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First Flight in Tampa Bay

September 16, 2020

Getting from Tampa to St. Petersburg, FL before 1914 took five-hours by train, or a slow steamboat across the bay.

Enter Tony Jannus, a famous pilot and barnstormer known for his adventurous stunts. In 1912 he set a new record for an overwater flight between the two cities. This caught the attention of businessmen Percival Fansler, invested in Jannus’ “flying boats” creating a commercial route.

The first ticket was bought at auction for $400. The first flight took place Jan. 1, 1914 in front of 3,000 aviation fans. The Benoist plane took 23 minutes to reach its destination on a 75 horsepower engine traveling about 60 miles per hour.

Fansler addressed the crowd when the airboat arrived. “What was impossible yesterday is an accomplishment today, while tomorrow heralds the unbelievable.”

The Airboat Line’s commercial fares were $5 one way. Jannus made two flights a day. The airline booked charters to Egmont Key, Pass-a-Grille, Clearwater and other nearby waterfront locations.

In the twenties, Florida was booming. Eddie Rickenbacker established Florida Airways in 1926. The airline had four planes that could carry eight passengers and two crewmembers. According to the Florida Center for Instructional Technology, fares were based on railroad fares plus $5 for each hour saved. It cost $30 to ride the train from Jacksonville to Tampa and $70 by plane because the plane saved 8 hours. Florida Airways served Miami, Ft. Myers, Tampa, Jacksonville, Atlanta, and Macon. No pets—yet.

Photo: Janus is pictured at the helm of one of the Benoist planes. (Photo from the State Archives of Florida).

Sources: “Tampa 100,” (Aug. 27, 2020), “Exploring Florida, University of South Florida” (http://fcit.usf.edu/florida/lessons/aviation/aviation.htm#)



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