Monday, November 5, 2012

James C. Mars and Thomas Scott Baldwin: Early Aviation Pioneers in Asia

During the early years of flight, a number of young men learned how to fly the new "flying machines" and became daredevil aviators. These aviators are the men and women who not only set the first world records for flight, but also paved the way for air travel as we know it.

Thomas Scott Baldwin's plane, the Red Devil. (Mark Pellegrini/Wikimedia Commons)
Two of these men were the Americans James C. "Bud" Mars (1876-1944) and US Army Capt. Thomas Scott Baldwin (1854-1923). Just a few years after Wilbur and Orville Wright made their historic first flight in Kitty Hawk, NC in 1903, Bud Mars was one of the first daredevil pilots. He became America's eleventh licensed pilot and the first aviator to fly over a number of American states, including Arkansas and Hawaii. Thanks to these historic firsts and his death-defying flying exploits (which included a crash into the Atlantic Ocean where he nearly drowned, as well as a near-crash into the Rocky Mountains), he became a celebrity in the US during the late 1900s. Cpt. Baldwin was one of America's first balloonists who made history in 1885 when he jumped out of a balloon in mid-air with a parachute. He also made a number of circus performances involving a hot-air balloon and a trapeze. After the Wright Brothers made their flight, Baldwin mastered the biplane as well.

Sometime at the end of 1910, Capt. Baldwin organized an exhibition for the Asia-Pacific region to demonstrate the airplane. He managed to get Mars and fellow "aeronaut" Tod Shriver on board. Throughout 1911, the three put on performances in countries which included Hawaii, Japan, Russia, Indonesia, India, Thailand, China, the Philippines, and Korea. Mars performed breath-taking stunts for the amazed (or terrified) crowds with his plane while Baldwin performed stunts with his own plane, the Red Devil.

During their exhibition, they reportedly had 750,000 people show up in Osaka to watch their flights. At the time, this was the largest crowd ever to show up for an air show. In Manila, a crowd almost as large showed up to watch the two fly at the 1911 Manila Carnival. During the Manila performance, Bud Mars became the first person to fly in the skies over the Philippines when he orbited the Manila Carnival Tower.

Throughout their Asian journey , the exhibition experienced a number of "interesting incidents." While performing in Japan, Mars claimed to have almost been killed by a mob of villagers in one Japanese village who were fearful of the new contraption. He also claimed to have had constant protection from the Japanese authorities during their stay in Korea due to the possibility of having more "unfriendly" run-ins from fearful villagers. Also, Baldwin and Mars unintentionally caused panic in many of the areas of Asia they visited among people who were unfamiliar with airplanes and saw these alien contraptions flying in the skies over their cities.

Also in this exhibition, the trio made aviation history. Bud Mars made aviation history yet again when he made the first flights over the Philippines and, quite possibly, Korea as well. While not being the first aviators to fly over the skies of most of the countries they visited, he and Baldwin were the first to fly over a number of regions in these countries. Also while in Siam (Thailand), HRH King Rama VI became one of the first - if not the first - Thai king to fly in an airplane when he went for a short 12 mile (19 km)  flight in Mars's airplane.

Two countries Mars and Baldwin left very profound impacts on during their visits were Japan and the Philippines. In Japan, they aroused much interest in the "flying machines" and donated an airplane, helping spark Japan's own breed of aviators and airplane industry. In the Philippines (which was also the first stop of their Asian exhibition), they sold planes to one of the country's first flight schools. These planes - and Mars's first flight over Manila - helped set the stage for air travel in the Philippines.

All in all, Capt. Baldwin and Bud Mars's exhibition helped change history in Asia. They introduced the airplane to parts of the world which were still largely unaware of its existence and helped pave the way for these countries to enter the world of aviation themselves.

For more information about James C. Mars and the 1911 exhibition, here are some webpages for you: (New York Times articles from 1911 about James C. Mars.) (Article about Mars and Baldwin's visit to Korea, James C. Mars's account of the visit, and the continuing dispute over whether or not they were the first pilots to fly over Korea.) (Pictures and info about Baldwin and Mars's Manila visit and their performances there.)


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