The Savidge Brothers
In 1911, seven brothers constructed and flew one of the first heavier-than-air machines made in Nebraska. The seven were the Savidge brothers, George, John, Joe, Dave, Matt, Phillip and Louis from Ewing, NE. In partnership as inventors, mechanics and pilots, their aircraft was an exposed cockpit biplane model.
The dream of flying was born early in the brothers. There was a large barn on the Savidge place, located eleven miles South and ½ West of Ewing. The haymow of this barn became the workshop for the brothers. The boys started with gliders, studying hawks in flight. They then built models, increasing them in size until they were in proportion to the weight of a cat. They then tied one of the farm cats to the glider and would slide them out of the haymow door. When the gliders were perfected so that they would land with a live cat without crashing, they enlarged their gliders to work with a man.
The boys bought their engines, propellers and rubber tired wheels custom made. They had no plans but their own to work from and their first flights were made from a meadow on their home place. After awhile, they perfected their craft so that they could circle and land the plane to the same place they had taken off from. They put a notice in the paper stating that anyone who wished to see them fly could come to the farm on May 7, 1911. It was on that evening that Matt Savidge became Nebraska’s first pilot.
The brothers perfected their airplane until they were sure it was safe and then started on barnstorming trips in the Midwest states. For five years the Savidges successfully flew their plane. During this time Matt, the most daring of the boys, learned to loop the plane as well as other stunts. He was the first pilot in the world to introduce skywriting. He mapped out his name on paper. Then tied smoke candles to the frame of his plane.
During the summer of the fifth year, the boys completed one of their airplanes. John took it up for a test flight but was not satisfied with the way it worked. Matt then decided to try it for some of his stunts. The rest of the brothers tried to stop him but Matt overrode them. He ascended to a height of five or six hundred feet and started a spiral glide. All went well until the last hundred feet when the plane plunged straight down, nose first. The front of the plane was driven into the earth and the engine landed on Matt, who was killed instantly. It has remained a mystery with the Savidges why the plane crashed, as the engine was running smoothly until it hit the earth. There was speculation that strut wires or the control wires jammed. This tragic accident ended their flying careers.
The planes were dismantled, the engines boxed and the wings and propellers stored in the barn. Parts of these planes are in the possession of different members of the Savidge family today.
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