Benoist 2014 Engine Update

1) 4-Banger side viewThe Benoist project we’re building to recreate the 100th anniversary of the first scheduled airplane airline flight by Tony Jannus uses a six-cylinder two-cycle 75hp Roberts engine.

We know of only seven in the world and there are none to be purchased. This is one of two 4-cylinder 50hp Roberts engines I found and acquired.

We were able to borrow a six-cylinder engine from Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome that Cole Palen had acquired years ago to reverse-engineer. It had been in a crash and the case had been welded in several places.

2) 4- Banger rear

Here’s a view of the back end with the gears for the single magneto, water pump and rotary valve induction tube.

The 75hp six-cylinder engine has two more cylinders (12 ½ hp per cylinder) than the 50hp four-cylinder and uses two of the same carburetors.


8) Rough Liner and one cut text piece


Here’s a rough cylinder liner casting on the left. The one on the right has been machined and the top partially cut out to check for proper thickness. It was actually too thin in one spot and the casting pattern had to be adjusted to compensate. Any bad parts and pieces can be melted back into the pot and used in a future attempt.

4) Pistons rough

Here are steps from left to right in casting and machining the cast iron pistons.


13) Connecting Rods

Here are six connecting rods for one engine. The big end connects to the crankshaft with two bolts and another curved piece and the little end connects to a piston with a piston pin. Each assembly will go up and down in the cast iron cylinder liner twenty times a second!


14) Lower Case halves

Here are lower crankcase halves. They were easier to make than the upper halves and were made first. The one on the right is from the borrowed original engine and the one on the left is newly made. The square tab at the lower left of each is where the magneto bolts on.


15) Crankshaft

Here, the crankshaft is set up on a lathe for final machining. This started life as a 900 lb. solid billet. After much whittling down, and two sessions of annealing, it will end up weighing about 48 lbs.!

So what do you think of the progress so far?!


Categories: Benoist Project Overview, Roberts Engine | 3 Comments

Taking Notice

People are starting to take notice of our project to recreate the world’s first schedule airline service on January 1, 2014.  Local Tampa Fox News affiliate WTVT recently aired a segment on the Benoist project featuring our fearless leader, Kermit Weeks.

Are you making plans to be there when we fly?

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The Lark of Duluth

Recently, Kermit and the crew visited Duluth, MN to check up on the progress of the “Lark of Duluth” project being built by the Duluth Aviation Institute. This Benoist is a replica of the forerunner of the Benoist we’re building for the 100th Anniversary flight of the first scheduled airplane airline service on January 1st, 2014 flown by Tony Jannus from St. Pete to Tampa.  While we are approaching our construction efforts and purposes from two different design perspectives, our project gets to benefit somewhat by theirs, as we’re not “on stage” until six months after they are.



Since there are no original 75hp six-cylinder 2-cycle Roberts engine available for our Benoist, we’re building one from scratch. They have opted to use an off-the-shelf 140hp 4-cylinder 4-cycle GM marine engine. Both are liquid cooled.

Since their engine turns at a higher rpm, they will have to change their sprocket ratio from the engine to the propeller to get the propeller to turn at the proper rpm. Our sprocket ratio will be the original 1:1, meaning the propeller will be turning the same rpm as the engine.

While it will certainly be less costly than our engine, it will NOT sound like ours. Think Honda vs. Harley!


Here’s their cockpit. Kermit loved the way they did their seat construction. Currently, ours is plywood. We’re sure the original did NOT have seat belts but both projects use them for safety. The main control stick is the tall one and the rudder control is the handle on the left… forward for right and backward for left. Their workmanship is awesome!



Here are their finished wings! They hope to fly their airplane for many summer seasons so opted to paint all the fabric surfaces. Most of the original pictures show unpainted fabric surfaces, which we will reproduce with just clear dope.


Here, project head Mark Marino and Kermit show the position of the propeller, which is driven by two sprockets and a large chain.



This is a picture taken from the original airplane over Duluth from a camera mounted out on the wing. You can see the pilot squeezing the bulb with his left hand to take the picture!


Our visit pointed out just how far we have to go but at the same time served as a source of inspiration for all involved!


Categories: Benoist History, Benoist Project Overview, Research, Roberts Engine | 4 Comments

Wing Update

As we reported in our last update, the top wing is now assembled. Here, Ken Kellett shows us some details of the wing and wing building process. He also tells us some of the major milestones approaching, including the weather window that we have to deal with in Florida when it comes to doping the fabric covering for the wings.


Categories: Airframe Process, Benoist Project Overview | 1 Comment

We Have a Wing!

Our master craftsman, Ken Kellett, recently completed the assembly of the Benoist upper wing. This marks a major milestone for the project and gives you a sense of the scale on the Type XIV aircraft we are building for the Benoist 2014 project. Here’s a picture of the completed wing with our fearless leader, Kermit Weeks, who will pilot the Benoist on the anniversary flight on January 1, 2014.

