By Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer
EVERETT — The first aircraft flight here, which took place 100 years ago, went largely unseen.
That’s a far cry from the masses of onlookers for the first flight of Boeing’s 787, assembled and flown at Paine Field. And the 1913 flight probably drew fewer people than Everett officials had planned.
Everett leaders had watched in dismay in 1911 when the city of Snohomish won the honor of having the first airplane flight in the county, noted Dave Dilgard, historian with the Everett Public Library. That flight, which ended in a crash landing, prompted Everett officials later to court the Christofferson brothers to bring a so-called hydroplane to town in the summer of 1913.
Silas Christofferson wowed the Pacific Northwest in 1912 by flying from the top of Portland’s Multnomah Hotel, landing his Curtiss biplane across the river in Vancouver. It was his 19-year-old brother, Harry P. Christofferson, who showed up in Everett in late June 1913.
The Everett Daily Herald and the Everett Morning Tribune chronicled Christofferson’s visit, calling him the “birdman” or the “sky man.” Hundreds gathered as Christofferson assembled the aircraft on June 29 at Port Gardner. As rain fell, the pilot covered the float plane’s engine and walked away. So did the crowd. Only 30 or 40 people remained when Christofferson took the seaplane for a flight over the bay.
The young pilot would have plenty of chances to draw onlookers over the next few days. Everett officials devised a simple warning to residents that Christofferson was about to fly: They sounded the fire alarm whistle for a full 60 seconds, giving would-be onlookers five minutes to clamber to spots where they could watch the flight.
Christofferson’s aircraft was no Dreamliner, making enough noise to be its own warning whistle.
“The terrific roar of the motor filling all watchers with a sort of numbing terror,” the Herald, an evening paper at the time, wrote of Christofferson’s July 1 flights. Many onlookers “cringed as though fearful the gasoline demon overhead was bent upon their destruction,” according to the Herald’s account.
The plane could fly at a speed of 50 mph with an 80-horsepower engine, according to one newspaper account. The Curtiss-type hydroplane consisted of steel, wood and cloth. It carried enough fuel to fly 70 miles.
Christofferson admitted to the Herald that he preferred flying over water to making loops around the city. But on his July 2 flight, Christofferson flew over downtown Everett, venturing as far from the water as Colby Avenue.
“If anything goes wrong with the engine while over land we don’t stand much chance,” he said.
Taking off and landing along Everett’s waterfront, which was lined with paper mills at the time, still wouldn’t have been easy for the aviator, Dilgard pointed out.
Over five days, Christofferson took up several passengers. The queen of the Kla Ha Ya Days festival, then called Kla-How-Yah days, was the first female passenger in Everett and was treated to a 15-minute flight.
If air travelers today think getting stuck in the middle seat is rough, that’s nothing compared to Christofferson’s passengers. As he finished up in Everett, Christofferson described improvements he was hoping to make for the passenger’s seat for his show in Seattle.
“I’m rigging up a better seat on the hydro for a companion, who now has to sit on this piece of board to the left of my seat,” he said.
Christofferson’s passenger was not only required to sit on a board but in front of that noisy engine, which likely made the seat shake, historian Dilgard said.
Christofferson and his brother, Silas, were planning to sell slightly larger float planes they’d built while flying in Seattle. They had already sold two, for $5,000 each. The brothers were considering starting an aircraft manufacturing company with the help of backers in California, Harry Christofferson told the Herald.
“We want to make aviation so common that exhibition work will disappear,” he said.
The Everett demonstration was Harry’s first, though he had been flying for a while. He had more experience building and maintaining aircraft. Silas was the “thriller” of the two brothers, Harry Christofferson told the Herald.
Silas Christofferson died in a plane crash three years later. Aside from his Multnomah Hotel flight, Silas Christofferson gained fame in 1914 by “bombing” buildings in Seattle with flour sacks as real bombs dropped in Europe as World War I erupted.
Harry Christofferson later started a flight school in California. He died at the age of 84.
Information from archived Everett Herald, Everett Morning Tribune and EarlyAviators.com articles was used for this story.