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Philip O. Parmelee

1887 - 1912


2016 Philip Parmelee Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame

Philip Orin Parmelee was born in Clinton County, Michigan, on March 8th, 1887, and showed a mechanical aptitude for small engines from an early age. In his teen years, he built a variety of gas and electric motors and received early notoriety for building a steam-powered automobile of his own design, which he drove, at speed, through the streets of his hometown. As a young man, he worked for several local machine and motor companies and was eventually hired by the Buick Automobile Company in Flint, MI. While working for Buick, Parmelee became fascinated by the sleek racing cars of Louis Chevrolet. When one of the vehicles arrived at the plant for repairs, Parmelee is reputed to have taken it on an unauthorized, high-speed night drive to Flushing, a 19- mile round trip. The speed and risk of racing appealed to Philip, and his mechanical aptitude earned him a place as head mechanic for a car which would eventually win the Glidden tour, a grueling annual road race from New York to various locations in the South.


While on a promotional road tour for Buick, Parmelee visited Orville and Wilbur Wright at the Wright Flying School in Montgomery, AL, where he was bitten by the flying bug. Like auto racing, the challenge and risk of early flight excited him, and Philip applied to the school soon after his visit and was accepted in 1910. He excelled as an aviator, earning the nickname Skyman , and upon completion of his flight training was asked to join the seven-member

Wright Exhibition Team as a demonstration pilot. He and the team spent a year touring the country in the Wright B Flyer and participating in air shows, competitions, and demonstrations. Stopping in large cities and small towns alike, this tour served as the first exposure to the miracle of flight for tens of thousands of Americans and inspired countless individuals to pursue their own dreams of flying. A true pioneer, Philip Parmelee achieved numerous world records and aviation firsts, sometimes on the same flight, between 1910 and 1912. The first of these occasions occurred on November 7, 1910, when Philip was contacted by a department store owner desperate to receive 100 pounds of silk for a
store's grand opening the next day. Parmelee strapped the bolts of fabric onto to his Wright B, and completed the overland 65 mile journey from Dayton to Columbus, OH, in 57minutes. This trip marked the first time commercial cargo was transported by air, and also set a new world speed record. In the spring of 1911, Parmelee, together with Lt. Benjamin Foulois, flew the Wright Flyer on the first-ever military aerial reconnaissance mission along the Mexican border. That same year, Parmelee piloted the aircraft Grant Morton jumped from to become the first man to parachute from an airplane. Parmelee also piloted the first aircraft to drop a bomb, the first aircraft to receive radio messages, the first aircraft from which photos were taken, and he held the world flying endurance record. He accomplished all of these feats in just over two years. Sadly, on June 1, 1912, he was piloting an aircraft at an air show in Yakima, Washington when a rogue gust of wind slammed his aircraft into the ground, killing
him instantly. He is buried in East Plains Cemetery in Clinton County, Michigan, and a historic marker to Parmelee is displayed at the Lansing Capital Region International Airport.

For his pioneering spirit and substantial contributions to aviation, Philip O. Parmelee embodies the virtue and qualities extolled by the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame.

Smithsonian Institution Affiliations Program