For most of human history, flight was an impossible dream. In this short, the dizzying rise and fall of a pilot whose aeronautic feats changed aviation forever and turned chancy stunts into acrobatic mastery.

Lincoln Beachey is one of the most famous men you’ve never heard of. Born in 1887 in San Francisco, Beachy was lonely, chubby kid who, as authors Sam Kean and Frank Marrero tell us, nobody would have suspected of becoming a hero. But he was fearless. By the age of 10 he was hurling himself down San Francisco’s stomach-churning Fillmore Hill on a bicycle with no brakes. 

But what Beachy really wanted to do was fly airplanes. Then one day, while working as a mechanic at an airshow in Los Angeles, he got his big break: a star pilot got hurt, and Beachey leaped in to take his place. He shot upwards, 3,000 feet into the air…and his motor failed. He went into a nose-diving spin that no pilot had ever survived. And he did what no pilot had ever done: he turned into the spin, regained control, and landed safe and sound.

After that, Beachey became a superstar. At a time when the entire population of the US was 90 million people, 17 million came out to see him fly in just one year. He invented figure 8s and the vertical drop, and was the first pilot to achieve terminal velocity by flying straight toward the ground. In fact, what Beachey did was so extraordinary, and so dangerous, that a wave of pilots died trying to imitate him. After the death of a dear friend of his, Beachey finally vowed to retire. And he did. For three months. Until he finally buckled…and strapped himself back in a cockpit to master the trick of all tricks: the loop the loop. Lincoln perfected it—looping so effortlessly he seemed to own the sky. Until his final flight in 1915, where he stunned the crowds—a quarter of a million fans at the World’s Fair in San Francisco—one last time.

Related reads:

Sam Kean's The Disappearing Spoon

Frank Marrero's Lincoln Beachey: The Man Who Owned the Sky

Thanks to the talented jump-ropers at CS 200 in Harlem, and singers at LaGuardia School of the Arts!

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