Upper Wing

The next major assembly for Ken to tackle will be the fuselage. It’s really starting to come together!

Is the assembled wing bigger or smaller than you thought it would be? Let us know in the comments below.


Categories: Airframe Process, Benoist Project Overview | 1 Comment

Propeller Update

Fantasy of Flight’s Ken Kellett visits Sensenich Propellers in Plant City, Florida.

Sensenich President, Donald Rowell shows Ken the progress made on the beautiful mahogany wood propeller they are making for the Benoist.

Categories: Benoist Project Overview | 1 Comment

Benoist Construction Update: Wing Panels

Fantasy of Flight’s wood and fabric specialist, Ken Kellett gives a September 2012 progress update on the building of the Benoist reproduction.

Categories: Airframe Process, Benoist Project Overview | 4 Comments

The First Airline Passenger

The issue of who would be the first ever paying airline passenger in the world was settled in a very American way… through competitive bidding. The two highest bidders turned out to both be former mayors of the departure city, St. Petersburg, Florida. The winner, Abram C. Pheil, paid a whopping $400 for the spot, out-bidding Noel Mitchell who wouldn’t go higher than $375. Accounting for inflation, that would amount to over $9000 in 2012 for a 23-minute flight across the bay to Tampa!

Line owner P. E. Fansler, first passenger Abram C. Pheil, and pilot Tony Jannus just before the launch of the world’s first scheduled commercial airline flight.

But Pheil was on no pleasure cruise. While in Tampa, he placed a several thousand dollar order for his wholesale house and returned on the afternoon plane, making his flight not only the first paying airline flight, but the first commercial business trip by air.

On the second trip across the bay, pilot Tony Jannus was joined by Mitchell as the sole passenger. Mitchell paid only $175 for his ticket on the second flight… still a cool $4000 in today’s currency.

Space on the Benoist was sold out for 16 weeks in advance when the line opened, according to line owner P.E. Fansler. The line continued in operation for three months without injury to a passenger and with only two forced landings. It closed only because of the exodus of tourists for the north at the end of the winter season.

The advent of the war prevented renewed operation of the line, which would have been on a grander scale, using a 12-passenger flying boat on which Benoist was working at the outbreak of hostilities.

Fansler considered the three-month operation of the line a success. It was underwritten by a group of St. Petersburg boosters to the extent of $25 a day for each day on which the two scheduled flights were made. Passenger fares were $5 one-way and $10 roundtrip.


Categories: Benoist History, Research | 1 Comment

Launch Site

Last week we talked about St. Pete in 1914 and the launch area for the first commercial flight. So this week, check out how we pick the launch area for the 2014 flight:

Categories: Benoist History, Research | 3 Comments

St. Pete in 1914

St. Pete Waterfront in 1906

St. Pete Waterfront in 1906

P.T. Fansler brought in Tom Benoist to start a service using his new airboats to connect St. Petersburg and Tampa, FL, via air. At the time–1913–a trip around the bay, even by car, took hours.

A 3-month contract with the St.Petersburg board of trade was signed on the 10th anniversary of the Kitty Hawk flight, 17 December 1913, subsidizing 50% of the costs for starting the airline. Problems cropped up nonetheless: the hangars promised for the airline were not completed, and the freight train holding the green and yellow “Lark of Duluth” was unaccounted for several days leading up to the launch date. However, nothing would hold back the team from a triumphant start.

Downtown St. Pete 1910

Downtown St. Pete 1910

On January 1, 1914 the SPT Airboat Line became the world’s first scheduled winged airline service when Tony Jannus piloted the airline’s Benoist Type XIV on its maiden flight between St. Petersburg and Tampa. Jannus’ passenger was St. Pete former-Mayor Abram Pheil, who won his ticket in an auction for $400. Pheil proudly boarded the wooden, open-air craft for the 22-minute flight that rarely exceeded an altitude of 5 feet above the water of Tampa Bay.

In 1914, St. Petersburg had barely been a city for twenty years, having incorporated in 1892 with just 300 residents. The city was co-founded by John C. Williams, who purchased the land in 1876, and Peter Demens, who was instrumental in bringing the terminus of a railroad there in 1888. After dredging brought shipping and fishing business to the piers, the population quickly grew to over 4,000 by 1910 and, by the time of Jannus’ flight, exceeded 5,000. It is then no small feat that 3000 people turned out in St. Pete for the Benoit launch.

While the precise launch spot of the original flight has been lost to history and development, a spot near the water’s edge is marked with a monument from the first flight. Our 2014 launch will take place as close to that marker as possible as we attempt to faithfully recreate that flight on January 1, 2014!

Categories: Benoist Project Overview | 1 Comment