Toy plane races hit high note at exposition in 1916

San Diego’s first model airplane meet took place in April 1916 at the Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park. Students from more than 20 grammar schools competed in the event with rubber-band-powered toy planes.

Trials were held on Saturday afternoons throughout the month of April, and silver cups were presented to the winners. Edward Butler won for the trophy for speed and altitude. Harley Knox won the cup for distance and duration.

From The San Diego Union, Sunday, April 2, 1916:



Schoolboys Enthusiastic Over

Contest at Exposition;

Another Scheduled Saturday.

Boys will be boys and aeroplanes will be aeroplanes. Big or little, the same rule applies. As much was proved yesterday afternoon at the Exposition motor demonstration field, when hundreds of enthusiastic youngsters from the local schools joined in the preliminaries of the widely heralded model aeroplane meet.

Every boy in the crowd was in his element and ever “toy” aeroplane set in action behaved in a style imitative of the big tractors on North Island field. Young America, keen for the contest, exerted itself to the limit. And everyone of those model flying machines seemed to work like a charm.

To get a good idea of what these boys have done it is necessary to view their handiwork. Grown-ups who failed to witness yesterday’s demonstration will get another chance to watch this interesting, educational sport next Saturday afternoon. Each of the the little machines seems a replica of the big ones now in service here and elsewhere. To be sure, the lads wind them up with egg-beater attachments, then release the rubber “motors” to make them take the air, but when it is noted that one miniature air craft flew all the way from the motor field to the Hawaiian village yesterday, it is easy to see that the whole affair is no joke.

Ariel Millias, president of the Model Aero Club and manager of the meet, was highly pleased with the showing made yesterday. So were all of the others. Millais has managed similar meets in the East and he said he had never seen better preliminaries than were held yesterday. Next Saturday the competition begins for the cups which are to be awarded to the school having the greatest number of points in each of the five events — distance, speed, altitude, duration and rise from ground. The results of yesterday’s preliminaries were:

Distance —First, Edward Butler, High school, 550 yards; second Don Owens, 510 yards.

Speed —First, Edward Butler, 100 feet in 4 seconds; second, Don Owens 100 feet in 5 seconds.

Altitude —First, Eric Kramer, 30 feet; second, Don Owens, 25 feet; third, Edward Butler, 24 feet.

Duration —First, Don Owens, 28 1/2 seconds; second, Edward Butler, 26 seconds; third, John Moore, 25 1/2 seconds.

Historical photos and articles from The San Diego Union-Tribune archives are compiled by Merrie Monteagudo. Search the U-T historic archives at