Wednesday, December 18, 2013
AUGUSTA -- Stuffed into the cockpit of the world's smallest jet, Peter Reny, who first learned to fly at Maine Instrument Flight while a junior at Cony High School, made a big, smoke-spewing entrance Wednesday night.
Reny was at the controls of his BD-5J, a 12-foot-long, 450-pound jet, one of only six in the world, as some 200 spectators gathered at the Augusta State Airport to watch.
The rare experimental plane provided a modern, raucous counterpart to a wide ranging discussion of the state's and Augusta's significant, and sometimes quirky, aviation history by John D. Davis, of Yarmouth, author of "Early Wings Over Maine" Wednesday. The talk took place, appropriately enough, in the Maine Instrument Flight hanger at Augusta State Airport.
Reny, a commercial airline pilot who usually flies 737s, plans to fly the Guinness World Record holding world's smallest jet in air shows across the country. He'll be sponsored by Augusta-based Maine Instrument Flight, where he earned his pilot's license as a Cony senior, in 1982.
"This was the inspiration for me getting into flying, I saw it when I was 12 years old," Reny said of the aircraft, which he will fly out of Augusta to air shows after the main runway of the airport opens back up at the end of the month.
The plane can reach 350 miles per hour and is the same model featured in a James Bond movie "Octopussy" in which Roger Moore, as Bond, unfolds its wings in time to take off and escape an army of enemy soldiers, later flying through a hangar to avoid a heat-seeking missile which explodes inside the hanger, then running out of fuel and landing on a road, coasting to a stop at a gas station where Moore asks the attend to "fill it up, please."
Some 101 years ago, Augusta was the site of the first airplane flight in Maine, Davis said.
Aug. 9, 1911, eight years after the Wright brothers' historic first flight, St. Croix Johnstone took off from Augusta in his Moisant monoplane. His runway was a baseball field, because no airports existed then.
"They hauled him back to second base and aimed him to the outfield and off he flew," Davis told the crowd. "It was the very first time anybody had flown a plane in Maine. Just imagine, you'd never seen a plane fly before, you'd never seen anything in the sky but birds, and then here's this machine. We take it for granted now."
Thousands of spectators watched as Johnstone flew over the Kennebec River for about a half hour.
Less than a week later, Johnstone, who was part of a traveling air show, plunged to his death, his monoplane crashing into the water at an international aviation meet in Chicago, his hometown.
Davis said his own interest in planes took off when his father and he drove to the Augusta State Airport in 1937 to see an air show. Davis' book features numerous photographs taken by his father, an aviation buff.
Other highlights about state aviation from 1911 to 1940 discussed by Davis included the early attempts to fly across the Atlantic from Old Orchard Beach; the pioneering aviator Amelia Earhardt's visit to Augusta in 1934 as part of a flying ensemble promoting a proposed airline and the visits to Maine by Charles Lindbergh, who was the first person to fly nonstop across the Atlantic.
The event was hosted by the Kennebec Historical Society. At the start of the session, John Bradley of Historic New England, presented the local historical society with a grant of $1,000 to help pay off the mortgage of the society's Augusta headquarters.
Keith Edwards -- 621-5647