St Petersburg is the home of the World's 1st Commercial Airline, the St Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line starting in 1914, the same year baseball spring training came to town.
Tony Jannus' route might have been short-lived, but he left a lasting mark on the Sunshine City.
A little over a decade after the Wright Brothers' famous first flight, pilot Tony Jannus was piloting passengers across Tampa Bay on a twice daily flight. His inaugural flight was January 1 1914 when he carried former Mayor A.C. Pheil from St Pete to Tampa and back again for the low low price of $400! Actually, Pheil had the winning bid in an auction to be the first passenger on a commercial flight.
Then called an "airboat", the plane's take off was from a hangar located along the waterfront in what is now known as the Vinoy Basin. It slid down a wooden ramp into the water, picking up speed and avoiding boats until it was finally fast enough to get airborne.
Curious residents and onlookers were on hand to watch the flight, including Will Rogers. Flying no more than 50 feet over Tampa Bay, the plane hardly skimmed above the water. In fact, after receiving complaints from captains of ships in Tampa Bay of having to dodge the high speed plane during its water takeoff, the Treasury Department wanted to classify the low flying airboat as a sea going vessel so they would be able to regulate it.
A flight across the bay was just over 20 minutes typically and avoided having to take a 5 hour train ride or a 42 miles and who knows how long car ride on non-existent roads via Oldsmar just to get to Tampa. Passengers were charge $5 per ticket and the plane was used also to transport goods including beer! Unfortunately the St Pete-Tampa Airboat Line only lasted until its subsidy ran out, an entire was 3 months. But St Pete can forever lay claim to being the home of the world's first commercial airline!
Tony Jannus was killed only 2 years later at the age of 27 while on a training flight in Russia. In the short time he flew he made his mark. Jannus was the first pilot to have a parachutist jump from a plane. His name lives on in history and locally at the popular music venue downtown Jannus Landing. He also has his own airside at Tampa International Airport and the Tony Jannus Award is an aviation award that has been given to such famous flyers as Jimmy Doolittle, Eddie Rickenbacker and Chuck Yeager. A replica of his Benoist plane can be found in the St Pete Museum of History.
Rev B has nearly been published multiple times and has received letters of rejection from Highlights, Jet Magazine, Dear Abby and The New Yorker. While accepting full responsibility for all grammatical errors he makes no claims of being an author. Please enjoy the entries found here and use the search function if you're looking for something more specific.