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March 21, 2013

Wezen-Ball

A Plane Crash in Indianapolis

by Larry Granillo

The Indianapolis Indians, the International League affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, have been a part of professional baseball since 1902, making them the second oldest minor league club behind only the Rochester Red Wings. With such a long history, it's no surprise that many great players have passed through the club. Grover Cleveland Alexander, Nap Lajoie, Luke Appling, Harmon Killebrew, Herb Score and many other All-Stars and Hall of Famers have all been associated with the club over the years (even if, like Alexander, it was only ever on paper). Outside the ballpark, the club has had a few notable moments as well.

In the summer of 1927, area businessman James Perry bought the Indians from W.C. Smith Sr. by purchasing 96% of the club's controlling company. Perry had other business interests in the city. For example, Perry was a part of the suddenly booming aviation industry as president of the Curtiss Flying Service of Indiana. He had helped build the Transcontinental Air Transport company's coast-to-coast air rail line.

In 1929, Perry, in his role as civic leader and local captain of aviation, was at Mars Hill airport in Indianapolis to help greet newly-minted national hero Charles Lindbergh and his wife to the city. While awaiting the Lindberghs' arrival, Perry flew to nearby Schoen Field, a part of Fort Benjamin Harrison, with a company pilot. The plane became disabled midflight, but Perry's pilot was able to get the bird down safely. After a brief visit, Perry had to return to Mars Hill in order to be there in time to greet the Lindberghs. He climbed into a different plane to fly back alone. The 35-year old businessman had made his first solo flight only a few weeks before.

The plane was barely 100 feet off the ground when the engine stalled and the craft nose-dived to the ground. Perry was killed on impact.

Ownership of the Indians was transferred to Perry's brother Norman, who held onto the team until December 1941. In 1955, after a brief, failed ownership stint by the Indians' parent club in Cleveland, it looked like the 50-year old franchise would leave town. In response to this threat, a group of Indianapolis leaders rallied the community together to purchase the team. The drive was so successful that the initial run of stock had to be increased from 16,000 shares to 25,000 shares within the first month. Since that time, the Indians have operated as one of the few publicly owned and operated teams in the country.

4 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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jaireland

"The plane was barely 100 feet off the ground when the engine stalled and the craft nose-dived to the ground. Perry was killed on impact."

While I don't know the specifics of the incident in question, I can say that when writing about aviation accidents the word "stall" is properly limited exclusively to describing the loss of aerodynamic lift on the aircraft's wings caused by exceeding the critical angle of attack for the particulr aircraft.

When discussing aircraft engines, the proper word to use is "fail", or "failure", as in "The aircraft suffered an engine failure at low altitude, but the pilot kept his wits and did not stall the aircraft while quickly finding a suitable place to make an emergency landing."

In aviation, wings (and other lifting surfaces) stall ... engines fail. And neither situation necessarily leads to the other, or to an aircraft crashing. Aerobatic pilots stall their wings all the time, recover from the stall, and continue their routines, and gliders can fly for hundreds of miles and land successfully with no engine at all.

A quick Google search failed to lead to a source about this particular aviation incident. My guess is that inexperienced pilot Perry inadvertently stalled the aircraft at low altitude while climbing out after takeoff, and had insufficient altitude (and probably insufficient experience too by your description) to recover the aircraft before it struck the ground, perhaps even with the engine generating full power (yes ... it is possible to stall and crash in almost any aircraft even with a perfectly functioning engine at full power).

Signed,

A pilot reader of BP.

Mar 22, 2013 08:32 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

Thanks for the information. I'm not shocked to learn that my language was a bit imprecise :-)

Here's an article that uses both the term "stalled" and "engine failed":

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=qR5TAAAAIBAJ&sjid=-YEDAAAAIBAJ&pg=2992,1485461

Though that is an article from 1929, so I suppose it's possible that the distinctions you cite weren't as concrete back then.

Mar 22, 2013 08:49 AM
 
drawbb

I know this is a months later and you likely won't see it, but I'll be honest: I'm now totally confused by your explanation. How can wings "stall"? I thought the word "stall" literally meant "to stop suddenly and inexplicably".

This a lot like someone abruptly informing me that the word "mathematics" actually means "bicycle" or something of that nature.

May 11, 2013 16:39 PM
rating: -1
 
jaireland

Thanks Larry.

I figured that the information was being simply quoted from your source, in this case a newspaper article.

And to this day, the most common source of this very common misunderstanding about the events around aviation incidents is still evem now, the news media. When most people hear "stall" they think "engine", and that's usually what ends up in the news, even if the original source (say the FAA or the NTSB) uses the term correctly. Writers often assume that "engine" is what was referred to and insert the word into their reports even if the engine is never referred to.

One wonders how different baseball in Indianapolis might have been if James Perry had had a few more flight lessons before deciding to take off that day.

Mar 22, 2013 09:19 AM
rating: 0
 
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The BP Wayback Machine... (03/21)
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