Airborne Awesomosity

Betting Man


Last week marked 58 years since a relatively unknown yet undoubtedly impressive stunt was pulled off in New York City (and this week is 56 years since it was pulled off again, but we’ll get to that momentarily). On the late evening of September 30, 1956, the young Thomas Fitzpatrick, whilst enjoying some tasty beverages in a Washington Heights barroom, found himself engaging in a bit of a friendly wager. The wager in question, according to third-hand retellings, was that Mr. Fitzpatrick could, or could not, make it back to the bar in 15 minutes from New Jersey.

Being challenged so, the only recourse was to take the trip to New Jersey, and prove it. The solution he had to this dilemma was relatively simple–‘Mr. Fitzpatrick, then 26, took a single-engine plane from the Teterboro School of Aeronautics in New Jersey and took off without lights or radio contact and landed on St. Nicholas Avenue near 191st Street.

The New York Times called it a “fine landing” and reported that it had been widely called “a feat of aeronautics.”’

There were some in the city that were mildly displeased about this stunt, and Mr. Fitzpatrick was initially charged with the theft of the plane. The plane owner, perhaps out of admiration for the impressive feat of strength, declined to press charges, so instead the charges were reduced to the lesser crime of ‘landing a plane in the street’, which was (and perhaps still is) specifically against city code. Once the landing fees of $100 were paid to the city, the whole matter seemed settled.

Until just over two years later. That’s when, in another bar in the same neighborhood, Mr. Fitzpatrick now found his truthiness in question. ‘On Oct. 4, 1958, just before 1 a.m., he took again a plane from Teterboro and this time landed on Amsterdam and 187th Street in front of a Yeshiva University building after having “come down like a marauder from the skies,” in the words of Ruben Levy, the magistrate at Mr. Fitzpatrick’s ensuing arraignment. Newspapers reported that Mr. Fitzpatrick jumped out of the landed plane wearing a gray suit and fled, but later turned himself in.

Mr. Fitzpatrick told the police that he had pulled off the second flight after a bar patron refused to believe he had done the first one.’

Via the New York Times, who owns the lead image.

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