In the center of the Lower Peninsula near the Maple River is the East Plains Cemetery. Next to a headstone is a small historical marker for “Skyman” Philip Parmalee. He was born in 1887 not far from the cemetery near the small town of Hubbardston. He worked at a machine shop in St. Johns and was skilled at building small engines. He moved to Flint and became and fell in love with racing cars while working for Buick.
In 1910, he submitted an application and was chosen to join the Wright Flying School run by Wilbur Wright and Orville Wright. After training, he joined the Wright Exhibition Team. With his blond hair, dashing good looks, and fearless flying abilities, he was given the nickname “Skyman”. He was credited with the first commercial flight of an airplane, establishing a world cross-country speed record, holding the world flying endurance record, piloting the first aircraft to drop a bomb, conducting the first military reconnaissance flight, and piloting the first aircraft involved in the world’s first parachute jump.
Tragically his life was cut short in 1912 when his airplane flipped over in turbulence and crashed during an exhibition flight in Yakima Washington. His body was sent back to Michigan and he was laid to rest near the town where he was born. Few people know his name or his story but he was an early pioneer in the history of flight and his contributions should not be forgotten.
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