Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Flying High

There is no telling to what heights Arthur Welsh might have soared, had he not perished in the crash of the Wright C Plane that he was testing with Leighton Wilson Hazelhurst, Jr., on June 11, 1912, in College Park, MD. Welsh, whose given name was Laibel Wellcher, was only 31 years old.

Born on August 14, 1881, in Kiev, Welsh arrived in the United States with his family when he was 9 years old. The family settled in Philadelphia, PA. When Welsh was 13, his father died. Not long thereafter, his mother remarried, and the family relocated to Washington, D.C. Welsh attended both public and Hebrew school and had a positive Jewish identity. In 1901, when he joined the U.S. Navy, he changed his name to Arthur "Al" Welsh to avoid anti-Semitism. 


After four years of service, Welsh was honorably discharged. A few years later, Welsh met Anna Harmel at a Young Zionist Union meeting, and they were married in October 1907. The Welshes were members of Congregation Adas Israel in Washington, D.C.

In 1909, Welsh witnessed the Wright brothers testing their new military flier in Fort Myer, VA, and was immediately entranced. Although he lacked the technical qualifications they sought, Welsh sent the Wrights a letter applying for a job. When his written appeal did not succeed, he went in person to Dayton, OH, where his tenacity won out. Welsh entered the first class of the Wright Flying School in Montgomery, Alabama, in March 1910. He trained with Orville Wright and became an instructor at the Wrights’ Huffman Prairie airfield in Dayton. After joining the Wrights’ exhibition team, Welsh established new records in altitude and speed and won several flying competitions. 

Welsh was running the Wright C Plane through the Army Aviation School’s multi-point test when it crashed into a field of daisies. While official inquiries attributed the crash to pilot error, Welsh’s actual culpability in the crash has always been disputed. 

Today, August 19, is National Aviation Day.

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