Dewey Dorman: First Flight
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s… Dewey Dorman?
Although Dewey has long since landed his plane and faded from many memories, it was not too long ago that this North Dakota aviator was making headlines across the state.
Born on June 29, 1877, Dorman worked in Minot as the manager of Minot Machine and Supply Company, where he was known as a "splendid mechanic.” It was this experience in Minot that honed Dewey’s skills with machinery, and by 1910 he had designed and built a working model of an airplane.
Lacking the equipment to build his own flying machine from scratch, Dorman bought a Bleriot monoplane for three thousand dollars in 1911. The French fifty-horsepower airship arrived via the Soo Line Railway on May 25, 1911 where it became known as the "first airship owned by a citizen of North Dakota," according to the Minot Daily Reporter. With a wingspan of thirty-two feet and weighing 880 pounds, the 26-foot-long airplane became an object of curiosity in Minot. It also gained national recognition for being one of only a few monoplanes in the nation; most pilots flew biplanes.
It was on this day in 1911 that Dewey Dorman made his first flight. Rising a safe fifteen to twenty feet in the air, Dorman flew for a complete mile. After this successful first flight, Dewey made almost daily flights in June that became increasingly popular with locals, who drove miles to see him fly. Although many spectators believed that Dorman was "courting [a] sure death,” they still gazed in awe at this North Dakota pioneer of aviation.
Courageous after a month of accident free air time, Dorman attempted his first public exhibition flight on July 4 at the Ward County Fairgrounds. Nearly 5,000 people watched in horror as gusting winds tossed Dewey and his home-made plane into the air. Thinking quickly, Dorman shut off the engine before plunging down an embankment, smashing into a fence and badly breaking the framework of his machine. Uninjured, Dewey merely dusted off his shirt and immediately set to work repairing his airplane. Less than two months later Dorman was back in the air, flying publicly despite his damaged plane and near death experience!
Although this Minot “birdman” lucked out that day in July, Dewey’s luck didn’t last long. Not only did poor Dewey Dorman’s aviation career end in complications with the insurance on his airplane, but he was also flew three days too late to become the first North Dakotan to fly in North Dakota.
While not superman, Dewey Dorman can be remembered as one of the first daring North Dakotans to grace the skies.
By Ann Erling
Story by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck
Minot newspaper reports, 1910-1911