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174 WALTER E. JOHNSON Early Thomas Brothers Pilot - Instructor Walter E.Johnson was born at Pittsford, near Rochester, New York, on September 7, 1888. Son of a physician, he graduated from East High School, Rochester, in 1908. He was an active leader in#[[editing mark]]various sports programs. In the fall of 1908 he entered the College of Applied Science in Civil Engineering at Syracuse University, where again he was active in sports, winning letters in both track and football. He also became a member of Zeta Psi fraternity. After two years in college, Johnson became so interested in flying he decided to quit school and get into aviation. He started to work for Glenn Curtiss as a mechanic at Hammonsport, New York, in June, 1910. Johnson was eager to learn to fly. He did not get an opportunity to do so there, but while watching Curtiss fly Johnson learned how to move the controls to make various maneuvers. Johnson soon heard that the Thomas Brothers had an experimental airplane at Hornell, New York, and wanted to get someone to fly it. He contacted them and as a result left Curtiss and joined the Thomas Brothers as their first pilot. The airplane was new and untried using a Kirkham automobile engine. Johnson had to teach himself to fly, so he started with the usual grass-cutting practice on the Page [[left-margin]] checkmark [[/left-margin]] farm near North Hornell. Fortunately the airplane was [[edit-reverse]] so [[/edit-reverse]] underpowered it would barely lift off a few inches when it his a slight bump then settle back to the [[left-margin]] checkmark [[/left-margin]] ground. In this way[[crossed-out]]s[[/crossed-out]]Johnson learned to handle the plane on the ground and control it during short hops. By the end of August he had "souped up" the engine enough that he had sufficient power for sustained flight. As a result Johnson made his [[left-margin]] checkmark [[/left-margin]] first#[[edit mark]]real flight, and a circle, there on September 7, 1910, his 21st birthday. During September the Thomas Brothers were continually changing and [[left-margin]] checkmark [[/left-margin]] developing this plane and Johnson was [[crossed-out]]d[[/crossed-out]] gradually making more extended flights. In October they accepted an invitation to fly exhibitions at a fair, held at Stow Park, Binghamton, New York. Johnson made his first public exhibition flights there on October 10 and 11, 1910. He had minor damage when he struck one of the tents on a takeoff, but was not injured.
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