Flying horses and Lexington's aviation history featured in new book

ctruman@herald-leader.comApril 22, 2014 

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    For more about Lexington's aviation history and more photos from Blue Grass Airport: An American Aviation Story, go to Page C1.

From the time J.A.D. McCurdy swooped into Lexington in his Curtiss biplane on Aug. 9, 1911, Lexingtonians were in love with aviation.

In 1912, the Kentucky Association racetrack downtown was the first to merge two of Lexington's great passions: horse racing and flying planes. The 1912 Aviation Meet and Automobile Races was held at the track, which was transformed into an impromptu aerodrome of temporary hangars.

The three-day meet drew an estimated 50,000 people.

Lindbergh flew in to Lexington in 1928, trying to dodge hordes of fans who swarmed his every appearance after his transatlantic crossing the previous year. Aviatrix Amelia Earhart spoke at the old Henry Clay High School in 1936.

Lexington's first airfield was off Leestown Road in what is now the Meadowthorpe neighborhood. Then it was the home of Samuel Halley, president and general manager of the Fayette Tobacco Warehouse.

Although not a pilot himself, Halley was fascinated by machines and gadgetry, and allowed a part of his property to become an airstrip, known as Lexington Municipal Airport-Halley Field.

Flight in Lexington is the driving force behind a new book, Blue Grass Airport: An American Aviation Story (West High LLC, Blue Grass Airport, $39.95). The book came out last week with Lexington book signings featuring former astronaut Story Musgrave, who wrote in the introduction that "it is here that aviation became my calling."

A Bedouin proverb says that horses fly without wings. But one chapter of the book chronicles how the Bluegrass's precious cargo flies with wings, huge metal ones, and gets first-class treatment.

H.E. Sutton Forwarding Co. might not sound like the most exciting of businesses, but what it does is unique: Established by the late Tex Sutton, it works exclusively on transporting horses by air.

In the book's chapter about horse flight, written by former Herald-Leader horse racing reporter Maryjean Wall, the experience of flying horses is described.

In 2012, Sutton's company flew 591 horses out of Blue Grass Airport on its Boeing 727.

"Pilots take special care when flying horses so as not to throw them off balance," the books says. "They make wide turns and smooth landings. The pilots begin their descent about 100 miles farther out than customary. This enables them to make a shallow descent to the runway. With live cargo whose value might run into the millions of dollars, they can't take chances that might lead to their passengers becoming injured."

One unique maintenance problem: The plane is checked regularly for spilled urine. Every 100 flight hours the crew removes the horse stalls from the plane to check the fuselage floor for corrosion, which could occur if urine should leak onto the metal surface.

Cheryl Truman: (859) 231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman.

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