Join 3,435 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"It's the lousy drink," he said, summing things up.
December 4, 2013 11:20 AM   Subscribe

On September 20, 1956, just before the bars closed at 3 a.m., a single-engine plane landed on St. Nicholas Avenue near 191st Street in northern Manhattan. Behind the stick was 26-year-old Tommy Fiztpatrick, who pulled off the no-lights, no-radio "feat of aeronautics" while (allegedly) drunk to (allegedly) win a bar bet. Two years later, when a fellow patron called his story into question, Fitzpatrick did it again.
posted by gottabefunky (43 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
I blame the repeal of Prohibition.
posted by goethean at 11:24 AM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here's a (near) link to the image of the plane parked on Amsterdam Ave. The picture quality isn't really that great, but it's on the same page as a walrus with blood-shot eyes (again, an image that doesn't get conveyed well in this scan), and a short article about bees terrorizing a Rhodesian town.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:31 AM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is possibly the most awesome thing ever in the history of drinking.
posted by efalk at 11:33 AM on December 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


The world's first barfly.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:35 AM on December 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


"What do I know about walrus eyes?"

In my mind this perplexed veterinarian is Jackie Mason.
posted by elizardbits at 11:37 AM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


This made my day, thank-you.
posted by bicyclefish at 11:42 AM on December 4, 2013


I wonder what would happen if someone tried it today.

and is it possible with the NYC streets being what they are.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 11:49 AM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Eugene Register-Guard was, for many years, the nation's newspaper of record regarding small planes landing in urban environments.
posted by Naberius at 11:56 AM on December 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


Sounds like a Jean Shepard story.
posted by Abinadab at 11:57 AM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the liquor. I still like the guy with lawn chair, and pellet gun, and his balloon flight.

In other news, on that day in 1958, Prez Ike told Senator Greene that remarks such as his (criticizing the administration's Formosa policy) would embolden the enemy and make likely the very war he (Ike) was trying to avoid. Ike did assert that the US would fight "a Formosa War" if it was pushed upon us.

I am so relieved. If Ike had failed in Formosa, we might have spent the next two or three decades under the threat of nuclear / biological warfare, or perhaps be constantly embroiled in actions that we'd have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find labels that would let us avoid using the word war. It might have cost us tens of thousands of lives and billions in treasure.

Oh.

Nevermind.
posted by mule98J at 11:59 AM on December 4, 2013


Pfff, I'd be a lot more impressed if someone pulled this off in 2013. Back in the fifties anyone could do anything. As long as he was white.
posted by Behemoth at 12:18 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, the Pope had gastritis. Page 1 news man!
posted by yeti at 12:21 PM on December 4, 2013


Not strictly true, Behemoth. Maybe you could mostly get away with flying a plane drunk, but god forbid you join the Communist Party...
posted by topynate at 12:24 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, in fairness, the Pope died four days later.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:26 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


but it's on the same page as a walrus with blood-shot eyes

The latest National Geographic includes an article on Walrii I paged through last night and I was shocked how their eyes were bloodshot in several photos. This was on my list to research online today but I forgot. Your link from a 50 year old newspaper just answered it: bloodshot walrus eyes are normal.

filthy light thief, I owe you a pie or something.
posted by hal9k at 12:28 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


LET HER POINT TO HER FUTURE
with a
WURLITZER PIANO!
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:35 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


I wonder what would happen if someone tried it today.

Assuming you did not kill yourself, you would most likely be arrested.

I found a zoning map for the area online; using some sophisticated tools (a ruler) I determined that St. Nicolas Ave is about 100 feet wide at 191st street. Subtract for sidewalks and parked cars and the usable landing width could conservatively be assumed to be about half that. A fifty foot wide runway is certainly not large by any means, but a decent pilot in a small plane can land on one.

There are two larger problems which I would be more concerned with. First, available uninterrupted pavement length would be an issue. Intersections have little concrete islands, wires run across the street, there are stoplights sticking out that you may hit. Secondly, buildings packed together like they are in New York would create a wind tunnel effect that could blow your tiny little plane around like a leaf.

The photo caption shows the plane at 187th and Amsterdam, which is a bit closer to the river. If you wanted to pull this off today (and not die, I don't think I can help you with the legal aspects) I would come in over the Harlem River, fly over the park, and land on 187th as close to the park end as possible. Small airplanes like this (looks like it could be a Cessna 150 or something similar) can come to a stop in just a few hundred feet, so you'd be at a standstill before you hit the first traffic light.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:36 PM on December 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


9/20. Never Forget.
posted by Caskeum at 12:38 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pfff, I'd be a lot more impressed if someone pulled this off in 2013.

Oh, you could do it. You'd immediately be arrested for terrorism of some sort though.
posted by IvoShandor at 12:40 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Awesome. And awesome.
posted by yoga at 12:42 PM on December 4, 2013


Pfff, I'd be a lot more impressed if someone pulled this off in 2013.


There was this guy, who landed on Lake Shore Drive in 2013. He may have been less drunk though.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:43 PM on December 4, 2013


This is possibly the most awesome thing ever in the history of drinking.

