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‘First Flight’ monument installed at the St. Pete Pier

Bill DeYoung



The bronze figures of Tony Jannus and passenger A.C. Pheil were tightly wrapped, to prevent damage, en route to the pier.

Click the arrow above to watch a video of the installation.

It’s been nearly 107 years since pilot Tony Jannus flew a wood and canvas “airboat” across the bay from St. Petersburg to Tampa in 23 minutes. January 1, 1914 was historically significant not just for our area but for the world as we know it: Because Jannus’ floating biplane carried a paying passenger, who’d paid in advance, the 21-minute flight marked the beginning of commercial aviation.

Sculptor Mark Aeling’s full-sized stainless steel replica of the Benoist airboat, with a 40-foot wingspan and fitted out with bronze statues of pilot Jannus and his first passenger, former St. Pete mayor A.B. Pheil, was installed Tuesday morning at the St. Pete Pier. The 16,000-pound monument rests just a stone’s throw from the very spot where the original craft was launched, down an oiled ramp into the waters of Tampa Bay. It will be officially dedicated at a ceremony Feb. 6.

Installation, in three parts, began at 7 a.m., with Aeling and members of his MGA Sculpture Studio team bolting each piece into place as it was lowered by crane off a flatbed trailer.

In this Catalyst interview, the sculptor discusses the creation of the aviation monument in detail:

St. Pete historian and Flight 2014 director Will Michaels, left, with sculptor Mark Aeling.

St. Pete city council member Ed Montanari was among the small crowd gathered to watch the three-part installation in the early-morning hours. Montanari, an aviation buff and commercial airline pilot, is a member of Flight 2014, the nonprofit group organized to celebrate the historical milestone, and to raise funds for the statue.

“I was on the first pier task force back in 2009,” he said. “We always set aside this little area to put a First Flight monument. We weren’t exactly sure what it would look like, bit we knew we wanted to carve out this area for it.

“A lot of people are going to come out to the pier, and the not going to have any clue about the history that happened here. Until they see the airplane – and then they’re going to go, ‘What’s that doing here?”

READ MORE: The full story of Tony Jannus and the birth of commercial aviation.

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  1. Avatar

    William J Earley

    December 10, 2020at4:24 pm

    If one was crazy enough to bolt this sculpture to the belly of a Boeing 737 Max ( again this is purely theoretical) and flew the whole show up to 25 thousand feet and then released it, would it fly?

  2. Avatar

    Carter Karins

    December 24, 2020at12:36 pm

    No it would not fly. The wings and tail surfaces are fabricated of perforated stainless steel sheet. The perforations will blow the boundary layer off the top surface destroying lift.

    We designed this airplane to be pure drag with minimum lift in a Cat III hurricane. I am the Structural Engineer of Record for the project.

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