Flying High: Airport to Commemorate 1911 Flight Across Continental Divide
September 28, 2015
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  • A presentation Wednesday on the anniversary of Cromwell Dixon’s historic 1911 flight will offer insights into the teenage aviator who was the first to fly across the Continental Divide.

    Helena history enthusiast Bob Ohnstad will give the presentation at Helena Regional Airport and discuss Dixon’s Sept. 30 flight that earned the 19-year-old aviator a place in history and a $10,000 prize.

    Jerian Bye, a 10-year-old boy from Spokane, Washington, will also give a presentation on a model of Dixon’s aircraft that he is building, said Jeff Wadekamper, Helena Regional Airport director.

    Free parking is provided in the airport’s short-term parking lot for the 6:30 p.m. event, where there will be a drawing for a Bob Morgan print “Crossing the Divide,” which commemorates Dixon’s reception by people atop the Continental Divide who awaited his arrival.

    The event will be held in the conference room on the second floor of the airport terminal building.

    According to an online article by the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Magazine, Dixon flew a Curtiss-built biplane and took off from the fairgrounds in Helena. The point where he crossed the divide had an elevation of 6,324 feet.

    The New York Times’ Oct. 1, 1911 account of the flight said Dixon traveled 50 miles round-trip and was gone an hour and 50 minutes.

    Dixon was handed a letter by Gov. Edwin L. Norris addressed to the citizens of Blossburg, the town where Dixon landed, that he delivered before taking off for the return flight.

    Once the airplane achieved the necessary altitude after a circle over the Helena Valley, it flew toward the mountains and was soon lost to sight.

    Because Blossburg is in a pocket in the mountains, winds made Dixon’s return difficult, the Times story said.

    “The aviator left the town at 3:16 and as he tried to gain altitude to carry him safely over the divide he was beaten down toward the earth time and again. After tacking and veering, Dixon finally ascended from the pocket and started for Helena, landing at the Fair Grounds at 3:59,” the news story stated.

    Two days after his historic crossing, he died during an exhibition flight at the state fair held in Spokane, online sources say.

    Wednesday’s presentation, Wadekamper said, is a chance to learn about an interesting part of both Helena’s history and aviation history.

    “Up until this point, nobody had successfully crossed the Continental divide with an aircraft,” Wadekamper said, noting that several people had unsuccessfully tried.