Florida Aviation Historical Society

Flight 2014

History was born in 1914 in St. Petersburg, FL


Flight 2014 Documentary

Flight 2014 has a link to the documentary film Monumental Moment on YouTube: https://youtu.be/5_QtTsOl4GQ 

It resides on a new YouTube Channel called "World's First Airline Monument". 

On Thursday, January 1, 1914, at about 9:30 am, after a rousing downtown parade which drew half the St. Petersburg population, the Italian Band of the Johnny Jones Shows struck up "Dixie" on the mole as 3,000 people jammed the pier and surrounding waterfront.Mr. Whitney opened the affair by telling what was proposed and then introduced Benoist who modestly told of his airboat development. Then he said, " I formally declare the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line open." Benoist then introduced Tony Jannus as the Chief Pilot. Mr. F. C. Bannister began auctioning off the first rides. The bidding was lively and the immense crowd cheered the bidders. Whitney and Thornton Park started the bidding, each offering $100. Abe Pheil, ex-mayor of St. Petersburg and dredger by profession, jumped this to $150. After $325 had been reached Park dropped out. Noel Mitchell ran the price up but Pheil bid $400 and he was awarded the honor of making the first flight. $615 was raised and donated by the Airline to the City for the purchase of two harbor channel lights, which are still in use.Among those in the crowd that day was a lanky cowboy who was traveling with a rodeo group; his name was Will Rogers.

Percival Fansler's speech before take-off read, "What was impossible yesterday is an accomplishment today, while tomorrow heralds the unbelieveable." He was right; St. Petersburg would have an airliner running just as promised, as regularly as railroad trains and as reliable as steamboats.

Mr. Pheil, dressed in a rain coat, then stepped gingerly into the boat, which had been pulled down until it was just awash. Jannus pulled down on the starting bar, and the Roberts motor sprang to life after a few false starts. Tony tested the controlls and then asked Fansler for the time- one minute to ten. Jannus speeded up the engine and with a wave of his hand, gave it the gun and the boat taxied out over the lagoon to the inshore side. Turning, Tony drove her straight for the harbor entrance, and before reaching it, had pulled #43 clear of the water. The first scheduled airline had begun. It had cleared the water in 200 feet and was soaring on its way to Tampa, a bare 15 feet above the harbor.

Florida Aviation Historical Society started planning for the Flight 2014 Centennial of Air Service project in 2007 and is promoting this historic aviation milestone at many aviation-related events during the next four years and is sharing the Tony Jannus story with local groups, educators, museums, and the airlines of the world

Just before the first flight of the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line, January 1, 1914. Left to right: Percival Elliott Fansler, Abram C. Pheil, Tony Jannus.  

Mae Peabody, the airline's first woman passenger, booked a charter flight with Tony Jannus on January 2, 1914.                                   

The Flight 2014 Planning Board is now a joint effort of FAHS, the St. Petersburg Museum of History, and the Tony Jannus Distinguished Aviation Society, together with the Cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa, the Chambers of Commerce, and other sponsors. We are now in the final months of planning for the Centennial Celebration of the World's First Airline, the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line that operated scheduled flights across Tampa Bay in 1914, just ten years after the Wright Brothers first controlled, powered flights at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. 

As the countdown for the 100th Anniversary of this historic flight continues, planners on both sides of Tampa Bay are organizing the programs and logistics for related events, including a December 31st. "First Night/First Flight" at the St. Petersburg Museum of History.

January 1, 2014 was a day for mixing past with present, a day that allowed visitors to peer through rain-specked glasses at the daring and danger of a time when all aviation could fairly be called experimental.
Kermit Weeks, who build a reproduction of the Benoist airboat, did not fly it January 1st as it was not ready. However, it was on hand beside the St. Petersburg Museum of History so people could peer into the cockpit and admire the construction.

February 6, 2021 the stainless steel full size Benoist was dedicated.

After 6 years of meetings and fundraising, Flight 2014 fulfilled the dream to bring the Benoist to life on the exact spot, St. Petersburg Yacht Basin, Tony Jannus took off from in 1919, across Tampa Bay and back.

Over 100 people came out that foggy morning in St. Petersburg for the dedication and speeches that gave the City of St. Petersburg the designation as the home of the first commercial airline, the Benoist.

© Florida Aviation Historical Society Inc. 2023

 Florida Aviation Historical SocietyAlbert Whitted Airport, 451 8th Avenue SE, St. Petersburg, FL 33701

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