Viewing page 18 of 27

Ralph Johnstone 
Early Wright Exhibition Pilot 

Ralph Johnstone was born in Kansas City, Missouri on September 18, 1880. At age 14 he ran away and joined a circus, where after a time he developed a trick bicycle act and gained fame for his daring feats. He traveled abroad extensively with this act and later went into vaudeville in the United States. For some time he rode an old-fashioned high wheel cycle down a long flight of stairs at the Hippodrome in New York. 
During this period he met Roy Knabenshue who was exhibiting his airship at a western carnival and a friendship developed. After Knabenshue became Exhibition Manager for the Wright Company, he persuaded Johnstone to leave his theatrical preofession to join the new Wright flying team being formed to do exhibition work. As a result Johnstone became a member of the first class of civilian students at the newly formed Wright Flying School at Simms Station, Dayton, Ohio about June 1, 1919. Frank Coffyn also started his instruction at the same time. Hoxset and LaChapelle, who had already recieved part of their instruction, were still being tutored to complete their course. Walter Brookins was the instructor of this class of four, assisted by Al Welsh. A rush training program was carried on during the first ten days of June, with over 160 instruction flights being made, as the first exhibition engagement of this new Wright student group to be held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on June 13th through the 18th, and everyone was having to hustle to be ready as possible for this event. During the school period Johnstone and Hoxsey became close friends, but a flying rivalry started between them and that later developed into quite a problem for the Wrights.
The Wright Company have five plane at the Indianapoilis Speedway Meet and, with very little flying experience, Brookins, Welsh, Johnstone, Coffyn and LaChapelle all made flights and put on quite a successful showing. Over sixty flights were made without accident and reportedly Coffyn even made his first.   
Please note that the language and terminology used in this collection reflects the context and culture of the time of its creation, and may include culturally sensitive information. As an historical document, its contents may be at odds with contemporary views and terminology. The information within this collection does not reflect the views of the Smithsonian Institution, but is available in its original form to facilitate research. For questions or comments regarding sensitive content, access, and use related to this collection, please contact