When Aviation Came To Panama
by George Chevalier

Be so advised that this story does not come from personal memories. In 1912 officials of the City of Panama established a purse of $3000 for the first intrepid birdman to fly the skies of Panama. And so R.J.Collier of Colliers Magazine prepared a team and his plane to come down to try to be the first. His pilot was A.L.Welsh, mechanic was O.G.Simmons and his staff photographer James Hare boarded the SS Turrialba in Jan.1912 and soon arrived in Colon. The plane was a Wright Model 1910,TypeB and they looked for a suitable site to land and take off but they found none on the Atlantic side. After touring the dry canal line and talks with Col. Goethals revealed no suitable site along the line the mechanic stated that they could not expect more than 15min. continuous running of the engine. That convinced them it was futile to go on so they packed up and returned to NYC. While still in Panama Jessie Seligman, another early aviator arrived, to try for the prize. Jessie had been run out of Jamaica for failing to fly and live up to his promises. He brought with him a Bleriot Monoplane and unloaded it on the Cristobal Docks. Jessie again decided not to attempt flight and returned to the States leaving his crated plane behind in Cristobal. It must be remembered that the hot humid weather played havoc with the materials in those early planes. The rubberized wing fabric sagged at times destroying lift and the glue in the propellers wood pieces failed causing them to come apart. Enters now Clarence DeGiers who has Jessie Seligmans plane brought over to the Pacific side and on Sunday, April 21,1912 he flies at La Cabana in the Juan Franco Field in front of 4000 people to be the first and win the prize. One year later Robert Fowler arrives to try to be the first to fly over the Isthmus, ocean to ocean. Using a plane with pontoons he launches forth from Bella Vista Beach with a motion picture cameraman aboard and on Sunday, April 27th he successfully crosses following the canal line. Landing in Cristobal the plane had its pontoon damaged by rocks in shallow water. Back in the states the movie film was eagerly being shown in theaters about the country when Govt. agents swooped down and confiscated all the film it could find claiming it revealed too much of canal and the new fortifications. Immediately laws were enacted which forbid any flights over the Canal Zone without prior permission but aviation had indeed arrived in Panama.