The Duluth Aviation Institute of Duluth, Minnesota is in the process of completing a flying replica of the Benoist XIV flying boat named “Lark of Duluth” which debuted in Duluth in the summer of 1913.
The original plane arrived by train from St. Louis in June 1913 along with a mechanic from its manufacturer, the Benoist Aircraft Company after it was purchased by a local prominent businessman, Julius Barnes for the lofty sum of $5,000.00. Barnes and pilot Tony Jannus took the maiden flight in the craft on June 25, 1913, soaring over the waters of Lake Superior and creating such a stir that it gave rise to a impromptu celebration, the Lark O’ The Lake Festival, which stretched over six summer weekends in 1913, featuring flight demonstrations, races, fireworks and games.
With winter approaching, the plane was reportedly sold to Jannus in exchange for a promised future payment and the plane was disassembled and shipped to Florida where it joined its sister ship and the only other Benoist XIV ever built, “Florida” forming the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line, the first regularly scheduled commercial airline, owned by Thomas W. Benoist and P.E. Fansler. The airline had signed a 3 month contract with the St.Petersburg board of trade which subsidized 50% of the costs for starting the airline and the inaugural flight took off on January 1, 1914 from St. Petersburg for the 22 minute flight to Tampa, departing before a crowd of over 3,000 spectators and a band. Shortly after beginning operation, the federal government decided that the aircraft and pilots should be licensed while performing commerce and their pilot, Tony Jannus become the first federally licensed pilot in the United States. The airline continued to make flights until May 5, 1914, five weeks after the subsidy expired, stopping service as the winter tourist season had ended, at which point the airline had covered over 7,000 miles, 172 flights, and carried 1,205 passengers, one at a time. According to Fansler, the outbreak of WWI cancelled his grander plans for the resumption of service in the years that followed.
The “Lark of Duluth” returned to Duluth for the second and last “Lark O’ The Lake” festival as well as offering joyrides at Chennault Lake in Pennsylvania and San Diego, California. It was in San Diego that the plane met its end as it was written off after being damaged in a hard landing towards the end of 1914.
A flying replica of the Benoist XIV was constructed in n 1984 by the Florida Aviation Historical Society for the 70th anniversary of the flight and is now on display at Fantasy of Flight in Polk City, Florida. In 2008, the Duluth Aviation Institute was formed with the intent of reproducing the “Lark of Duluth” and having it airworthy in time for the centenary of the “Lark O’ The Lake” Festival, which they would also commemorate with their own similarly titled festival in July 2013.
The reproduction is made much like the original, with a frame of sitka spruce with holes bored through the larger pieces to lighten the weight, the skin of the original plane was linen, though the reproduction will use a stronger and more durable polyester fabric. Other departures from the original include some additional cable bracing of the wings, seat belts and some instruments to allow monitoring of the engine, deviations that are completely understandable, given that they intend to fly in the craft.
More pictures and detailed information on the build are available at the Duluth Aviation Institute website.