NORTH ISLAND, CAL. 1915
The Curtiss Aviation School had officially opened on January 17, 1911. Glenn Curtiss had obtained the rights for the land from the Spreckel (sugar) Company. Curtiss wrote, "It is a flat, sandy island, about four miles long and two miles wide with a number of good fields for land flights. The beaches on both the ocean and the bay sides are good, affording level stretches for starting or landing an airplane. Besides, the beaches necessary (for) the water experiments I wish to make. North Island is uninhabited except by hundreds of jackrabbits, cottontails, snipe and quail."
The first class consisted of Lt. Theodore G. Ellyson and five other students. Ellyson, a big red-haired man who loved chocolate candy and potatoes, was called "Spuds". Later he became U.S. Naval Aviator Number One.
Walter's training plane was a four-cylinder "grass cutter" they called "Lizzie". It was made mostly of bamboo and cables, weighed less than 500 pounds and had just one seat, so the instructor had to talk to the student while they were still on the ground.
My flight training started with a "think" period. The instructor explained the operation of the plane and what I should do under various conditions. Then I sat in the plane an hour each day working the controls and "thinking" about what I should do under certain circumstances, such as banking, landing, etc.
Next, I was allowed to start the engine and make slow runs back and forth on the straightaway. After about 25 runs, I was allowed a small jump into the air. Finally, when I could make circles a few feet above the ground, Glenn Curtiss said I was proficient in the four-cylinder machine and advanced me to the eight-cylinder pusher.
Ray V. Morris was my instructor. He helped me get a job working around the camp ($12.00 a week) to take care of my expenses. Morris was a great pilot, both on land and seaplanes. When we worked on the Curtiss F-Boat, he noticed I gripped the wheel and was too tense. To change this, he opened the throttle, lifted the boat into the air with only his thumb and finger of one hand on the wheel, and landed the same way to show me how easy it was.
After about 25 runs, I was allowed a small jump into the air. Finally, when I could make circles a few feet above the ground, Curtiss said I was proficient in the four-cylinder machine and advanced me to the eight-cylinder pusher.
Curtiss was the grand-daddy of the aviation industry. He was awarded the first aviator license in America, the second in Europe, and for inventing the seaplane, he was the first to receive the Collier Trophy. Walter was proud to learn from him. Raymond Morristook over the flying school when Curtiss' three year contract expired in February 1914.
In April 1915, he received a letter offering him an attractive salary working for General Pancho Villa. Villa was known to some as a "Bandit", to others as a revolutionary leader and popular Mexican hero.
"I was all for going right down there, but luckily Morris talked me out of it."