Evening Sun covered news with airplanes Innovation: When a newspaper first used air travel to speed the gathering of information and dissemination of breaking stories in 1920, it was a groundbreaking novelty.


July 18, 1998|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Just recently, WJZ-TV Channel 13 unveiled its Sky Eye 13, a helicopter that will be used by the Baltimore television station to cover news events throughout the state and speed breaking stories to viewers.

This is not a new idea.

In 1920, The Evening Sun purchased a Canadian Curtis biplane for similar purposes.

Headlines in The Evening Sun explained the undertaking: "EVENING SUN ADDS AIRPLANE TO FORCE. IS FIRST TO MAKE USE OF THIS PROGRESSIVE FEATURE. Addition To Equipment Marks New Era in Newsgathering in America."

World War I flying ace Lt. William D. Tipton flew the plane; he had served seven months on the front as flight commander of the Seventeenth Squadron and had shot down four German airplanes and one balloon.

"The airplane has been purchased by The Evening Sun for the purpose of experimenting on the gathering of news from points difficult to access by railroad, auto or steamer travel. Covering important happenings by means of this agency will enable The Evening Sun to report in its afternoon editions occurrences which in the past it has been impossible for this paper to report satisfactorily because of the time required to reach the spot.

"This paper is the first in the country to make such use of aerial transportation. Its addition of the airplane to its facilities marks a new era in the gathering of news. No other newspaper staff in the country up to this time, included reporters traveling by air as a regular, daily part of their work," reported the newspaper. With the pilot, the plane could seat a reporter and a photographer.

"Under favorable conditions it can develop a speed in excess of 75 miles an hour. This will enable it to reach that section of the State most distant from Baltimore, to permit the collecting of data for a news story and return to the city on the same day," said the newspaper.

Tipton also boasted that because of the plane's low speed, "a descent can be made almost anywhere except in city streets."

"So many agencies of modern life had been started in Baltimore that it seems only fitting that a beginning of this should be made here," explained The Evening Sun.

On the plane's first trip aloft in September 1920, Tipton steered ,, the craft northward toward Timonium. In the back seat was Florenz H. Ziegfeld, Baltimore photographer and nephew of Florenz Ziegfeld of "Ziegfeld Follies" fame, who began his career photographing stage beauties.

While Tipton flew back and forth over Timonium and environs, Ziegfeld clicked away taking photographs of the race track and the Maryland State Fair that were later reproduced in the afternoon newspaper.

However, there was some risk involved in this editorial and photographic undertaking.

"It is necessary for the photographer making photographs from the air to lean far out of the machine with no straps to hold him, holding the camera in his hand.

"On a recent flight with Lieutentant Tipton over a Baltimore manufactory they got into an air pocket while Mr. Ziegfeld was leaning out, and it was necessary for the pilot to push the end hard in order to get out of the pocket. The photographer, to avoid falling from the machine, was forced to hold his arms jammed tight down on the outside of the fuselage and his knees jammed tight on the inside and to maintain that position for several minutes," reported The Evening Sun.

Ziegfeld said it didn't really disturb him and likened the situation to "leaning far out from the third-story window of a house."

Tipton and his airplane were also used to deliver papers to the Eastern Shore, Cape May and Atlantic City.

"It was used until 1927, when commercial aviation overshadowed the novelty of such enterprise," wrote Harold A. Williams in his "The Baltimore Sun 1837-1987" published by the Johns Hopkins University Press on the newspaper's 150th anniversary.

Pub Date: 7/18/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.