If you have ever lived in Brooklyn, New York or have ever traveled to the Borough, you must have seen or heard of this man's name over and over again. This man took immense risks and didn't seem to fear anything whatsoever.
So, who is this remarkable person? His name is Floyd Bennett and he was born in Warrensburg, New York, on October 25, 1890. He dropped out of school at the age of 17 and decided to become an auto mechanic. Bennett admired cars from an early age and was delighted to work in the field.
When World War I broke out, Bennett watched the conflict closely and then enlisted in the United States Navy (American involvement began in 1917). Once enlisted, he worked as an aviation mechanic and then decided to sign up for aviation training. Once his training was completed he earned his pilot's wings, but decided to remain as an aviation mechanic for the duration of the war. After the war, Bennett decided to continue serving in the U.S. Navy.
Bennett was assigned to Lieutenant Commander Richard E. Byrd's naval aviation group in 1925. This aviation group was attached to D. B. MacMillan's expedition which eventually traveled to Greenland. Bennett’s character, patience, and ability caught the attention of his commander, and he soon became Byrd's close friend and personal pilot. Over time, Byrd came to respect his ability as a skilled pilot.
During the next year, Byrd chose Bennett to be his pilot in an attempt to reach the North Pole. On May 9, 1926 both men traveled in a Fokker Tri-motor aircraft called the Josephine Ford. Fortunately, the aircraft made it to its intended destination without any major malfunctions. A handful of European newspapers were very skeptical of their claim due to poor weather conditions and the high probability of aircraft malfunctions. These newspapers could not comprehend how these two American airmen survived at such high altitudes and unbearable weather conditions.
Byrd and Bennett were seen as heroes in the United States and both received the Medal of Honor for their successful trip (A special act was passed by Congress on December 21, 1926.) Both Byrd and Bennett were promoted; Byrd to Commander and Bennett to Warrant Mechanic. The medals were presented to both men at the White House by President Calvin Coolidge on February 25, 1927.
He and Byrd then began planning for an air crossing of the Atlantic in their second plane, the America. Unfortunately, the plane crashed on a test flight and Bennett suffered serious injuries, including a punctured lung and broken ribs. This gave Charles Lindbergh the opportunity to make his famous New York to Paris flight in May of 1927.
After returning to the United States, Bennett flew the Josephine Ford on a goodwill tour of America. He was joined by with Bernt Balchen, a Norwegian aviator, who served as his co-pilot. Later in his life Balchen claimed that Bennett confessed to him that he and Byrd did not reach the North Pole, but flew around in circles instead. Many aviation historians would argue that Bennett did indeed reach the North Pole and dismiss most of Balchen's claims.
Although he was not completely recovered from his serious injuries, Bennett was appointed second-in-command of Byrd's 1928-1930 expedition to the South Pole. Byrd left the majority of the planning to Bennett. Before the expedition set out, Bennett joined fellow aviator Bernt Balchen who set out to rescue the crew of the Bremen, the first aircraft to cross the Atlantic from west to east, which had crashed off of the coast of Labrador, Canada. The crew of the Bremen were planning a non-stop trip to Europe. (Balchen would later pilot Byrd to the South Pole in 1929. He then became a highly decorated Army Air Force officer during the World War II and retired from the United States Air Force as a colonel.)
While flying to the crash site, Bennett, still weakened from the earlier crash of the America, caught pneumonia. He was extremely ill and taken to a hospital in Quebec, Canada. Charles Lindbergh volunteered to fly a serum to Bennett, but unfortunately arrived too late. Floyd Bennett died on April 25, 1928 in a Quebec hospital. He was mourned throughout the United States as a national hero. Surprisingly, he was not buried in his home state of New York, but it was later decided that he would be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
During his career in the Navy he received several awards including the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, and the World War I Victory Medal. On April 16, 1942 The USS Bennett (DD-473), a Fletcher-class destroyer was named in honor of him. The ship received a Navy Unit Commendation and nine battle stars for its service during the Second World War.
During Commander Byrd's flight to the South Pole in 1929, he named his Ford tri-motor aircraft Floyd Bennett in memory of his close friend and colleague. If you travel to his hometown of Warrensburg, New York you will find the Floyd Bennett Park and Bandstand which is named after him as well. Furthermore, Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport in Queensbury, New York was named in his honor.
It was later decided that since him and his wife resided in Brooklyn at the time of his death that New York's first municipal airport in Marine Park, Brooklyn would bear his name as well (Many believe that the sports complex Aviator is also named after him.) The airport was dedicated on May 23, 1931 in ceremonies attended by Mrs. Bennett.
It is difficult to travel around Brooklyn and not see this man's name virtually everywhere. Moreover, P.S. 203 in Brooklyn was also named after him as well as some other buildings throughout New York City.
There is no doubt that this man deserves immense respect from not just every New Yorker, but every American. He was a man that took on unprecedented challenges when aviation was in its infancy. This man explored the limits of aviation to see how far he could be pushed on both a mental and physical level. Due to his sacrifice and dedication, the history of aviation would never have excelled into the direction that it did without him. So, from now on when you see his name anywhere be sure to tell his remarkable story to everyone you know.