Hugh Robinson, Early Aviator, is Born in Neosho: May 13, 1881

Hugh Robinson in 1911
SMU Libraries Digital Collections

Hugh Armstrong Robinson was born on this date in Neosho. He is believed to have been the third person to fly a mechanical aircraft, after the Wright Brothers, and was the first person ever to perform an air-to-sea rescue. He also flew the first airmail flight in 1911 and invented dive-bombing.

Robinson’s career was particularly centered around the use of seaplanes. He spent time as pilot and chief engineer at the Curtiss School of Aviation in San Diego, during which time he invented the tailhook system, which allows planes to land safely on the decks of ships. He also helped with the development and design of early seaplanes, piloting one out of the Mississippi River at St. Louis in 1911.

Robinson was also involved in the first-ever parachute jump from a plane, an event which took place in the skies over Jefferson Barracks in March, 1912. The plane used for the jump, which was carried about by Albert Berry from a Benoist aircraft built by Tom Benoist and Hugh Robinson.

Hugh Robinson crashes into the sea at Monaco, 1912 • Library of Congress

Throughout his life Robinson was involved in fifteen major air crashes, including one that was photographed in Monaco, and he survived each of them. Eventually, Robinson passed away at age eighty, of natural causes. Neosho’s Municipal Airport was dedicated and renamed Neosho Hugh Robinson Airport in his honor.