AKA Charles Christian Witmer
Charles C. Witmer
Charles Witmer in "Lizzie", 1911
US Naval Historical Center, collections of T.G. Ellyson and J. L. Callan
From WALDO: Pioneer Aviator

     Charles Witmer, one of the civilian students, became a great buddy of Ellyson's. They were seen so much together that they earned the tag, "The Gold Dust Twins," after the popular powdered soap brand - or was it because Witmer had been an Alaskan gold miner? Once, when Curtiss was working on the new pontoon, he asked Witmer to accompany him aloft in order to observe how it behaved upon water contact, and the only place for Charlie to sit was upon the pontoon. To get into position he had to crawl under the wing and through a maze of wires and struts. Curtiss then took off and came in for a test landing. He misjudged his height and hit the water with a terrific smack, splitting the pontoon wide open and causing the plane to sink immediately to the bottom. Being in Spanish Bight, the water was quite shallow, only about 4 feet deep, and Curtiss simply stood up on his seat and didn't even get wet. But where was Witmer? We started to get worried, and Spuds was tearing off his clothes and rushing for the water when Charlie suddenly popped up like a cork. Even though a good swimmer, he'd had a devil of a time fighting his way out of that underwater cage.
     Witmer later flew with the Curtiss Exhibition Team, and also spent a couple of years in Russia accompanied by Hugh Robinson with George Hallett as mechanician. They demonstrated the hydroaeroplane at Sevastopol in 1912 before the Grand Duke Alexander Michaelovitch, president of the Aerial League and a member of the Imperial Aero Club of Russia. The Czar's Navy then purchased several, and by 1914 over half of Russian aircraft were Curtiss. Witmer's own aviation career continued for many more years.
From WALDO: Pioneer Aviator

Ward & Witmer
Jimmy Ward & Charles Witmer
courtesy Bob Flippen
of Southside Virginia Historical Press
in Farmville, VA, 2-17-06

     Not until 1913 was sufficient interest aroused in the United States to warrant a contest for water craft. Under the auspices of Aero & Hydro , a Great Lakes "Reliability Cruise" was organized for the week of July 8--the course to follow the shoreline from Chicago to Detroit via the Straits of Mackinac. It was heralded as the biggest competitive aerial event of the year.
     Most of the pilots who had taken up the practice of flying over water were on the entry list - a total of fifteen names. John B. R. Verplanck, an affluent sportsman from the Hudson River Valley, and his seasoned pilot, Beckwith Havens, entered a Curtiss flying boat with a 90-hp Curtiss motor, as did Charles C. Witmer, Jack Vilas, G.M. Hecksher, and Navy Lieutenant John H. Towers, Antony Jannus, Hugh Robinson, and Tom Benoist entered Benoist flying boats, each with a Hall-Scott motor of 100 hp.
From AERO & HYDRO, May 17, 1913

Charles Witmer Hydroplane on Biscayne Bay takes off with the Royal Palm Hotel in the background HASF collection

The School for Famous Flyers:

In the winter of 1912, just a few months after aviator Howard Gill introduced flight to South Florida, the first "hydroplane" arrived in Miami. Hydroplanes were early seaplanes developed bv Glenn H. Curtiss. Late in 1911 , Curtiss had agreed to Everest G. Sewell's request that he open a flying school in South Florida during the winter months. Students taking the course would learn to fly and maintain both land and seaplanes.
     Charles C. Witmer, an experienced pilot who had previously instructed army and navy personnel, was in charge of the Curtiss Flying School. The land school was at N.W. l7th Avenue and 2Oth Street, while hydroplane instructions were given on
Biscayne Bay near the Royal Palm Hotel where Witmer was staying. Classes began on January 12 and lasted through April. The four graduating students were Barney Moran, Augustine Parla, W. W.Vaughan. and Senor Martini. Witmer's stay in Miami was brief, just a few months in 1912 and possiblv another vlsit in 1916, and he eventually settled in Santa Barbara, California. However, a letter from Witmer to Curtiss dated July 31, 1925, enhanced with photographs of the hydroplane, remains to show a fragment of life in Miami in 1912.
     After a few introductory remarks, Witmer writes.
     "Now about the school for famous
flyers. I am afraid that if we gave the real history of every one shown in the picture you sent me (see Photoqraph above). it would read like a hard luck story. On the left is myself, Charles Christian Witmer, etc., etc., etc. Then Barney P. Moran who never made a flight after leaving the school in Hammondsport but was a very good pilot. Then C. A. Vaughn from Virginia, who could handle the plane after his first two hops and was a good flver belofe he left the school."He was quite wealthy and upon his return home from the school his mother prevailed upon him and he gave up flying and, as far as I know, never flew again. The next chap (Beachey Lincoln) is a bird from Elmira, N.Y. Came all the way
Article from 1985 which appeared in the Historical Association of Florida update Magazine
Contributed by Alan Magluta, 7-23-11

     If you search for "Charles Witmer" +aviation, using the Google search engine, (2-18-06), you will find about 27 links. One of the most helpful is the following. If time permits, you will be rewarded by visiting the other sites which are listed.

Photographs 1911
The Birth of Naval Aviation
     This page on Jack Carpenter's "GLENN H. CURTISS, Founder of The American Aviation Industry" website, offers a remarkable collection of photographs, many including Charles Witmer along with other Curtiss' pioneers. You may want to use the FIND function on Witmer to find each photo among the extensive collection. You can access the page by clicking on the title above.
     If time permits, I heartily recommend that you visit the homepage of the site and take advantage of the many fine photos and stories which Jack had assembled over the years.

Charles C. Witmer was born on June 6, 1882
He died in 1929
Birthdate courtesy of Joe Gertler
Date of death from The Early Birds of Aviation
Roster of members, January 1, 1966

  Recommended Further Reading:
WALDO: Pioneer Aviator
A Personal History of American Aviation, 1910-1944
by Waldo Dean Waterman
with Jack Carpenter
Arsdalen, Bosch & Co.

  Recommended Links:
Walter E. Lees on North Island, 1915

BackNext Home