|Jack Vilas, 1913.|
One of the many episodes in the eventful early aviation years of Anthony Stadlman was his crash into Lake Michigan and his rescue by another Early Bird, Jack Vilas
Stadlman, Vilas and some other fliers were making frequent flights out of Chicago at the time, and Stadlman was testing a plane which he expected to use for passenger flights over the lake. Taking off from the water in his hydroplane in the sight of thousands on Chicago's north shore beaches, he skimmed over the lake, rose higher into the air, circled, and suddenly plunged into the water to the horror of the onlookers. Immediately launches and motor boats took off for the scene, but Jack Vilas and C. M. Voight, who had been watching from the hangar, took to Jack's airboat and beat them to Tony's rescue. They landed on the water nearby and were able to extricate Tony from the wires of the plane and took him ashore, injured by not seriously.
Walter wrote in his journal: "I received a letter from a friend of mine, Jack Vilas, in Chicago. He owned a Curtiss F-Boat of his own and had a friend, Stewart McDonald, who was having a Curtiss boat built and needed a pilot. He asked if I'd be interested in the job. I hadn't soloed the Curtiss boat at North Island yet, because I didn't have the money to put up the bond, but Raymond Morris, his instructor at North Island, said to take the Chicago job anyway and bluff it out." In May, Walter rode the day coach to Chicago. When he arrived he found the boat wasn't set up yet. Jack Vilas said not to worry, when it was ready, he would test hop it before Walter had to fly it. Then Vilas was called out of town. Before he left he took Walter aside and told him, "If theres a strong wind from the west or from the shore, don't try to test it."
"But Jack, there are always strong winds in Chicago," Walter joked. When the plane was ready, the wind blew strong for seven days, coming in from the west.
"The owner couldn't understand why I wouldn't try it out.l Finally one night, he really got mad and said if he could find another pilot in town that night who would fly it, I wouldn't have a job the next day.
Fortunately, he couldn't find anyone, and the next day the wind switched to a lazy east wind. I made two test flights and then proceeded to carry several of his friends for rides. Luckily, none of them knew how inexperienced a pilot I was."
Much of the historic data on pioneer aviation would have been lost had it not been for the Early Bird Society which had its origin at the Air Races in Chicago in 1928. A group of pioneer flyers headed by Jack Vilas and Ernest Jones got together and decided it was time to form an organization to keep track of pioneer flyers, to work out some safe place to store and exhibit their records, historic data, souveniers, and pictures and to preserve these for posterity before it should be too late. They also resolved to bring all possible pressure to bear for the return of the original Wright aiplane to the United States from England, where Orville Wright had allowed it to be shipped after a misunderstanding with the Smithsonian Institute about the wording on a plaque placed there in memory of Dr. Langley, another pioneer of aviation.
THE FIRST FLIGHT ACROSS LAKE MICHIGAN
FROM ST. JOSEPH MICHIGAN TO CHICAGO, ILLINOIS
WAS COMPLETED BY
TO RECORD THIS MILEPOST IN AVIATION HISTORY
THIS TABLET IS PLACED BY THE CHICAGO AERO COMMISSION
W. A. Patterson, President of United Air Lines Says:
"United Air Lines is pleased to announce that a Boeing 720 Jet Mainliner has been named in honor of Jack Vilas. The Jet was named the "Mainliner Jack Vilas" in ceremonies at Chicago O'Hare International Airport, June 19, in honor of Mr. Vilas' many pioneering contributions to commercial aviation".