ST. PETERSBURG, FL – City officials will commemorate St. Petersburg as the birthplace of commercial aviation with a monument at the site of country’s first airline.
A rendering of the monument will be unveiled Friday, Jan. 19, at 10:30 a.m. at the Flying Boat Brewing Company, 1776 11th Ave. N., St. Petersburg.
The new monument will sit on the site of the first airline’s original hangar on the approach to the St. Petersburg Municipal Pier.
The world’s first regularly scheduled airline took off from the Municipal Pier on New Year’s Day 1914. The airline was known as the St. Petersburg–Tampa Airboat Line.
Percival E. Fansler, a Jacksonville-based electrical engineer. recruited Thomas Benoist, an early airplane manufacturer, to provide the airline’s first passenger plane, the Benoist Airboat Model XIV, No. 43. The model number referred to the year the plane was offered for sale (1914). The number indicated that it was the 43rd aircraft to be built at the Benoist Aeroplane Co.
According to historian Will Michaels, who published The Making of St. Petersburg in 2012, the Benoist Airboat was an early version of a seaplane, able to take off and land on water. This was essential since Tampa Bay had plenty of water but no airport. The plane would land in Tampa Bay and float up to the hangar on the pier to discharge passengers.
The new airline quickly added a second plane and a pilot, Antony Habersack Jannus. Tony Jannus was a test pilot for Benoist, He set early records for passenger flight times and flights over water in 1913. He also held the first federal airline license.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and the city council have approved the concept for the monument, which will be a full-size replica of the Benoist Flying Airboat that Jannus flew. The Benoist sculpture will be located on a plaza with nearby panels telling the story of the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line. Phil Graham Landscape Architecture has donated design services for the surrounding plaza.
Kriseman, along with City Council member Ed Montanari, St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce CEO Christopher Steinocher, representatives of the Pheil family, which first developed the area around the pier, and Flight 2014 Inc. coalition members will be on hand for the unveiling of the design Friday.
Flight 2014 Inc. is a nonprofit organization that is raising funds to erect the monument. The coalition is composed of representatives from the Florida Aviation Historical Society, the St. Petersburg Museum of History, the Tony Jannus Distinguished Aviation Society, the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, businesses and other community organizations. Flight 2014 gets its name from the work it did planning the centennial celebration of the first airline in 2014.
The coalition has already received major contributions from Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, and Alaska Airlines. Anyone who wishes to donate may do so online at the Flight 2014 website.
Michaels, who also serves as president of Flight 2014, said the coalition hopes to raise $650,000 for the monument sculpture, surrounding plaza, educational panels and monument maintenance.
"Our objective is to have the First Airline Monument in place by the end of 2018 to coincide with the opening of St. Petersburg’s New Pier and Pier Approach District," he said.
For more information, contact Michaels at (727) 420-9195 or [email protected]
Photo and monument rendering via Flight 2014