In early November 1909, people from all around the state began to pile into Valdosta, Georgia. They came from Naylor, Council, Nashville, Adel, Sparks, Milltown (Lakeland), Hahira, Statenville, Quitman, Cairo, Bainbridge, Mineola, Tarver, Alexanderville, Howell, Dupont, Broxton, Hawkinsville, Thomasville and Camilla. They came from Atlanta and Macon and Savannah. Up from Florida, they came from Hampton, Lake City, Jasper, Jennings, White Springs, Madison and Jacksonville. They came from Kentucky, New York, and Washington, D.C.
They had come to see the great carnival held in Valdosta November 9th to 13th. The carnival promised exhibits of trained animals, a dog and pony show, “the Human Butterfly”, free exhibition by “the Clown Elephant” on the streets of Valdosta, an automobile Calliope, and two brass bands. Most especially, they had come to see the Strobel Airship – the first flying craft ever to visit this part of the country – billed as “the greatest attraction ever seen here”. All the railroads offered excursion rates with daily round trips.
From Ray’s Mill, Georgia came B.L. Starling and F. M. Byrd. The 1910 Census shows Frank Byrd was a ‘machinist’ living in the Ray’s Mill District. Benjamin L. Starling was a farmer renting a farm in the 1157 Georgia Militia District, near the farms of Harmon L. Floyd, William Outlaw and Lucius Galveston Outlaw (L. G. Outlaw’s place became known as the J. C. Rowan place).
Starling and Byrd arrived on Saturday, November 6, 1909 and, like many of the visitors, stayed at Valdosta’s Florence Hotel. The hotel was located on South Patterson Street, Valdosta GA just across the street from the railway depot. The location was ideal because the train station was the site where the Strobel Airship would be launched.
The Strobel Airship was an early dirigible balloon large enough to take one man aloft, who rode in open rigging below the balloon. “The envelope of this mechanical marvel is 53 feet long and 14 1-2 feet in diameter. It is made of he finest Japanese silk and is inflated with 8,000 cubic feet of hydrogen gas which is the lightest substance known to science.”
Just one year earlier 25,000 spectators watched a pilot of one of the Strobel Airships plunge 500 feet to his death, after the hydrogen filled aircraft burst into flames during a flight at a county fair in Waterville, Maine. But after several delays, the crowd in Valdosta witnessed what was an impressive and successful flight.
Strobel airship made a beautiful Flight To-day
There was more rubber-necking in Valdosta today than all the people in the old town ever did before in all of their lives. The reason: The airship went up. Although the weather four or five hundred feet above the surface of the earth was rather stiff for a successful flight, Prof. Owens sailed over a considerable portion of the town, remaining in the air about fifteen minutes. The ascension was made at 12:15. Promptly at twelve o’clock the aerial bomb which is exploded just before flights, was set off and fifteen minutes later the ship was in the air The bomb will notify the people each day when to look for the ship. When you hear the bomb the flight follows within 15 minutes and the entire town will be circled each day. The airship is made of a specially wove Japanese silk, covered with eight coats of linseed varnish, four outside and four inside, which renders it perfectly impervious to gas or water, the dimensions of the vessel are 54 feet long and fifteen feet in diameter. it is inflated with hydrogen gas, the lightest substance known, which is made right on the ground. It takes about 7,500 cubic feet to inflate the vessel, which has a lifting capacity of 465 pounds.
Before each ascension the airship is balanced perfectly with the aid of sand ballast. Contrary to the opinion of many people the gas in the envelope of the airship does not lift it up, the ballast being so used as to keep it just barely suspended above the earth. The propellers pull the vessel up or down as the operator wishes. Of itself the vessel would not rise at all. When everything is ready for an ascension Prof. Owens starts his motor and moves to the rear of the frame work suspended to the ship. This causes the rear of the ship to move and the propellers then pull the vessel up into the air. Likewise, when the operator is ready to descend he moves to the front, depressing that end, and the vessel is pulled down by the propellers.
The airship is propelled by a seven-horse power air cooled gasoline engine, and the buzzing of the engine can be heard a considerable distance.
Prof. Owens went up four or five hundred feet this morning, and the graceful vessel presented a pretty picture, as it sailed over the city. The few doubters were silenced very effectually, and the people witnessed one of the most interesting feats of these modern and strenuous times.
Two flights will be made each day during the balance of the week, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Listen for the bomb, which will tell you when to look for the ship.