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Wiseman 1910 Biplane
Fred J. Wiseman and Jean Peters working on their aircraft at the Laughlin ranch, 1910
Fred J. Wiseman attendance at the Los Angeles air meet that January cemented his ambitions to take up flying and to build an aircraft with his long-time racing partner and mechanic, Jean Peters (AKA J. W. Peters, Julian Pierre and John Peters). Funding the venture was a $10,000 investment by Ben Noonan, an old Santa Rosa friend and former business partner of Wiseman’s.
Working under a tent in a pasture – appropriately, about a mile northeast of today’s Sonoma County Airport – they began assembling the flying machine the pair had started designing in San Francisco. About six weeks later their first test flight occurred.
The Press Democrat printed a lengthy description of that version of their aircraft that will probably be of interest to historians (although not without mistakes; what they called “macadamite” was probably phenolic, for example, and poor Jean Peters was cleaved in twain, ID’ed simultaneously as “Julian Pierre and M. W. Peters”). The Press Democrat erred in writing they were building a “Farman biplane.” Today it’s recognized that they ended up mixing features from Farman, Curtiss, and the Wright brother’s designs. Given that the Wrights were already suing Curtiss for patent infringement, the hybrid Peters-Wiseman plane had the potential to win any competition for Aeroplane Most Likely To End Up In Court.
Events followed breathlessly by both of the town’s newspapers. Over forty articles about his doings appeared in one year alone. Reporter Tom Gregory flew one morning with Fred Wiseman and thus entered the record books himself as the world’s first terrified passenger.
“I had assured Wiseman that there was no limit to my nerve,” Gregory wrote in his Press Democrat essay, “but when I saw him monkeying around the engine of his bi-plane, and I looked aloft and saw the emptiness of things up there, I begin to get skreeky.”
“How shall I describe it? Just as soon as the wheels left the ground we seemed to stand still, and every object around us and below us seemed to hurry past. There wasn’t a bump or jar, though occasionally a swinging sensation when Wiseman tipped his plane the fraction of an inch–infinitesimal things count for much up in the air–and we were pulling higher against gravitation…I didn’t do any talking or anything else except gasp and catch breath, but I noted that Wiseman was exceedingly busy. He would elevate and depress his altitude planes as we would strike a warmer body of air which would drop us–or a colder, which, being heavier, would buoy us up to a greater elevation. Of course we would fall first on one side and then the other, and Fred’s shoulders woud work the tilting planes in his almost-agony to get her level again. Once when we went over until I almost quit breathing he attempted a jest by saying our starboard wing had passed over somebody’s hot chimney…He picked a “soft place to fall on,” and killed the engine, and in the silence which seemed doubly silent after the boom of the motor and propeller, we glided softly down; the wide planes parachuting us in safety, to the old earth.”

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