Remember the rules: 8 inches between bottle and throttle.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:43 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Would you please quit telling us how to drunkenly land planes, backseatpilot?!
posted by orme at 12:46 PM on December 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


The terrorists have already won... IN THE PAST!
posted by blue_beetle at 12:50 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was going to go on a faux horrified reaction decrying the drunk for pointlessly endangering the lives of innocents and then abandoning his plane. But shit, this is such a crazy awesome feat I say it's totally worth the like risk of death and postmortem blame for the murders of 5 people max that a worst case scenario crash may have been able to kill with a small engine plane.

However, I do I wonder how mathematically it would compare to landing a 747 on the Hudson river.
posted by mediocre at 12:54 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not strictly true, Behemoth. Maybe you could mostly get away with flying a plane drunk, but god forbid you join the Communist Party...

Well, you didn't actually have to join if some random person would vouch you already had.
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:56 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is this like what happened with that Scottish helicopter last week?
posted by Renoroc at 1:00 PM on December 4, 2013


Well, now I have the perfect gift idea for dad.

Pilot's lessons and a bottle of bourbon.
posted by DigDoug at 1:16 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


And if one had an Alaskan Super Cub, one could recreate Fritz' bottle & throttle stunt in as little as 20 or so feet.
posted by msjen at 1:27 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Behemoth: Pfff, I'd be a lot more impressed if someone pulled this off in 2013. Back in the fifties anyone could do anything. As long as he was white.

From the first article: "Both times ended with Mr. Fitzpatrick charged with wrongdoing." (Though it doesn't say he what he was charged with, and if he ever paid/served -- then again, that article was written earlier this year, over 5 decades after the events.)
posted by filthy light thief at 1:27 PM on December 4, 2013


The latest National Geographic includes an article on Walrii I paged through last night and I was shocked how their eyes were bloodshot in several photos. This was on my list to research online today but I forgot. Your link from a 50 year old newspaper just answered it: bloodshot walrus eyes are normal.

filthy light thief, I owe you a pie or something.


Great! I love pie!
posted by filthy light thief at 1:28 PM on December 4, 2013


Renoroc: Is this like what happened with that Scottish helicopter last week?

No, because the chopper crashed and killed at least 9 people.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:29 PM on December 4, 2013


I landed my small plane on a twenty-five foot wide runway (Lake Anna airport in Virginia, before they widened it to to a capacious 40'), which was narrower than the wingspan of the plane. Good times. I didn't have any drinks though. As backseatpilot says, when landing on a street it would be the signs and overhead obstructions and the like that would concern me, since they are hard to see until it's too late.

The funny thing about the guy landing on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago a few months back is that he was the victim of a couple hit-and-runs by cars. "Oh shit, I just hit a plane, I'd better get out of here!"

Finally, here's a neat video of a small plane landing on a boat.
posted by exogenous at 1:39 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I used to live on that corner.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:05 PM on December 4, 2013


The funny thing about the guy landing on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago a few months back is that he was the victim of a couple hit-and-runs by cars.

Would love to hear that call to the insurance company.
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:27 PM on December 4, 2013


Something similar happened in Montreal, 50 years later. The day it happened I actually walked past the plan, parked in the middle of Park Avenue, just south of Avenue Mont-Royal. When I saw it I was interested but not amazed -- I must have had my head in the clouds (hah!). It was only later, when I heard it was an emergency landing, that it dawned on me just how surprising it was that no one was hurt. Park is a busy street!
posted by louigi at 2:48 PM on December 4, 2013


Well, there's some local history I didn't know about. The "did it again" article mentions he lived in Carlstadt, NJ (where I do) - probably one of the smallest, most obscure little corners of NJ, except maybe for Teterboro and Moonachie.
posted by blaneyphoto at 4:22 PM on December 4, 2013


Here's the Google Aerial image. In Google earth the street measures about 50 feet wide sidewalk-to-sidewalk. The wingspan of a Cessna 120/140 is 33 feet. I've landed on 30 foot runways a couple of times and it wasn't too hard, but of course there was a much wider clear area on either side of me. A lot hinges on whether there were any trees at the time of the landing. Apparently there were no cars, streetlights, nor overhead wire or this article would have been in the obituary section.
posted by Nelson at 4:45 PM on December 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Unidentified drinking friend" is soooooo the name of my next sockpuppet.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:48 PM on December 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


One problem with alcohol is that every drunk person thinks they are this guy
posted by thelonius at 10:55 PM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Unidentified drinking friend" is soooooo the name of my next sockpuppet.

Reminds me of Middle Aged Man's sidekick from SNL, Drinking Buddy. Is that you, Capt. Renault -- or should I say, Mike Meyers?!
posted by wenestvedt at 12:38 PM on December 5, 2013


He remained married for 51 years to his wife, Helen, who, when contacted recently, hung up on a reporter who asked about the flights.

I imagine it can't have been easy being married to such an impulsive fellow, no matter how much you loved him, or even how much you loved him impulsive qualities.

Also, she's probably sick of repeating the story all these years.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:16 AM on December 6, 2013


Or maybe it's just a Helen thing.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:43 AM on December 6, 2013


« Older Despite a customer base that crosses many demograp...  |  Within the confines of her tin... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments