I need a photo of him. If you can help, please contact me..

via email from Paul Shaw, 1-28-05
Updated on 5-8-06
Dear Mr. Cooper,
     I am writing to thank you for the web site honoring my great uncle, William DeVotie Billingsley. He was one of my grandmother's brothers, and the subject of some conversation as I was growing up.
     I thought I might give you the "family" information so that you might be able to provide additional narrative to your story.
     My grandmother, Alma Billingsley Shaw, was born in Lodi, Mississippi, and lived in Winona for the first part of her long life. She had several brothers and sisters, one of whom was DeVotie.
     He was flying a Wright bi-plane, a B-2, when the accident occurred. The Wright B-2 had been converted to a hydroplane by the addition of pontoons. DeVotie and Lt. Towers were likely lying on the wing, not tied or belted in. There was another bi-plane following. It was a Curtiss which was manned by two Naval officers, Ensign G. DeC. Chevalier and Lieut. I.F. Dortch, U.S.N. Family lore had him flying a Curtiss, but the Naval records differ. Being an old Navy man, I choose to believe the Navy's account.
     According to Lt. Towers, and the observers on the other airplanes, the Billingsley craft hit an air pocket and dropped abruptly, lurching forward and down, throwing Billingsley from the wing and through the tail section, his body damaging the rigging to the point that the upper wing folded down, dooming the aircraft. Lt. Towers, also thrown from the airplane, luckily caught a strut or cable with his arm, and clung to the now-collapsed airplane as it plummeted towards the water, 1,600 feet below.
     DeVotie Billingsley's father, William DeVotie Billingsley, would for years sit in his Mississippi home and relate the details of his son's demise, telling how DeVotie's body spiraled around and around as he fell toward the river. He would indicate the spiraling death fall with his hand before holding his face in his hands and mourning his great loss.
     Towers rode the damaged plane almost to the water. The plane, at first taking a steep nose-dive, swooped to a level attitude a couple of times as it descended, then resumed its precipitous decline. Just before it impacted the river, the wreckage leveled out enough for Lt. Towers to push himself clear, and fall to the water.
     The story I heard was that Lt. Towers impacted the water on his side, and was rescued by onlookers. Confident that he may well die, he insisted on telling his story before being taken for medical attention.
     Ensign Billingsley was loved and respected by his family, and looked at with admiration by his brothers and sisters.
     Thank you for the respectful way you have portrayed him.
Paul H. Shaw
Harriman, TN

     If you search for "I. F. Dortch", using the Google search engine, (5-8-06), you will find about 4 links.

The History of Naval Aviator and Naval Aviation Pilot Designations and Numbers, The Training of Naval Aviators and the Number Trained (Designated)
     This revue of UNITED STATES NAVAL AVIATION 1910-1995 on page 413 offers one of the few mentions of Dortch as a naval aviator. The relevant paragraphs are as follows:

"During the winter of 1912–1913, the aviation camp at Greenbury Point, Md., moved to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for its first exercises with the fleet. Captain Washington I. Chambers’ report to the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation in 1913 identified the following Naval Aviators:
T. G. Ellyson, J. Rodgers, J. H. Towers, V. C.Herbster, P. N. L. Bellinger,
A. B. L. Smith, G. deC Chevalier, A. A. Cunningham, W. D. Billingsley,
L. N.McNair, H. C. Richardson, I. F. Dortch, H. C. Mustin and J. D. Burray. The last seven in this list of Naval Aviators were Navy-trained."

     That is the only mention of his name in the article. You can access the page by clicking on the title above.

USS Cole (DD155)
     This is one of several links to websites which repeat the basic information on the destroyer. I. F. Dortch is mentioned as the first commanding officer on June 19, 1919. This one includes a small photograph of the Cole, alongside the USS Langley (CV-1) , the US Navy's first aircraft carrier. Perhaps it was not an accident that a Naval Aviator was in command of the destroyer which supported the Langley. You can access the page by clicking on the title above.


I have no information as to the date of his birth.

Editor's Note:
If you have any more information on this pioneer aviator,
please contact me.
E-mail to Ralph Cooper

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