|Someday It Will Be Me! 1911-1912
The first time he saw an aeroplane was in Ashland, Wisconsin, September 1911. This was just eight years after the Wright Brothers made their first official heavier-than-air flight. Walter was fascinated. He played hooky from his job as chauffer and spent the day at the fair grounds watching them "set the plane up". In those days, they took the planes apart, crated them and shipped them by train from one city to another.
Nothing But Mistakes 1912-1914
One day Pete Blazer and a friend took out a Benoist pusher without permission. When they were coming in for a landing, they hit some high tension wires. They crashed, the plane burned, and both of them were killed.
"It was devastating. We were all used to crashes, but because we flew at such low speed and altitude, few of them were fatal. This was a shock to the entire crew at Benoist. I spent a few days debating whether to quit the flying game or not."
A Real Flying School 1914
The Curtiss Aviation School had officially opened on January 17, 1911. Glenn Curtiss had obtained the rights for the land from the Spreckels (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. North Island is uninhabitated except for hundreds of jackrabbits, cottontails, snipe and quail".
Kiss at 1300 Feet 1915
He married Loa Lloyd in Chicago. Loa's first flight was on June 20, 1915, three days after the wedding. She was Walter's 13th passenger. Walter planned it this way as he was superstitious about the number 13. He always thought it was his lucky number. They soared to a breath-taking 1300 feet and kissed. Thirty minutes later, they were safely on Lake Michigan again...
In 1924 when he made his first parachute jump on Friday the 13th, it became even luckier for him.
Learning The Hard Way 1916
Walter instructed on Curtiss F-Boats at the Atlantic Coast Aeronautical Station. Glenn Curtiss started the Station at what was called the "Small Boat Harbor" because it had facilities for a small landing field and was on the shore of Hampton Roads, so it was ideal for the F-Boats to take off on the water.
The Daily Press Reported:
January 26 was a red letter day in the lives of several local citizens. Instructor Walter Lees took them on a sight-seeing flight in a flying boat. Included were Dr. J.B. Pressey, Fred Morgan, Ted Hackenberg and Miss Elsie Rauch, the second Peninsula woman to take such a flight:.
The Anchorage 1916
When Loa and Walter arrived in Newport News, they were lucky enough to find housekeeping rooms in Dr. Pressy's house. The Pressey house was called "The Anchorage". It still stands at 411 Chesapeake Avenue.
Walter is quoted:
"Our first baby, Betty, was born March 9, 1916. I was at the station when Aunt Emma called me and said Loa had started to have labor pains and was going to the hospital.
I was so excited, Captain Tom said Ted Hequemburg should fly me there. The hospital was across the street from Hampton Roads. We landed right in front of the hospital and nosed the flying boat up on the shore. I rushed into the hospital in my flying clothes, helmet and goggles, demanding, 'Where's my wife?'" She had had to walk from our house and hadn't arrived yet.
Billy Mitchell, Among Others 1916-1917
April 6, 1916, President Wilson announced that war was declared. The United States was officially in World War I. Many of the Newport News students were already flying in France in the Lafayette Escadrille.
Walter remained a civilian instructor at this time. He taught and soloed many students.
Major William Mitchell, (Billy Mitchell), USA service, came down from Washington, D.C. for instruction. Jimmy Johnson was his instructor.
Johnson is quoted:
"Billy was a grand guy. The first thing he told me when he started training was to forget that he was an Army Major and to treat him as I did anyone else learning to fly."
One day Jimmy was sick and Captain Baldwin assigned Mitchell to Walter. He soloed him.
"Mitchell was very erratic. One day he would be OK and the next lousy. I just happened to catch him on one of his good days. He made two perfect flights this day."
I Drew The Short Straw 1917-1918
The World War I years were chaotic for the Lees family. Although Walter was a civilian instructor with the Army, they moved around as much as if he'd been in the service.
He checked in first at Chanute Field, Rantoul, Illinois, near Chicago, where the first official U.S. flight training field opened on July 4th. From there he was sent to Selfridge Field, Michigan.
The field was only half completed when Walter started instructing there. It was all grass, no runways. Each morning, one of the instructors would take off and check the flying conditions, especially if there was any wind.
"I took off one morning with a fairly brisk south wind and found at 1000 feet the wind was blowing so hard, by throttling down I could stand still in the air. I kept the plane standing still in one place right over the hangars on the north side of the field. Soon, two other instructors took off, joined me, and we stayed there, in formation, not moving for five minutes. To get down we had to use full throttle and a steep glide to get to the ground."
Walter worked for the Oregon, Washington & Idaho Airplane Company. Vic Vernon was the chief pilot. They had Curtiss Jennys (JN-4s), Oriole land planes, and Curtiss F and M-F Flying Boats.
Walter flew both land planes and boats to The Dalles, Oregon, and land planes to Pendleton, mostly carrying passengers.
Lucky Friday the 13th 1924