History

Is Texas the True Home of First in Flight? A Texas Airship Tale

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Texans are made of tough stuff, that is nothing new. Consider the life and work of Jacob Brodbeck. A German immigrant who arrived in Fredericksburg during March of 1847, Brodbeck taught school, became a citizen of the United States in 1852, married Maria Christine Sophie Behrens in 1858, and fathered twelve children. Oh, and he also holds controversial status as one of the first people to achieve flight.

Nearly 40 years before the Wright Brothers’ Ohio-developed, North Carolina-flown powered flight, Brodbeck tinkered with mechanics and inventing. His previous works included a self-winding clock and an ice-making apparatus. He built an “air-ship” model in 1863, complete with wings, a rudder, and coiled springs powered by propellers. Success from displaying his models at local fairs led to fundraising in order to build an air-ship with the ability to carry a person. Shareholders eventually included names such as Herff, Guenther, and Engel.

Is Texas the True Home of First in Flight? A Texas Airship Tale

Photo: envato elements

Impressively equipped with an enclosed space, a compass, and a barometer, as well as a water propeller for accidental water landings, the air-ship was completely built and set to fly. Here, stories begin to divide. One version of events says Brodbeck achieved his inaugural flight on September 20, 1865, about three miles east of Luckenbach. A second description has the first airlift in San Antonio’s San Pedro Park, and a third variation notes the liftoff occurred in 1868, instead of 1865. Wherever it happened and in what year is unknown, but the craft’s rough landing is well recorded, fortunately without injury to Brodbeck or bystanders, after the air-ship rose 12 feet off the ground and sailed roughly 100 feet.

Is Texas the True Home of First in Flight? A Texas Airship Tale

Photo: envato elements

Unhappy shareholders meant no second craft was constructed, although Brodbeck endeavored to raise capital. After no success, he worked his ranch until dying on January 8, 1910, in Luckenbach. As no blueprints or photographs endure of Brodbeck’s air-ship, his triumphs in aviation cannot be proved. Ultimately, although Jacob Brodbeck and others across the world have claimed ‘first in flight,’ the legacy of Orville and Wilbur Wright remain as their design was engineered to evolve into an enduring technology. In fact, to this day, all airplanes fly on the brothers’ unchanged rudimentary principles.