AKA William C. Robinson
Billy Robinson
Billy Robinson
Photo from the Billy Robinson Field Collection

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Billy Robinson


Fell from Height of 16,000 Feet_
Lost 300 Feet Very Sharply, and
Was Burned When Gasoline Tank
Exploded as He Hit the Ground.

     Grinnel, March 13.--W. C. (Billly) Robinson, one of the foremost American aviators and head of the Grinnell aero school, was killed instantly at 4:30 Saturday afternoon when his biplane, in which he was trying for an altitude record, plunged to the ground from a height of 16,700 feet. As the machine struck the ground the gasoline tank exploded and the resultant fire destroyed the plane and burned the aviator's body almost beyond recognition.
     The accident occurred near Ewart, ten miles from this city.
Was Young Man.
     Robinson was 32 years old, and is survived by his widow and four children. He had lived at Grinnell practically all his life. He had been in the flying game about six years and was holder of the American record for sustained flight, which he won a year ago, flying without a stop from Des Moines to Chicago and passing just north of Iowa City. Over Chicago he became confused, owing to a heavy fog which he encountered and finally landed near Hammond, Ind.
Body Taken to Grinell
     The aviator's body was brought back to Grinnell late Saturday by relatives.      Witnesses estimated the height at which Robinson was flying at 16,000 feet. While flying at that height the machine appeared to waver and started to fall. Evidently realizing his danger, Robinson endeavored to volplane gradually to
the earth and for more than 5,000 feet, according to witnesses, was marked by a series of fluttering drops at the end of which Robinson would succeed in righting the machine for a moment. When 300 feet from the ground, however, he lost control completely and the machine darted to the earth.
     The dead aviator was known as a cautious flyer and avoided the spectacular feats which characterized the performances of his contemporary, Lincoln Beachey.
     W. C. Robinson's heart became affected by the high altitude he reached in his aeroplane Saturday, so that he partially lost contrl of his muscles, which caused the fatal fall near Ewart.
     Such was the decision reached by physicians and mechanicians who examined the aviator's body and the wrecked machine immediately after the accident according to Hal Wells, general manager of the Grinnell Aero company.
     Wells talked with the flyer just before he started on his fatal trip. Robinson was determined to set an altitude record, and so expressed himself to his partner.
Up at Least 16,000 Feet.
     "I don't know how high he got," Wells explained. "but I am convinced that he was at least 16,000 feet in the air when he began falling."
     The Aero company and the aero school at Grinnell will be continued despite its founder's death. Wells already is in correspoindence with an aviator of prominence in Chicago who seems willing to take up the work of teaching Iowans aviation where Robinson left off.
Tried to Control It.
     Throughout the flight Robinson was within view of his watchers at
Grinnell, until he was within about 300 feet of the earth in his fall. At
that time the machine was making irregular volplanes towards the earth, as though the driver was trying to control the machine but lacked the strength.
     Wells drove an automobile loaded with physicians headed by Dr. O. F. Parish to the place of Robinson's fall. The found the aviator had fallen to a bowl-shaped field surrounded by high hills.
Hills Hid Tragic End.
     No one saw the last fall of about 300 feet, due to the hills, but some nearby watchers reached the wreck soon after it reached the ground. The petrol tank was bursted by the force of the fall, and caught fire from the motor, which was still in operation.
     The propeller was smashed, and Robinson's body was lying over the flames, which, when he had been pulled from the machine, had entirely destoryed both hands.
Control Wires in Shape.
     Examination of the wrecked machine showed all the control wires in shape. They were straight and untangled, and were in condition to be operated, so that the machine could have been controlled had Robinson been in control himself.
     A physician's examination of the body brought the declaration by the doctors that the flyer's heart undoubtedly had been so affected by the thin air in the altitude he had reached that it caused him partially to lose control of his muscles.
Will Hold No Inquest.
     Because of his condition it is thought he did his best in trying to operate the machine, thereby causing the unusual irregular fall.
     Funeral services will be held at Grinnell Tuesday morning. There will be no coroner's inquest.
Billy Robinson: 1916, Mar 13; Iowa City Citizen, The; Iowa City, Iowa p.1
From the records of Nancy Mess, PO Box 3984, Ithaca, NY 14852-3984

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

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