Like so many crazy stunts, it reportedly started with a bar bet.
On September 30, 1956, Thomas Fitzpatrick (below), a 26-year-old steamfitter from Emerson, New Jersey, was drinking at a tavern on St. Nicholas Avenue in Washington Heights.
For reasons that appear to be lost to history, Fitzpatrick bet another bar patron that he could get in a plane and land it in Washington Heights in 15 minutes.
It’s not clear if he made the time limit. But he did get a plane, a Cessna 140 two-seater stolen from Teterboro Airport, and flew it to Manhattan, where he landed it on St. Nicholas Avenue and 191st Street at 3 a.m.
Despite being drunk, Fitzpatrick “brought it down safely between six-story apartment buildings,” wrote The New York Times in 1958.
The plane “landed on a street with lampposts and cars parked on both sides,” a witness told The New York Times in a 2013 article. “It was a wonder—you had to be a great flier to put that thing down so close to everything.’’
Fitzpatrick told police that he brought the plane down in the street (below) because he had engine trouble, but they didn’t buy it. Originally charged with grand larceny, Fitzpatrick eventually paid a $100 fine.
That wasn’t Fitzpatrick’s only aeronautic feat. While drinking in a Washington Heights tavern on October 4, 1958, he told a patron about his previous Upper Manhattan plane-landing experience.
“Yesterday’s incident surprised and frightened residents and motorists who heard the plane descending,” wrote the Times. “The craft touched down, taxied a few yards and stopped in front of a Yeshiva University building.”
That second landing scored him six months in jail, after which as far as anyone knows, he never tried to fly to Washington Heights again.
[top two photos: New York Times; third photo, Philadelphia Inquirer]