Lyman Gilmore Middle School launches Flight Day |

Lyman Gilmore Middle School launches Flight Day

Photo for The Union by John Hart
John Hart | The Union

Students, teachers, spectators and community members gathered Wednesday for the celebration of the 111th anniversary of the alleged first flight of Lyman Gilmore, a local airplane engineer who made notable technological advancements in the early 20th century.

Lyman Gilmore Middle School celebrated the historical significance of Gilmore and the development of the airplane.

Local community businesses and organizations in the field of engineering and flight set up booths to inform students of potential career pursuits.

“It’s really near and dear to my heart,” said music teacher Ginny Trapani, who developed the event.

“We are in such a historically significant site that evolved over time and it’s a nice thing for kids to know …”

— Tim O’Brien, Golden Empire Flying Club president

“I get excited about kids learning something outside the classroom.”

The event included multiple flyovers from local pilots, as well as various booths from local engineering businesses, pilots and community members involved in design.

Tim O’Brien, president of the Golden Empire Flying Club, a local pilots group, presented a history of transportation in Nevada County and the efforts and development of Gilmore and other aeronautical pioneers.

It has never been proven that Gilmore was actually the first person to fly a plane in history, 19 months before the Wright Brothers ever flew.

“Evidence of his first flight cannot be substantiated, but you can still say that his design and manufacture of airplanes put him way before his time,” O’Brien said.

“There’s no question of his incredible genius.”

Part of the presentation also included the advancement of fire prevention and containment with carrier planes, which started in Nevada County, he said.

“We are in such a historically significant site that evolved over time, and it’s a nice thing for kids to know, not to mention all the innovation that started here,” O’Brien said.

The event builds pride in the district, as students learn about the history of the school and county, said Eric Fredrickson, superintendent of Grass Valley School District.

“Bringing students from other schools also helps to bring a sense of community,” he said.

Eighth-grader Jocelyn Burr made an airplane suit that she and a friend could wear because she likes building things, she said.

Local soap box derby race participants brought their vehicles, and P. Grover Cleveland, a local resident, brought his 1919 Model T Ford for students to sit in, as well as a Morse code transmitter for students to observe.

Jenny Middlebrooks from Beale Air Force Academy displayed a full-pressure suit used for U-2 pilots, who travel at heights up to 70,000 feet, she said.

“The suit provides 100 percent oxygen in the helmet and is fully pressurized in the event that the cabin pressure fails,” she said.

Tru-line Builders posed a challenge for students to build the tallest structure out of pins and three pieces of balsa wood, “which makes their mind work rather than just look at something in a textbook,” said customer development associate Greg Savelly.

One participating student said he enjoyed the building challenge.

“It’s actually fun so far,” said eighth-grader Jesse Clark. “They are trying to get us to do this stuff so we don’t mess up in our future, which is a good idea.”

Eighth-grade students set off bottle rockets made in their science classes, which one student described as easy but interesting.

“It’s cool that students can figure out how to use things they learned through the year and experience how to make things fly like Lyman Gilmore,” said student-teacher Rachel Betrus.

Members from the Experimental Aircraft Association offered signups for students interested in the Young Eagles Day, where students can, with parent permission, fly with certified pilots at the Nevada County airport.

“Our intention is to get interest in technology and aviation,” said Valarie Bush, member of EAA and the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots. “These students are at a formidable age when they can really get inspired. We want to plant seeds; we don’t know where they will sprout, but we want to try to gain their interest.”

Teacher Chuck Smith said Flight Day is an event that will be a tradition for years to come.

“It covers science and is also a celebration of our history,” he said. “This event is really going to take off and grow from year to year.”

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email or call 530-477-4230.

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