In 1910, Glenn Curtiss, a motorcycle daredevil-turned-pilot, completed America’s first long-distance intercity flight, between Albany and New York City, to great fanfare, while at the helm of his Albany Flyer biplane.
“It was one of the first planes ever built. Glenn Curtiss developed it right after the Wright brothers flew in 1903,” said Kevin Millington, head of education and outreach at Empire State Aerosciences Museum (ESAM).
We were standing in the museum, underneath a biplane made of wood and canvas; it was big enough to dwarf us but seemed small and fragile in comparison to the planes that take off daily from Albany International Airport, about 24km away. As he pointed excitedly at the aircraft above us, Millington explained that it is an original 1910 Curtiss Pusher model, an identical twin to the Albany Flyer (which is now at the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum in New York’s Finger Lakes region). It is ESAM’s pièce de résistance.
“[The flight] was 150 miles and it might not seem like a big deal now, but it certainly was then,” he said. “It attracted a huge amount of publicity.”
A lifelong local, Millington has worked at the museum for 20 years (formerly as its president) and he told me his “obsession” with planes was stoked as a boy by his uncle, one of the first people to get a commercial pilot’s license in New York State, back in the 1920s. After spending the past couple of days exploring Albany and what’s known as the broader Capital Region (which also includes Schenectady, Troy and Saratoga), I could see why aviation is part of the DNA here.