Updated: Dec 1, 2022
Stunt flying! Airplane races! Passenger flights! Famous aviators!
Lieut. Cobb, in army pursuit plane, banking over crowd at Dunn Field during air maneuvers on Labor Day- Republican staff photographer
The greater Springfield area celebrated Labor Day weekend in 1927 with a huge air show at Dunn Field in Longmeadow. Dunn Field was located in the flat land near the Connecticut River in the area currently surrounded by Dunn Road.
Dunn Field location in Longmeadow, MA (2020)
Dunn Field was the prime, but not only, candidate for a proposed municipal airport for the City of Springfield. Commercial Trust Company purchased the Dunn property in May 1927 and started improving the field to make it suitable for use as an airfield. Despite these improvements, it always remained a grass field; Dunn Field was never paved.
This was the early heyday of aviation. Charles Lindbergh had flown the Spirit of St. Louis nonstop to Paris in May 1927 and, that summer, the country was crazy for flying. To capitalize on this enthusiasm, and to build momentum for a Springfield airport, a group of Springfield businessmen organized the three-day Aerial Pageant on Labor Day weekend.
At least 20 aviators took part in the festivities, including Miss Thea Rasche, a German woman air ace; Baron Raven E. Barnekow, a member of Richthofen’s famous flying circus; Capt. Christopher Ford, a World War flying ace; and Prince Alexis Dawydoff, a Russian World War flyer. Planes represented in the show included Curtiss Oriole, Curtiss Hawk,
Army PT-1, Waco, and Swallow.
An aerial parade
Passenger rides – an estimated 1,000 persons took to the air each day of the event.
Landing-on-the-mark contest won by Lieut. Barrows came within 4’ 2” of the mark.
Altitude contest, won by a Curtiss Oriole piloted by William P. Thomas which reached 5400 feet.
Mt. Tom Derby – the race winner completed the course in 6.5 minutes.
Bomb-dropping contest (bags filled with white powder, not real explosives!)
The Labor Day Derby – a race from Dunn field to Worcester, then Hartford, then back to Dunn.
The most popular events involved stunt flying. The Springfield Republican described it in great detail:
"The high light of yesterday’s program was the stunting competition between Lieut. Richard Cobb of Boston in a Curtiss Hawk, about the fastest army ship now in service, and Lieut. R. C. Barrows of Hartford, in his Waco commercial plane. The cup for the event went to Lieut. Barrows for the points he gained, not only by his spectacular rolls, dives and spins in the higher altitudes, but a “deadstick” landing from 2000 feet, in which he brought himself within a few feet of a set mark on the ground.
Barrows received hearty applause on the completion of his feat, which required the utmost in courage, skill and daring. Shutting off his motor at 2000 feet, he balanced his light ship and nosed her slowly toward the ground, keeping her at all times under perfect control. As he neared the ground, absolute silence crept over the crowd, many of whom realized that a slip at a low altitude meant sure death. Barrows slid the little plane into a perfect three-point landing.
Meanwhile, Cobb in the Hawk climbed far into the clouds some 5000 feet overhead and plunged the little plane back and forth into their tenuous haze until he had dispelled three or four of the minor formations. This was not particularly difficult, but it was novel, and the crowd liked it. Another thing the crowd liked about the Cobb exhibition was his diving almost to the crowd at 200 miles an hour and then zooming upward just as he reached the borderline of the throng. Women hid behind automobiles as he hurled the Hawk toward the crowd, and men cowered a bit too, but recovered in time to see the fast orange army plane zooming to a height of several hundred feet. Each stunt was greeted with loud applause and salvos from the horns of myriad automobiles on the field.”
On the final day of the event, Labor Day, the wedding of Miss Velma E. Crotty and Mr. Ralph S. Housman took place as part of the festivities. They were married in a Longmeadow cottage near the flying field, then they left the field in a Stinson-Detroiter six-passenger plane for their honeymoon flight to Hartford and back.
While the grandstands built for the event could hold 2,000 people, the Springfield Republican estimated that 20,000 spectators were at the field each day. Springfield Street Railway ran buses from Court Square to the field. Automobile traffic entered through the Depot Road entrance to West Road and exited through Birnie Road. The newspaper promised that, “For the next three days there will be the almost incessant humming of motors overhead and people may look in any direction for an airman looping and zooming high overhead.” The prediction proved to be correct and the Air Pageant was a huge success. Having received a sampling of the impact of an airport in their town, Longmeadow residents strongly objected to the proposed Springfield airport being located at Dunn Field. The city decided to establish the Springfield Airport in the northern part of the city instead. This airport, which was located where Springfield Plaza is now, was later abandoned for Bradley Airport. Click here for more information on the Springfield Airport. We know that flights continued at Dunn Field after the Aerial Pageant, but commercial air traffic relocated to Springfield Airport by 1929.
Springfield Republican: May 25, 1927; July 18, 1927; Aug. 31, 1927; Sept. 3, 1927; Sept. 4, 1927; Sept. 5, 1927; Sept. 12, 1927
Contributed by Elizabeth Hoff, Board Member, Longmeadow Historical Society
Originally published September 3, 2020