The airshow 1919
Most of us have probably watched the birds flying by and admired their aerodynamics and agility. Some of us might even have felt a tinge of jealousy over their unique talent. It is also rather easy to understand why Icarus, when his ability grew, lost control over his joy of flight and flew too close to the sun with devastating consequences. Moreover, since the dawning of time, humans have watched in awe as the migratory birds practice their flying skills, day after day, before heading off over oceans and faraway lands. Where were they going? What is on the other side of the ocean? Oh, how nice would it be to be able to take flight and explore unknown lands and continents?
Around 1500 AD, while one genius by the name of Leonardo was trying to harness the power of flight, some others were working on a different sort of flight. In Iceland, it was believed that with the proper knowledge and magic, you could saddle up a person while they slept and take them on a flight across the land, and even into the world of the hidden people. Many stories describe these “riding tours” and most are about women and their stable boys. Every now and then, the boys would wake up mid-flight and manage later to cruelly punish their witches. Icelanders also had their own “Leonardo”. The story from the mid 1700’s tell of a young man in Arnessysla who created humongous wings for his body and managed to fly across the mighty glacial river, Hvita, which in those days caused many a trip to end prematurely or in disaster. When Brynjolfur, bishop of Skalholt, heard the news, he summoned the young man and told him, in no uncertain terms, that if God had meant for humans to fly, then he would have provided the wings. The bishop then had the wings burnt and the young man flogged. In 1989, Friðrik Þór Friðriksson, one of Iceland’s best known filmmakers/directors, made the movie Flugþrá (Longing to Fly) based on this story.
There are no more documented flight achievements in Iceland’s history for the next few hundreds of years. Not until the year 1919. A few Icelanders got together to establish Flugfélag Íslands (Air Iceland) for passenger travel. After vigorous objections from Britain, the airline decided not to purchase a German made aircraft, but bought instead a three passenger English Avro. They also hired an extremely experienced fighter pilot by the name of Cecil Faber, who incidentally was highly trained to fly the Avro. Faber arrived in Iceland on the steamer, Ísland, in late July, but the aircraft came a month later because the box housing the aircraft was too large to fit on the ship. Many people made their way down to the harbor to take a gander at this enormous box as the papers had told that this was the biggest box to ever arrive in Iceland. After the plane had been assembled and the runway location found and approved by the town council, the decision was made to put on an air show. But before the air show, an unexpected and successful trail flight was flown over the city.
“The first official Icelandic Air Show will be held at the airport tonight at 7 1/2,” sounded the advertisement on September 3rd 1919. “Tickets for admission are available on city streets and near the entrance. The price is 1 Kronur for adults and 50 Aurar for children. Commemorative cards are also available for all the shows this fall, and they are 5 Kronur.”
A large crowd gathered by the runway and after the Chief Executive Officer had delivered his speech, thunderous applause and cheers sounded as Captain Faber took off into the sky. Very few had ever seen a plane take off, so many, humans and animals, could hardly believe their eyes when they saw the aircraft lift off the ground and fly into the sky. Some horses in a nearby field stood frozen, while one dog went berserk. Captain Faber performed a few aerial stunts, which were so daring that many children began crying. The Morning Paper described the event:
“The evening of September 3rd, 1919, will not soon be forgotten. The people had a new “air” about them as they stared into the blue sky and saw the modern day magical craft gliding in the air, illuminated by the sunbeams that could no longer reach us on the ground.”
Not everyone was as impressed by this aircraft business and one of those less than impressed people was Guðmundur Magnússon from Þyrli. He was haymaking on his land near to the airport and could therefore see everything very clearly. He wrote a few quatrains outlining his experience of this event. His last one sounded something like this:
“Impressive is the flight to some
Iced up island’s masses
Seeking the latest craze to come
For squandering their assets.”