With more than five years of work behind it, a replica of The Lark of Duluth (a 1913 Benoist flying boat) has officially received its airworthiness certificate from the FAA, clearing it for first flight, the Duluth Aviation Institute said Thursday, and also a centennial celebration. The Institute recognizes the two-seat aircraft as “the world’s first ‘commercial’ airplane” and says “January 1, 2014, marks the 100 year anniversary of commercial aviation.” The organization also says it managed to see the airplane FAA approved on the 100-year anniversary of its first flight in Duluth. The original aircraft was intended to fly passengers for hire and did so on Jan. 1, 1914, in Florida, and for at least three more months that followed. Now, pilots and vintage aircraft lovers will have a few chances to see it again.
The aircraft will be shown at AirVenture Oshkosh this year, and prior to that at the festival to be held on the grounds of Sky Harbor Airport-Duluth July 12-14. The original aircraft’s history suggests it was rather prolific. It involves carriage of more than 1,200 passengers, including those flown by its sister ship named Florida, from January to April. The “airline” carried them one at a time between St. Petersburg and Tampa, Fla., at a cost of $5 per ticket, but service ended when a public subsidy dried up. The Lark of Duluth reportedly continued to fly, offering flights to joyriders at different locations across the U.S. While performing those duties in San Diego in 1914, the aircraft suffered a hard landing and was not repaired. Aside from the Duluth Aviation Institute’s replica, there is at least one other. It was constructed nearly 30 years ago by the Florida Aviation Historical Society and has spent time at Polk City Florida’s Fantasy of Flight museum.