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100 years ago in Spokane: Famed ace touts benefit of air power

Eddie Rickenbacker said that all of the country’s air forces should be united under a single Secretary of Air.  (Spokane Daily Chronicle archives)
Eddie Rickenbacker said that all of the country’s air forces should be united under a single Secretary of Air. (Spokane Daily Chronicle archives)
By Jim Kershner The Spokesman-Review

Famed World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker was in Spokane and delivered this advice to the U.S. government: “Quit building battleships and build airplanes.”

Rickenbacker believed – largely correctly, as it turned out – that air power was set to overtake sea power as a dominant military force. He noted that other countries were already rushing headlong into air power. He warned that if the European war had lasted another year, “New York would have been bombed to destruction by a German air fleet.”

“Germany today leads the world in aeronautical science; she is not worrying about a (naval) fleet,” he said during a speech. “Crisscross the continent with air mail routes. The mail plane is 90 percent war efficient. It can be made a war plane in 24 hours. The money for one dreadnaught (large battleship) will build a thousand planes. In times of peace, they can be of service to the public.” He noted recent events had proven even a heavily armored ship was vulnerable to a bomber.

“A big bomb, dropped within 100 feet of a dreadnaught, will toss it out of the water,” he said.

He said that all of the country’s air forces should be united under a single Secretary of Air.

He did have one criticism of some current aeronautical fads. He did not think stunt flying was a particularly smart idea. Stunt flyers were “as dangerous as a man turning the corner at Howard and Riverside at 60 mph.”

From the movie beat: Child star Jackie Coogan, who starred with Charlie Chaplin in “The Kid,” ordered a Spokane-made miniature auto from the Inland Motorcycle Co.

The tiny car was about three feet high and it was powered by a 22-horsepower engine.

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