Philip Orin Parmelee 1887-1912
Charles W., Orren M., Erastus K., Joshua, Joshua, Jehiel, Joshua, John, John



Wright brothers' pilot Philip Orin Parmelee set many records in the early days of flight, including the first pilot to take an army officer on a bombing run, the first to make a landing on a ship, the first to send wireless messages and the first cargo delivery.

The 23-year-old Michigan auto mechanic and racer was one of the first five candidates to sign up when the brothers opened a flying school at Dayton, Ohio, in 1910 to join the Wrights' original five pilots. Wrights' were said to be among the most poorly paid in the business, receiving $20 per week plus $50 for every day they flew. Prize money at meets went to the company.

Philip also made at least one movie, a 1912 Mack Sennett silent comedy "A Dash Through the Clouds," which includes footage of him piloting a Wright Model B. Playing the role of Slim the Aviator, Philip flew with actress Mabel Normand (1892-1930) in the aerial scenes. In this release, he and Normand’s character, Josephine, fly to the rescue of her boyfriend, Chubby, played by Fred Mace, who is in hiding in a shack from a group of Mexicans whom he has angered. At the 8-minute film’s end, Josephine switches her affection from Chubby to Slim. A copy of the film is in the Library of Congress. (As was common with early films, this short was released under different titles; in the original, Mace's and Normand's characters were Arthur and Martha.)

A few months after making the movie, Philip was killed while performing at an air show at North Yakima, Wash., crashing his plane June 1 in an apple orchard. He was 25.

Normand went on to also take a ride with Horace Kearny / Kearney (1885-1912), a pilot who survived more than two dozen crashes. His last flight, from Long Beach to San Francisco, ended when his plane plunged into the Pacific off Redondo Beach on Dec. 14, 1912. His body was recovered five days later, and he was buried on Christmas Eve. He was 27.

At left is an interview with Normand that appeared in the July 29, 1913, edition of the South Bend (Ind.) News-Times.

She starred in pictures with Charles Chaplin, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Boris Karloff, and Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy. She wrote and directed movies, and had her own studio and production company. In 1923 she had a recurrence of tuberculosis, which led to her death in 1930 at age 37.

Normand's name comes up several times in the 1950 Gloria Swanson classic "Sunset Boulevard." In fact, the lead character, silent-screen actress Norma Desmond, is a mash-up tribute to her and actor-director William Desmond Taylor. Marisa Tomei portrayed her in the 1992 film "Chaplin" opposite Robert Downey Jr. in the title role.


Also see:

Flight Back in Time: One hundred years later, two men re-create Philip's historic commercial flight over the Ohio countryside in a replica plane.

Picture Postcard: The last photo of Philip, taken just hours before his fatal flight, has been found.

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Updated Oct. 1, 2020