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  • Writer's pictureRochelle Gridley

Aeronautical Amazement

In 1915 the public was enamored of flying and pilots and their appetite for flying could not be filled without many many exhibitions. In McLean County the flying wonder was Curtiss LaQ Day of Gibson City. He was said to be the youngest person holding a license from the Aero Club of America. He was just eighteen and had received his pilot's license when he was just fifteen years old. On this date his photo appeared in the Pantagraph, but stories about him had appeared on the two preceding days about his appearance at an exhibit flying over Gibson City.

​LaQ (not a typo, he spelled his name with a capital Q at the end of his name) had the nickname "Satan" and started his flying career when he travelled to Hammonsport, New York for his first lessons when he was 15. One story has it that he was taking lessons until his parents found him and informed the school he was a minor. He was forced to return home to Gibson City. The school was the Curtiss Flying School, which was created by Glenn Curtiss to compete with the Wright Brothers Flying School.

LaQ's comments to the Pantagraph reporter: "When I used to sit in old Drummer High I would look of the window and into the sky and say to myself 'I am going to fly over this place some of these days,' so just for fun I kept my promise today.' Said Satan to a reporter as he climbed out of his machine after his flight on Friday, and continued, 'Steve, old kid, if that pipe had held out I would have shown them some stunts today.'" He flew a Benoist plane and the builder of the plane was present on the date of the exhibition. LaQ also told the reporters that he is not in the flying business, but was in his second year of law school at the University of Illinois. One record said that he was actually under contract to Benoist.

In 1915 La Q claimed that he had been offered a position with the Mexican army but had turned them down since he could make more money flying in exhibitions and did not have to incur the danger of military action. (At this time the Pancho Villa was leading a revolution against the government of Mexico. In March 1916, the U.S. military would use planes in a military action in an intervention against Pancho Villa in the Mexican Revolution. This was the first instance of the U S using planes for military purposes.)

Census records indicate that La Q's mother worked as a store clerk (her father was a fruit merchant) and was divorced from her husband. The Pantagraph reported that La Q's father lived in California. How La Q could afford the pricey hobby of flying is never explained. Census records from 1930 recorded in an on line family tree indicate that La Q was living in Vermont in 1930 and gave his occupation as author.

His obituary in the Anderson Herald in Anderson, Indiana indicated that he was an advanced instructor for the Aviation of the Army Signal Corps during World War I and that he was a test pilot for the Wright Brothers in 1916. He enlisted in May 1918 and was released in December 1918. In 1925 he flew for the French Foreign Legion in Morocco. Later in life he wrote for the New Yorker magazine and Reader's Digest.

A history in a finding aid at Wright State College for a collection of Day's photographs indicates that he was a civilian instructor at Chanute Field after graduation in 1917 (A.B. Commerce, U of I) and that he built his first glider plane in the winter of 1910. In the latter part of WWII he worked with the Operations Division of Eastern Airlines in New York. This record also reported that he retired from flying in 1925 and went into the hotel business.

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