Jesse Brabazon was a
genuine Early Bird, entitled to wear the checkered cap that only
Americans who soloed prior to December 1916 have earned. Born on the
family farm near Delavan in 1885, Brabazon enrolled at Max Lillie’s
flight school in the Chicago suburb of Cicero in 1912. There he
became one of the first, if not the first, Wisconsin native to learn
how to fly a Wright Brothers aircraft, the two-seater Model B.
Relocating to Lima,
Ohio, he embarked on a barnstorming tour of the Midwest. He also
acquired a piece of fabric from the Vin Fiz. Cal Rogers used that
airplane to make the first flight across the United States in 1911.
Brabazon later donated the fabric to the Smithsonian Institution
where it remains today.
In 1916, recruiters
from England attempted to enlist Brabazon in the Royal Air Force.
Instead he volunteered for the U.S. Army in hope of flying in
Mexico. He was disqualified because of an earlier knee injury.
Haunted by the memory of friends lost in airplane crashes, Brabazon
quit flying and returned to Wisconsin.
Jesse settled in
Beloit and, when the U.S. entered World War II, he became the oldest
pilot in the Wisconsin Wing of the Civil Air Patrol. He spent the
last years of his life compiling and writing a book that ranks among
the first memoirs of aviation’s early days by a Wisconsin author. He
died in 1969.
Brabazon learning to fly at
Max Lillie's school
Jesse Brabazon, Wisconsin Wing,
Civil Air Patrol, ca 1942
Jesse Brabazon ca 1954