Monday, August 11, 2014

Grave of Herbert J. Fahy in Prospect Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C., in the United States.

Herbert John "Hub" Fahy was born December 3, 1898 -- not in 1900, as his headstone mistakenly reports. His parents were John Joseph and Bertha (Landgraf) Fahy, and he had two siblings: a younger brother, Francis, and a younger sister, Margaret. He attended the Grant School and other D.C. public schools. His love of flying began in 1908 when he witnessed the Wright Brothers demonstrating the first airplane at Fort Myer, Virginia (next to Arlington National Cemetery). When the Army purchased the Wright Flyer for military use and established an airfield near College Park, Maryland, Fahy (just 11 years old) took a job as a mechanic at his uncle's nearby machine shop just so he could be near the planes.

When World War I broke out, Fahy joined the Signal Corps, the branch of the Army which operated airplanes for the military. He flew at nearly every Army airfield in the United States, and when the war ended was commissioned a 2d Lieutenant in the Army Air Reserve Corps.

Fahy was considered one of the best test pilots in the United States -- and a hot-shot. During the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial on May 30, 1922, Fahy buzzed the crowd at a height of just 200 feet. Although he'd been told not to fly over the Memorial until at least 5 PM (the risk of crashing was a real one at the time), Fahy couldn't resist barnstorming over the heads of President Warren G. Harding and former Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln. An outraged Harding ordered Fahy's commission in the Army Air Reserve stripped just a week later.

Fahy suffered a major crash on July 25. He'd just finished repairing an aircraft, and went aloft with passenger Lewis Swan. The engine conked out, and the plane crashed. Even though they were at relatively low altitude Swan was killed. Fahy was severely injured. Today, pilots cannot take passengers aloft in a newly overhauled aircraft; they have to test-fly it first to ensure the aircraft performs up to spec.

Fahy worked as an aircraft designer and test pilot for the Detroit Aircraft Company and later for Lockheed. Fahy's fame was such that he was named Chief Pilot for Lockheed.

In 1927, Fahy helped co-found Washington Airport -- the second airfield at the nation's capital. Hoover Airport (the site of the Pentagon today) was small and unsafe (huge radio antenna towers were near the end of the runway, and a major city road crossed the landing strip). Washington Airport opened without fanfare in late 1927 as a field for sight-seeing planes (then a major industry). It was located just north of Hoover Airport, literally across the road. Fahy partnered with Robert E. Funkhouser (an investor and officer in several small airlines in the mid-Atlantic region) and other investors to build the field. They quickly added more acreage and improved the airfield's facilities, and in February 1928 Funkhouser, Fahy and the others formed Seaboard Airways -- one of the nation's first passenger airlines. Seaboard's base of operations was Washington Airport.

Washington Airport was dramatically enlarged (and the coastline of the Potomac River altered) in April 1928 when the airfield contracted to receive tens of thousands of cubic yards of earth, dug during the construction of the Federal Triangle complex of buildings in the District of Columbia. It used this earth to fill in the sides and ends of the field. The expansion and land reclamation increased the size of the airport six-fold to 97.31 acres. However, the expansion led to a lawsuit which ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court! In September 1929, Smoot Sand and Gravel Corp. began erecting a rock retaining wall along the high-water mark of the Potomac River to support the construction of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Washington Airport claimed that since title to the land extended to the low-water mark, the wall was being built on its property. Two years later, the Supreme Court held in Smoot Sand & Gravel Corp. v. Washington Airport, Inc., 283 U.S. 348 (1931) that the proper boundary of the state of Virginia was the high-water mark -- meaning that the rock wall was on land owned by the District of Coumbia.

On May 29, 1929, Fahy broke the world's record for non-refueled endurance flying when he remained aloft in a Lockheed Vega for 36 hours, 56 minutes, and 36 seconds.

In June 1929, Fahy attempted to set a coast-to-coast flight time record (Los Angeles-to-New York City) in a P&W Hornet-powered Lockheed Air Express. But he developed oil system problems over Kansas which splattered lubricant all over the sides of his plane. He landed at Kiowa, Kansas, and ended the attempt.

Fahy flew from Detroit to D.C. on April 20 in just three hours, a near-record. The next day, he attended his sister's wedding to Owen Raynor, Jr., at Concordia Lutheran Church in the city.

On April 25, 1930, Herb Fahy and his wife Claire Adams Fahy (also a noted pilot) flew a new Lockheed Sirius from Detroit to a grass strip in Roscommon, Michigan. The Roscommon airfield was owned by Cliff Durant, son of William Durant (the founder of General Motors), and he was thinking of buying the plane if it could handle the grass landing strip. The Fahys landed just fine. But during takeoff a few hours later, one of the plane's wheels hit a partially hidden stump which had not been removed from the runway. The plane flipped over, and Fahy suffered a fractured skull and a severe concussion. Claire survived uninjured. Fahy died just hours later, early on April 27, 1930, without regaining consciousness.

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