World’s first commercial airline: The two flying brothers

  • The airline made two flights daily, six days a week. The tickets sold out 16 weeks in advance.
  • Then a second Benoist airboat was added with Tony Jannus' brother, Roger, as the pilot. The airline operated for almost four months before interest declined rapidly because winter residents went back north.
  • The brothers continued to perform tests of aircraft and trained other pilots. Both brothers died while flying - Tony's plane crashed into the Black Sea in 1916 while training Russian pilots, and Roger crashed during air patrols over France in 1918.
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The first scheduled passenger flight

The first scheduled passenger airline service took off on Jan 1, 1914. Thomas Benoist designed the "flying boat", the pilot was Tony Jannus, and Abram C. Pheil was the first paying passenger.

The 21-mile (34-kilometre) flight took 23 minutes, flying from St. Petersburg to Tampa, Fla. The plane flew no higher than 50 feet (15.2 m) over the water. Halfway, the engine misfired, and Jannus touched down in the bay, made adjustments and took off again. When the plane landed, they were swarmed by a cheering crowd of about 3,500.

Tony Jannus was an experienced test pilot for military planes and flew long-distance airplanes and airboats. By 1913, he became one of the principal stockholders in the Benoist Aircraft Company.

A Model 14 Benoist airboat weighed 1,250 lbs. (567 kilograms). It was 26 feet (8 meters) long and had a wingspan of 44 feet (13 m). The top speed of the airplane was 64 mph (103 km/h). The plane was built for one pilot and one passenger side-by-side on one wooden seat.

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