Bleriot, Type XI
Lees Collection

  Walter wrote: "This is a Bleriot monoplane and our hangar. The mechanic hasn't been down here yet as we haven't an engine for it. I just climbed in to make a picture. I like this better than the Farman, as it is faster."

Meanwhile, Brodie has a Bleriot monoplane sent down from Chicago, but as this was minus the engine, it was used to give ground instruction. We would take turns sitting in the plane, working the controls, and imagining the rest.
     The first month, I roomed and boarded in a hotel in St. Augustine. together with a chap by the name of Ray Benedict. But one night, we were talking to the night clerk who made the remark that the manager of the hotel was becoming uneasy, because Mr. Eastman had not been around to pay the hotel bill, as he had promised.
     We immediately smelled a rat, and in a day or so, packed up our clothes and moved over to the beach, where we set up light housekeeping in one of Mr. Capo's many bath houses on the beach. We were ribbed plenty by the other fellows, but we had the laugh a week later when Mr. Eastman suddenly turned up missing, after forgetting to pay the hotel bills, and the boys had to dig down in their own pockets for room and board.
     Of course, the school was broken up, Brodie had protected himslf in the case of just such a problem like this, packed up the planes and went back to Chicago.The rest of the fellows left town and scattered to the far corners, most of them too fed up on fake flying schools to want to try again.

Benedict's dad wrote that he would advance money for Ray to buy a plane from Benoist in St. Louis. Ray made a verbal deal with me. He would pay my fare to St. Louis and pay my room and board while his plane was being built and he learned to fly. I agreed to help build the plane and then go as mechanic for him on fall exhibition dates. I was to be paid $100 a month and expenses and after the dates were over, he would teach me to fly.

I worked all summer of 1912 in the shop. Tom Benoist paid me about $25 a month for spending money. In the fall, I went on the road with Benedict, but he was a very timid flyer who only flew when conditions were absolutely perfect. As a result, he didn't take in enough money to pay expenses, so I got no salary.
     We returned to St. Louis, he went home to Binghamton, NY, and refused to teach me to fly.
     I hired out as a mechanic to Benoist for eating money and the chance to learn to fly. I slept in a small tent near the plane on Creve Couer Lake. Several other fellows paid him a tuition and we took turns on the plane. Because there was no instructor, they had tied the throttle down so we couldn't get the plane into the air. However. we could get the plane up on the pontoon and skim the water.

One Sunday, when Tom Benoist, Tony Jannus, and others were at the lake, I took the plane out. When I was away from the shore, I untied the throttle, opened the engine, got on step and then into the air. Everything felt OK, even though I was only about 20 feet high. However, the lake was only about 3/4 of a mile long, so I had to land as I was leery of trying to make a circle. I glided by holding the plane level, throttling the engine, and letting the plane settle. When I did this the first time, I was afraid I was going to smack the water too hard, so I opened the throttle and went back up to 20 feet. I did this twice, then on the third try, I had to land or hit the bank.
     I taxied back to the crowd, proud as a peacock on my first solo flight, but got a good bawling out from all concerned.
     I later made several straight flights, then half circles and full circles. Once I flew overland to the Missouri River and circled St. Joseph, MO. The next day, the local papers reported that the pilot had been Bill Bleakly.
Selections from Walter Lee's Journal

Editors Note: I had a response from Mr. C.F. Gray of Encino, CA just today, (July 14, 1997). He kindly identified this plane as a Bleriot XI. He added, "If the photo was taken in the US, the Bleriot would most probably be one built by the Queen Manufacturing Co., and would thus be known as a "Queen Bleriot." There were quite a few flying in the US and many owner built versions were in the air, as well. The photo probably dates from between 1910 and 1912." Many thanks for his contribution.
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