.

Charles K. Hamilton

In 1909-1912 the newspapers of the world were reporting on the many air meets being held mostly in Europe and the United States. The aircraft manufacturers and the aviators quickly gained fame. The meets and the newspaper reports about them alone could not give the public enough about this marvelous technology that allowed a man to fly. The public at large wanted a first hand look at an airplane or a pilot, or as they were called in the day aeronauts or aviators. The meets were held in principle cities, many of them overseas, so that most Americans were unable to attend and see the aeronauts and aircraft for themselves. American business seeing an opportunity brought the air plane to the people.

Painting of a circa 1910 Air Meet

Initially any pilot could get an exhibition contract for various public events such as fairs, rodeos, conventions etc. There was a recent predecessor to this in that many such events in the not too distant past included air balloons or dirigibles at these events. In fact the earliest exhibitors were balloonists who had become pilots who saw a natural transition from the balloon flight to aircraft flight. But soon the exhibition business belonged to the big three companies in the business: Wright, Curtiss and Moisant. They controlled the more famous pilots, the ones the public was willing to pay to see. Other, smaller exhibition companies controlled the market in the rural areas using pilots from the area or region.

The high point of this period was during 1910 and 1911 when the Wright and Curtiss companies fielded factory exhibition teams with aircraft flown by some of the most famous pilots in early American aviation history. The profits expected to have been derived from exhibition flights attracted a large number of individuals. The Wright, Curtiss and Moisant companies did a very large exhibition business. In 1911, The Curtiss Company covered 210 places with 541 days of flying. In 1911 the major teams appeared in 282 towns and flew 814 times. There was definitely prize money to be earned at these events. In the Boston-Harvard meet of September, Grahame White collected $29,600 in prizes; Johnstone and Brookins of the Wright Team won $39,250; Curtiss fliers, $16,500. The meet had receipts of $126,000 from 67,241 paid admissions. A pilot could earn as much as $10,000 for two or three flights of 10 or 15 minutes duration--a great deal of money in 1910 dollars

"Colonel" Thomas Scott Baldwin.

Thomas Scott Baldwin, or Captain Tom as he was self styled from his days piloting ballons, was the organizer behind the Curtiss team of flyers. Baldwin was already a famous aeronaut. On January 30, 1885 he made one of the earliest recorded parachute jumps from a balloon over Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.


Tom Baldwin standing on the basket ready to jump



Baldwin's parachute descending him to the turf at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park

In 1900, Baldwin created a motorized balloon. He used a motorcycle engine built by Glenn Curtiss and an aerodynamic cigar-shaped, hydrogen filled, balloon. He created the dirigible "California Arrow", which underwent the first controlled circular flight in America on August 3, 1904. From 1900 to 1908 he built a great number of small non-rigid airships of cigar shape which were driven by small gasoline engines and these he exhibited. But the most famous was the "California Arrow," powered by a small Curtiss engine and featured at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. In 1905, the Baldwin Airship Company was incorporated. Baldwin soon became a major name in the early American aviation.

The U S Army Signal Corps paid him $10,000 for a dirigible that could be used for sustained and controlled navigation. Baldwin created a dirigible that was 95 feet (29 m) long and powered by a new, more powerful Curtiss engine. He demonstrated the dirigible at Fort Meyers, Virginia. Tod Shriver assisted by being in charge of the engine. The Army bought it and designated its first dirigible: ÂSC-1. Baldwin picked up the sobriquet: "Father of the American Dirigible." He received the Aero Club of America's first balloon pilot certificate.

"The Red Devil"

Tom Baldwin saw the promise of the airplane and turned his interest to it. During late 1909 and early 1910, Curtiss built an airplane of his design for Baldwin. It was a tractor biplane with a biplane tail similar to the well-known Farman design, and it had a large vertical surface mounted above the top wing for lateral steering. The original 25 horsepower, four-cylinder Curtiss engine was quickly replaced by a Curtiss V-8. By the summer of 1910, Baldwin was testing a second airplane at Mineola, Long Island. This aircraft was also similar to the Curtiss biplanes of the day, featuring a centrally-mounted pusher engine and a forward elevator supported by booms ahead of the wings. Again, following the design similar to that of Glenn Curtis, in 1911, Baldwin built the first plane with a steel framework and called it the "Red Devil."

Being the showman that he was, he convinced Curtiss to form a troupe of aerial exhibitionists, among them was Eugene B. Ely, to promote his planes. Two years later, Baldwin formed his own troupe of aerial performers for an international tour.

While all this was going on Tod Shriver took the Curtiss type bi-plane on exhibition performances. While flying in these exhibitions, he broke his leg twice, but kept on flying.

