We felt our way and learned to fly like fledglings. Our first lessons were devoted to what we called grass-cutting. We would sit in the instruction plane for a ground run of about a mile and a half. Then we would get out, turn the plane around, and taxi back. It was necessary to control the throttle so that we would not lift off the ground. After we had qualified at doing that and were able to keep the machine straight, the next step was a straightaway hop on the same course. We would lift the machine about fifteen to one hundred feet in the air and then land. This simple instruction went on for quite a while before we were allowed to circle the field.
The instruction plane had no dual controls. It was a single-seater, and one had to remember what one was told and then trust to luck. After I went through this course, I had got the feel of the air and learned the nomenclature of a plane and the terms used in flying, but I was not much of a flyer. It did help me to get into the Air Corps later, however.
I believed then, as I believe today, that Giuseppe Bellanca is one of the greatest plane designers the world has ever known. He could got more lift out of less horsepower than any other plane maker. He always had tough going. He never had enough capital, and many of his associates were always more interested in promotion than in production. Bellanca produced the Columbia plane, built by hand. That type of plane had more crossings of the Atlantic to its credit than any other plane during the early period of transatlantic flying. In fact, the old Columbia is still kicking around somewhere. Bellanca planes of that period won all the efficiency contests at air meets, so many that the contests were finally eliminated. I actually saw the present multi-motor two-winged monoplane, now of standard typo, on Bellanca's drawing boards back in 1914. During World War II, the Navy took his design, went into production, with not even a word of credit or thanks to Giuseppe Bellanca. Some contractor made a lot of money out of it.
I kept pretty busy in 1915 and 1916, what with my work in the Attorney General's office, learning to fly, and building my fences for the 1916 Congressional campaign. I had my heart still set on going to Congress, and my first defeat did not discourage me. Once when I was in Washington, a member of Congress gave me a card to the "family" gallery. I would not go. I did not want to enter the House of Representatives until I could go on the floor as a member. But I read the Congressional Record religiously. That was the easiest part of my preliminary training. The big job was making friends so that I could win the election.
I knew that I could not depend much on the Republican organization, because of my first experience with it in 1914. It was pretty clear to me that the seat in Congress from my district appeared to belong to the National Liquor Dealers' Association in the name of Michael Farley, the Democratic incumbent, by tacit agreement with the Republicans. But I kept building up my contacts. My law office was a regular Legal Aid Society, and after Office hours at the Attorney General's office I made many friends useful to me in politics by going to clambakes, balls, weddings, and funerals—functions inseparable from the life of a man in politics. I got to know a great many people in my district.
WHEN the time came for the Congressional nomination in 1910, I was shocked and hurt to learn that I was not slated for the place on the Republican ticket. I felt I was entitled to it because of the run I had made in the previous election two years before. But that run had attracted a great deal of interest in the nomination. Everybody was nice, giving me good advice about not taking another licking. I was destined, they said, to be a judge or something big like that. "Just be a good boy, go along with the organization, help wherever you can," they told me. That didn't register very well with me.
I got my petitions printed. I was told that was not in the books, that recognition had been given me by my appointment as Deputy Attorney General; I must not hurt my own interest, but just go along and be a good soldier. I insisted that I would contest any nomination made by the party and run in the primaries against another Republican organization choice.
Finally, I made an appointment to see Fred Tanner, who was then Republican State Chairman. He had been leader of my home district. Fred Tanner was a prominent lawyer, scholarly and gentlemanly, who was interested in politics. He had had a meteoric rise in the Republican Party, but he was far too refined and clean to make a success as boss of the New York State Republicans. Naturally, Tanner was greatly occupied, as it was a Presidential year. New York State was going to the Republican convention in Chicago with its Governor, Charles S. Whitman, as its favorite son. I do not believe Fred Tanner was very hot about Whitman.
I had an interesting talk with the State Chairman. He repeated the old gaff about my future in politics, and he tried to convince me that it was to my interest to stay put that year. I was not a bit impressed. He was frank enough to tell me that a young outsider wanted the Congressional nomination badly that year. And this young man's friends had promised to make a substantial contribution to the Republican Party if he got the nomination. The outsider's name was Hamilton Fish. There is no doubt that he wanted to go to Congress, and he succeeded after World War I. But he was elected to Congress from Dutchess County, a long way from 14th Street in Manhattan.