Augustus Leazar, An Aviation Pioneer
On October 10, 1922 the Elizabeth City Independent published a report featuring a Mooresville native and Davidson College grad. Titled “Augustus Leazar,” the article declared that “Hundreds of people craned their necks Sunday to watch this daring fellow flirting with death in the clouds, 4,000 feet above Elizabeth City. A. Leazar capers about in the air, doing side swipes, tail spins, turning flips, and says it is no more exciting to him than driving a Ford.”
When this article was published, Augustus “Gus” Leazar had already enjoyed quite a career in aviation. The Wright brothers had made their first successful flight at Kitty Hawk only 19 years earlier, when Gus was a teenager. Leazar graduated from Davidson College in 1911, and the yearbook noted that “He dresses well, is a ladies man of no mean repute, has numerous poetic tendencies, and talks!” After graduating from Davidson, Gus went into auto racing, and one day when he was test-driving his car on Daytona Beach, an airplane landed nearby. When he went over to investigate, he encountered Ruth Law, one of the first female pilots in the country. They made a deal: he would take her for a spin in his race car and she would take him for a spin in her plane. Thus, his life-long love of flying was born.
In 1917, when the United States entered the First World War, Gus enlisted in the Signal Corps Aviation Section. As one of the few enlistees with flying experience, he became a flying instructor at bases in Texas, Louisiana, and California. He then studied aeronautical engineering in Boston. When the war ended, he was assigned to “special flying” at Langley Field in Virginia. Part of his assignment was to fly around the South doing exhibitions to recruit pilots for the Air Corps.
On July 20, 1919, the Charlotte Observer reported that “Pilot Lieutenant Augustus Leazar … in a Curtiss JN. 4-H, made a flight from Wilson, N.C., to Langley Field, 160 miles, in 1:20 at an altitude of 5,000 feet. Lieutenant Leazar, by his flight today, completed a decidedly valuable series of flights to the air service in the interest of recruiting, and demonstrated the importance of aerial service. His flying was for a distance of 2,430 miles…Stops were in 20 cities, and none of them had ever been visited by an airplane. The tour covered sections of Virginia and North Carolina.” He was discharged from the military on July 30 of that year.
After he left the army, Gus moved to Raleigh, where he obtained one of the first commercial pilot licenses ever issued. He was the test pilot during the tests for Raleigh native Carr Booker’s “Hummingbird,” an attempt to develop a small affordable plane. According to Thomas Parramore’s book First to Fly, “On the third and final public test run of the Hummingbird, Leazar landed the plane, but a broken wheel and other technical problems caused it to somersault. The crash was a fatal blow to the plane, and Booker’s Hummingbird never flew again.” Leazar then performed in barnstorming exhibitions, such as the one in Elizabeth City along the Atlantic coast and as far west as Texas. In 1923, he married Frances Partin Dunn. Six years later he was hired as the manager of the Curtiss-Wright facilities at Raleigh’s municipal airport; he was later transferred for several years to their facility at Candler Field near Atlanta. In 1941 he went to Washington where he worked as a regional chief investigator of accidents for the Civil Aeronautics Board. He later returned to Raleigh as the chief of the Southeastern Division of the CAB, a post which he held until his retirement in 1959. He died in Raleigh in February 1960.
Nancy Griffith lived in Davidson from 1979 until 1989. She is the author of numerous books and articles on Arkansas and South Carolina history. She is the author of "Ada Jenkins: The Heart of the Matter," a history of the Ada Jenkins school and center.