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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS Feed Lark Harkens: Reproduction of World's First Airliner Coming to Oshkosh
Lark of Duluth
See a reproduction of the world's first scheduled airliner, the Benoist Type XIV Lark of Duluth, at AirVenture 2013.
Lark of Duluth
istoric photo of the original Benoist Type XIV Lark of Duluth.
(Photo courtesy of Mark Maier, Clinchmedia Productions, Eidson, Tennessee)

May 29, 2013 - A reproduction of the airplane that flew the world's first scheduled airline service will be on prominent display in the Vintage area at AirVenture Oshkosh 2013. The Benoist (pronounced BEN-wah) Type XIV is a biplane flying boat being recreated for the Duluth Aviation Institute in Hangar 10 at Duluth, Minnesota's Sky Harbor Airport.

A group led by Mark Marino, EAA 268003/Vintage 720929, is in the final stages of the project. Other craftsmen on the project team include Tom Betts, EAA 233695; Mike Gardonio, EAA 108159/Vintage 722061; Mike Shannon, EAA 576091; Jim Nelson, EAA 9023316; and Steve Dorsey. Their goal is to re-create a true flying reproduction of the Lark of Duluth - a wood and fabric aircraft built in St. Louis in 1912 by Thomas W. Benoist and his Benoist Aircraft Company.

Plans are to participate in the city's upcoming Lark O' the Lake Festival set for July 12-14, marking 100 years since the original Type XIV made numerous "air ship flights" during six consecutive weekends in 1913 (June 27-28 to August 1-2). At the 1913 festival, the original Lark of Duluth gave airplane rides, raced boats, and was the talk of the event.

"It certainly was a huge deal back then just by reading the newspaper accounts," Marino said.

The plane will be disassembled, transported to Oshkosh, and put back together so it can be prominently displayed in front of the Vintage Barn throughout the entire week at AirVenture.

"Knowing this airplane became the first airliner is a pretty significant thing for folks around here," Marino said.

Although short-lived, that airline was launched soon after the 1913 festival in Duluth. Julius Barnes, Lark of Duluth owner, permitted Benoist and his pilots to explore their new business venture with his flying boat. The Lark returned to St. Louis for repairs and wing modifications, and then was shipped by rail to Florida where, on New Year's Day 1914, the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line flew its first passenger. The contract between Percy Fansler and Benoist establishing the company was signed on December 17, 1913 - the 10th anniversary of the Wright brothers' first flight.

Flights included one passenger and the pilot. Linking St. Petersburg with Tampa via air significantly trimmed travel time to 25 minutes as opposed to boat (two hours), rail (six hours) and road (an all-day trip over very poor roads).

The airline proved popular - by March 14, more than 1,200 passengers were flown, one at a time, and for $5 each. Once a government subsidy expired, however, the fledgling operation folded. The plane once known as the Lark of Duluth wound up in San Diego where a nonfatal crash damaged it beyond repair.

The current Type XIV build project began in 2010 following months of research, as no plans exist for the airplane, Marino said. So they had to hunt down historical photos from a number of sources including local newspapers, magazines, and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. "We used whatever we could get our hands on," Marino said.

The original engine was a 75-hp Roberts four-cylinder inline water-cooled engine that produced 500 pound-feet of torque, turning the prop at only 1000 rpm at cruise speed - 1200 rpm on takeoff. Since there are no Roberts engines left, the Duluth Aviation Institute opted for a 140-hp GM marine engine, which has similar torque ratings.

The 8-1/2-foot pusher propeller wound up being recreated from a digitally mapped example of a Benoist prop discovered in the Florida Air Museum at Sun 'n Fun in Lakeland, Florida.

The wood used is all planks, not plywood. Fabric covering materials were graciously donated by Poly-Fiber. The original had a linen-like covering. Since no color photos exist of the airplane, Marino said they got as close as they could to the hull's "vivid green."

Having a sponsor company like Cirrus Aircraft in their city has also been beneficial to the project, Marino said. The company has provided testing materials, engineering and machining of parts for the gear reduction unit, and other help.

Other project sponsors include Lake Superior College Center for Advanced Aviation, Consolidated Aircraft Coatings and Coverings, Max and Betty Ramsland, Mike Gardonio, Tom Betts, HydroSolutions, Aluminum Cabinet Co., and Hangar 10 Aero.

EAA chapters and members have also pitched in on the project, including those from Duluth's Chapter 272, Chapter 1221 in Cloquet, and Chapter 1128 in Two Harbors.

Marino, who will pilot the airplane, said the intent is to fly the airplane every year. "We want it in the air, not in a museum," he said. Marino has been flying since 1982 and has built seven airplanes, including a Hatz Bantam that was the 2010 Grand Champion Plans Built at AirVenture.

The plane will not fly at Oshkosh, however, due to logistics (it is a seaplane only) and safety reasons.

Benoist Aircraft Company Type XIV original specifications
Wingspan - 35 feet
Length - 26 feet
Maximum weight: 1,404 pounds
Useful load - 220 pounds
Engine - 75-hp Roberts four-cylinder inline water-cooled engine
Performance - cruising speed 45 mph at sea level
Range - 50 miles
Approximately 10 were built

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