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VEARNE C. BABCOCK

Pioneer Plane Builder - Aviator - Engineer

Vearne C. Babcock was born at Benton Harbor, Michigan, April 28, 1885,
the son of a cabinet maker.  He developed an early interest in things aeronautical because his mother, the former Della N. Lee, was one of the famous Lee Sisters, renowned balloonists of the 1890's.  When his mother died he prevailed upon her manager to allow him to finish her contracts.  As a result he followed ballooning until he learned of the successful flying of the Wight brothers, then his interest turned to the airplane.

As soon as he could learn something about the Wright plane Babcock built a copy of it, but included various ideas of his own.  The undercarriage included two long skids, and he used a monorail and catapult for takeoff similar to the Wrights. It was equipped with an 18 h.p. engine made by Max Dingfelter of Detroit, who later made the well-known Maximotor aircraft engines. With this machine, Babcock made his first straightaway hop at the edge of the sand dunes about six miles southwest of Michigan City, Indiana, near where Octave Chanute and Augustus Herring carried on their early gliding experiments in 1896. A second hop that same day resulted in a complete smashup. His experience with this first plane resulted in two hops of less than twenty-five seconds of actual flying time and he found himself "flat broke".

Babcock and his manager then conceived the idea of building a full-scale Wright biplane with a dummy wooden engine and some small scale model planes to exhibit in a tent at fairs and carnivals. As they traveled from place to place, the charge was $1.00 for adults and 50 cents for children over ten years of age, and to their surprise that scheme made them some money.

They finally reached Seattle, Washington, in the fall of 1907 and Babcock liked the area so well he decided to stay. He soon started to build another Wright-type biplane with which he began to teach himself to fly in 1908. That
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