In January 1913, Ten years after the the Wright Brothers had made their first motor flight, the intrepid American aviator Frank Boland and a party of four arrived in Trinidad and brought the world of aviation to the tranquil skies of the British Colony. Frank was one of a trio of Boland brothers who, like the Wright brothers, had started in the bicycle business and progressed to the world of aviation and its flying machines. Unable to copy the Wright Flyer because of patents on the control surfaces, the Bolands had invented an entirely new method of control, known as the JIB. The original idea dispensed with rudders, ailerons and wing warping and instead relied on two triangular jibs mounted between the outer ends of the biplane’s wings. These control surfaces were very unorthodox, but in the opinion of Wilbur Wright who witnessed a demonstration, highly efficient. In fact he said that he had never seen an aeroplane turn in a smaller circle than the Boland Machine.



Frank Boland arrived in Trinidad to fly an airplane here. It was to be the first ever air flight in Trinidad. He and his six-foot-long machine had already won fame in South America, where his feats had drawn thunderous applause. Large crowds assembled at Queen’s Park Savannah to see history made that Thursday, January 23, 1913. Frank Boland, a young man of 36, was going to attempt flying his aircraft at Queen’s Park Savannah on Thursday, January 23, 1913. In those very early days of aviation history, he had drawn great applause as he toured South America in a bi-plane he had constructed himself. When the Bolands arrived in Trinidad they learned that the Governor of Trinidad George Le Hunte could not be present for the planned demonstration on the 25th, and Boland decided to give a special flying display on the 23rd. Within view of a large crowd the flying machine was made ready for flight. Large crowds assembled at Queens Park Savannah to see history being made. Amid deafening cheers, the Boland biplane was rolled out of a small tent that had been set up to the east of the Grand Stand in the Savannah.

Boland was confident, the crowds who had paid to see this spectacle were excited, but some were nervous. The Governor, Sir George Le Hunte, seemed nervous. But he walked across from Government House, shook hands with Boland, and wished him luck. The Gallant aviator went to his airplane, climbed into the cockpit amid loud cheers.With the good wishes of the crowd, Boland took off on the first flight from Trinidad soil.

Frank Boland cranked up his sixty-horsepower canvas-and-wood biplane and maneuvered westward along the green then stopped and turned around. The plane now raced back along the green going eastward, he caused it to lift off (“a dramatic spectacle” said the Port-of-Spain Gazette of those first few seconds) and took off to loud cheers, but after rising about 70 feet and most of the spectators saw the wonder of a flying machine in action for the first time with loud cheers,The first of those magnificent men in their flying machines was about to perform in Trinidad.

It is probable that no Trinidadian had ever seen an aeroplane before and the excitement at the Savannah as Boland soared upwards was at fever pitch, but alas, tragedy soon struck. just before it reached the north-western edge of the Savannah, he was coming in to land near the area known as “The Hollows”, in front of Stollmeyer’s Castle, when the biplane went out of control and dived into the ground, throwing Boland out of the pilot’s seat, 35 feet away. he lost control of his plane in wind turbulence, the plane dipped and soon crashed to the ground near “The Hollows”, leaving the watching crowd in shock. Boland was pitched 35 feet away from the plane. Two doctors who rushed to the scene were unable to save him. The ribs on his left side pierced his heart and he probably died instantly.

The shock of the tragedy numbed the watching crowd and ended the previously triumphant first tour of the Caribbean and South America. According to a report in the Port of Spain Gazette of 24th January 1913, “the Very Reverend Father Sutherland O.P. said the last offices for the dead, the deceased being a Catholic”. Boland’s body was taken from the Colonial Hospital to the Church of the Holy Rosary and then interred at the Lapeyrouse Cemetery. It is said that the body was later exhumed and shipped to the United States to his hometown for burial at the St. Mary’s Cemetery, Rahay. But his two brothers did not give up. The Bolands remained active in aviation well into the Second World War.


The Bolands’

Frank E. Boland (c1880-1912) Frank E. Boland (c. 1880 – 1913), James Paul Boland (1882 – 1970) and Joseph John Boland (May 27, 1879 – 1964) were early aircraft designers from Rahway, New Jersey who started the Boland Airplane and Motor Company. Frank E. Boland (c1880-1912), James Paul Boland (1882-1964) was born on August 20, 1882 and Joseph John Boland (1879-c1970) was born on 28 May 1879 according to the World War I draft. There was a John Andrew Boland, born on 8 August 1878 who worked at their garage. They had set records for bicycle racing in 1898. Frank Boland was killed in on January 23, 1913 during an exhibition flight in Trinidad. They worked with tailless aircraft that were early predecessors of flying wings. A scale model of their plane is in the Smithsonian. In 1904, Frank and Joseph, started a business servicing bicycles, motorcycles, and automobiles in Rahway. In 1914, the Aeromarine Plane and Motor Company of Avondale, Pennsylvania, took over the manufacturing rights of all Boland airplanes and engines.

E.T. Wooldridge writes: “The Boland brothers were a relatively small, but extraordinary, part of early aviation history in the United States. Frank supplied the enthusiasm, ingenuity, and self-taught flying ability; Joseph provided the mechanical genius to transform ideas into some tangible, workable form; and James had the business sense so often lacking in ventures of that sort.” Joseph died in 1964 in Frederick, Maryland.


Darrell Lou-Hing is a retired pilot and avid aviation history buff
Darrell Lou-Hing on the web



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