The Aero Squadron of San Diego was established in 1910. Charles Francis Walsh was instrumental in starting the Club. Walsh received his Aviator License, Number 1, from the Aero Club of Los Angeles. He was posthumously awarded the first pilot license by the Aero Club of California.
That year, the US Grant Hotel was completed in San Diego, and Glenn Curtiss was just sizing up North Island for plane building, when “Walsh entered the novice meet held by the Aero Club of California in which he captured all prizes and trophies.”
By October, San Diego Aero fans were confident Charley or Roehrig would take the coveted Aero prize, the Roy Knabenshue Award, named for the pioneer balloonist. The Los Angeles Herald, Oct. 16, 1910, read, “In Roehrig and Charles F. Walsh lie the hopes of San Diegans…from the Silver Gate city.” Roehrig took that award.
San Diego land developers had pitched the Silver Gate City to compete with San Francisco’s Golden Gate after the 1906 earthquake exodus. There was a planned Silver Gate Bridge from North Island to Point Loma. The first trolley was called the Silver Gate, as was the Ferry to Coronado, and a street near Madame Tingley’s Raja Yoga Utopian Settlement in Point Loma, where the Nazarene College now sits.
Late October brought the Japanese Fleet to San Diego, where they requested to see Aviators of the Aero Club. Japanese officers attempted to secure services of some of the exhibiting aviators. Charley and Roehrig took the bulk of flights over water to the battleships and back. The next day, Walsh, Roehrig, and J. J. Slavin gave exhibitions. Roehrig had mechanical troubles. Slavin took a hard fall. Walsh won $200, a Silver Cup for altitude, Whitley Jewelry Co. Endurance Trophy, W.H. Leonard Cup for best circular flight, and a newspaper trophy for distance.
On Feb. 19, 1911, Walsh wrote a new page in aerial history by taking his wife and two children for a flight of one-half mile at an altitude of fifty feet. The total weight of the passengers, including the operator, was 419 pounds.” Charley, his wife Alice, and their children, Kenneth and Juanita Enola, took off with little Juanita on her mother’s lap, to the left of Charlie. Kenneth sat on his right. It is believed this flight occurred at Imperial Beach. This may have inspired little Juanita to follow in her father’s footsteps; to become a pilot as well.
Glenn Curtiss wanted more from his pilots to promote flying. His competition between himself and the Wright Brothers drove him. He hired Lincoln Beachey due to his heart-stopping stunts. In turn, this pushed Walsh to learn more air tricks.
Curtiss assigned William Sturnble Fell as Walsh’s mechanic. Newspapers used the names in enticing articles to stir sales. A favorite was “Aviator Walsh to fly in Texas--Fell on his way!”
At the 1911 Chicago Meet, dubbed the Golden State Trio, Walsh, Beachey, and Glenn Martin (of Lockheed Martin) were to fly under the Curtiss banner. If they completed the national tour, three brand new Curtiss planes would be their prizes. Martin was criticized when he backed out as, “being tied to his mother’s apron strings…” Walsh and Beachey laughed at the turn of events and decided to form a duo instead.” Beachey was reckless. “The opening stunt was of particular danger. Walsh would line up at the end of the field, headed into the wind. Beachey was at the other, headed down-wind straight at Walsh. At the signal they would take off directly at each other. At mid-field, in front of the grandstands they would cross within a few feet of each other when airborne about 50-feet.”
By fall 1911, Walsh had become the first pilot to fly in New Mexico Territory. He was hired for the fair as an exhibition flyer and enjoyed taking people up for rides. The Albuquerque Morning Journal described Walsh’s flight as “a most wonderful demonstration of control, as Walsh had previously announced that he would alight just where the wheels first struck the ground.”
“After landing in front of a cheering crowd, Walsh made a second flight of 13 minutes. The next day he made two longer flights, ascending higher and traveling farther. City officials thanked Walsh for notifying local hospitals and sanitariums so that their patients could watch him circle around those institutions. Walsh was surprised by the agile performance of the heavily laden airplane at Albuquerque‘s elevation of almost 5,000 feet. The next day he took two more passengers on similar flights. He ended his 1911 Albuquerque activities with three high altitude flights, eventually reaching 8,000 feet.”
In Walsh’s honor, the Albuquerque Museum purchased a 1914 example of his “historic airplane for the people of Albuquerque.” Walsh’s exhibition plane was a Curtiss Model biplane powered by a 75 horsepower eight-cylinder engine. It was shipped to Albuquerque by rail and assembled at the Territorial Fairgrounds by a crew of mechanics.
Unconscionably, while Charley is a famed bird-man in far-away New Mexico, no historical efforts to recognize his early flights, plane building, or landmarks - have been honored, nor have his contributions to motorized flight been historically dedicated by his home aviation field in Imperial Beach.