Title: Pioneer's kin writes history of aviation in city
Author: Steve Doyle
Publisher: The Huntsville Times
Author descended from designer of state's 1st airplane
As a great-grandson of the man who designed Alabama's first airplane, Gary Wicks is understandably fascinated by aviation history.
The NASA retiree has parlayed that interest into a new book, "Images of Aviation: Huntsville Air and Space" ($21.99, Arcadia Publishing). Due to go on sale next week, the 128-page paperback is an illustrated history of this area's high-flying ways.
Wicks, 72, said the book grew out of his desire to write a biography of his great-grandfather, William Lafayette Quick. Around 1900, the New Market blacksmith and his sons began building a "flying machine" in the family's workshop.
The Wright Brothers got all the glory for reaching the skies first, but Quick wasn't far behind. In April 1908, his plane left the ground briefly, then jerked to the right and crashed near the Flint River.
Despite the bumpy ending, it is considered the first successful flight in Alabama. The plane is on display at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center's Davidson Center for Space Exploration.
Wicks' book also delves into the mostly forgotten story of Huntsville's early airports, including a grass landing strip near Whitesburg Drive and the old airport in present-day John Hunt Park.
With a rickety wooden shanty for a terminal, the old airport wasn't much to look at. But by November 1944, locals could take to the skies in a gleaming DC-3 operated by Pennsylvania Central Airline.
Wicks dug up two pictures from the inaugural commercial flight, including Susie Spragins christening the plane with water from Big Spring and jeweler J.B. Hill climbing aboard as the first passenger.
"I feel like I kind of nailed down some history for the city," Wicks said Friday. "It was excruciatingly slow and painful to get an airport going.
Really, it was NASA and the military expansion that forced the city fathers into the airport business."
The second half of the book is devoted to Huntsville's quest for outer space. Wicks borrowed dozens of images - some obscure, some well known - from his former employer, Marshall Space Flight Center, plus the Army Aviation and Missile Command.
One memorable photo from Jan. 31, 1958, shows then-Huntsville Mayor R.B. Searcy and others lighting firecrackers in the street to celebrate the launch of the Explorer 1 satellite.
Wicks said he expects Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, among others, to carry the book. It is also available through his publisher's Web site, www.arcadiapublishing.com.