On August 27, Frisbie taxied out to the East end of the Hempstead Plains runway in another aircraft during an exhibition at the airfield. He got airborne and was flying back across the field just above the ground. Unbeknownst to him, Shriver had brought out the Shriver-Dietz biplane, taxied to the West end of the runway just before Frisbie began flying back low over the runway. Shriver got the biplane up just above the ground and was coming back from his end of the runway. The crowd in the stands observing this, expected an imminent collision, but Frisbie, at the last minute, as reported by the New York Times "leap frogged" over the Shriver-Dietz biplane and landed back on the runway.

September 5th saw Tod Shriver fly the Shriver - Dietz bi-plane from the field to the Meadow Brook Racing facility and back two times. It was the most extensive flights made thus far in that aircraft.

On September 16th, 1910, Tod Shriver took the Shriver - Dietz bi-plane up late in the afternoon, about 6 PM after the winds, which had kept fliers out of the air all afternoon, had died down. There were only about 40 people at the field but they got quite a show as Shriver flew about 500 feet off the ground right at the airfield clubhouse. Turning at what seemed the last moment he came within an inch of hitting the flag pole and its flag hanging from the building. He continued his flight going out toward Westbury flying in the moonlight. He was gone from sight for twenty minutes and returned and landed without a problem.

The New York Daily Tribune reported on September 26, 1910 that Tom Baldwin and Tod Shriver were flying their Curtiss type planes over the Meadow Brook Club and motor parkway. Shriver was at 500 feet and Baldwin at about 100 feet when two racing cars challenged them. The pilots kept their planes above the parkway as they pulled away from the cars to give the cars a chance to catch up which they never did.

On September 27, 1910 Tod Shriver was talking to New York City officials about letting him fly from and in Central Park so that New Yorkers could experience an airplane flight. Nothing apparently came from these talks.

Shriver was in Wilmington, Delaware on October 4, 1910 where he had re-named the Shriver-Dietz bi-plane the "Night Hawk" as he sought to break the night flying record. He did but he paid a price. He sustained his altitude of about 500 feet for half an hour enabling him to break the record, but when he began his descent to land, the engine would not respond properly causing him to make a hard landing that resulted in the aircraft hitting the ground hard and then somersaulting four complete times and throwing Shriver thirty five feet away from the aircraft. Shriver's only injury was a broken ankle.

The "Night Hawk" was completely wrecked.

October of 1910 was when the most important air event in New York's aviation history was scheduled, the first International air meet ever held in the United States was scheduled for Long Island, New York at the Belmont Race Track. Three Nations had entered the event with 27 of the world's best known pilots from the United States, Britain and France. The feature event was the Gordon Bennett Trophy Race which Glenn Curtiss with Tod Shriver as his mechanic had won the previous year in Rheims, France. The winning country hosted the event the next year and so it was a part of the Belmont meet. Tod Shriver was going to be a part of the meet as well, though not the big race. Two broken legs were not going to stop him from flying at the meet.. He and the Shriver - Dietz biplane were the first to fly Opening Day, October 22, 1910. Early in the morning while the crowds were filtering to the grandstand, He walked up to the bi-plane on crutches and was helped into the pilot's seat by a mechanic.

Tod Shriver, on crutches, arrives at Belmont

He took off and quickly reached an altitude of one hundred feet and passed before the grandstand. He went around the first and then the second pylon on the course and was on the back straight away in view of the grandstand when he approached dead man's turn. A gust of wind hit Shriver's plane, the plane dipped and then listed to the right. The people in the grandstand gasped. The plane began to fall. The New York Herald reported that at 50 feet the plane appeared to have righted itself. Then it suddenly turned and plunged to the earth. As it struck, the machine crumbled up and it seemed that the aviator must have been killed or seriously injured.

Shriver was pulled from the wreck bleeding heavily from deep wounds to his face above his eye, on his nose and cheek; and to his hip where a bolt had gouged out a lump of flesh. He told the people who rushed to his aid "it is all in the game". He promised he would be back flying before the end of the week. Shriver was put in an automobile and driven to Nassau Hospital in Mineola by Howard J. Dietz.

As noted earlier, Tom Baldwin was one of the flyers at Mineola and was a friend of Tod Shriver. They both had ties to the Curtiss company. When CaptainTom decided to leave his position managing the Curtiss flying team and form his own flying team for flight exhibitions, he asked Tod Shriver, who had the advantage of skills both as a pilot and a mechanic, to join his new flying team which would be making an international tour.

Todd Shiver in a Curtiss type aircraft

Shriver and Captain Baldwin, with Bud Mars made more than three hundred flights without an accident. Shriver's flight in Japan was the first time an aircraft had flown there. In fact that was true of most of places they toured. At one of the events in Japan, there was an estimated 700,000 spectators watching Shriver and his companions fly through the air. The Philippines celebrate the fact that the first aircraft flown there was the Shriver Skylark flown by Bud Mars. They built a replica of the plane for the Centennial of the flight and display it in a museum in Manila.