August 27, 1910
The first known wireless transmission of a message between an airplane and the ground below took place in Brooklyn, New York. Canadian aviator John Alexander Douglas McCurdy sent this pioneering message from the Curtiss biplane he was piloting 500 feet (152.4 meters) above the earth. He had a 50-foot (15.2-meter) antenna trailing his plane. McCurdy, flying over Barren Island (located off Brooklyn’s southeastern shore), was one mile (1.6 kilometers) away from Sheepshead Bay Race Track. McCurdy used a telegraphic key on the steering wheel of his aircraft for communicating with an operator named Harry M. Horton, who was awaiting the message on the roof of the racetrack’s grandstand.
McCurdy’s flight began at the racetrack just a few minutes before six o’clock that Saturday evening. Automobile Topics magazine reported that McCurdy “reversed the visor of his cap, waited till his ear told him that the engine was running true and sweet, flapped down his hand in the getaway signal, shot forward and took wing.” About an hour later, he sent the following message to Horton: “OVER BARREN ISLAND, 6.54 P.M. – H.M. HORTON : Another chapter in aerial achievement is recorded in the sending of this wireless message from an aeroplane in flight.”
This experiment in wireless messaging between the skies and earth was witnessed by U.S. Army Signal Corps officers, representatives from the Aero Club of America, various newsmen, and thousands of other spectators who were on hand that day at the race track.
Additional information on this flight and others that took place around that time in the skies above Brooklyn is available in the article “Bird Men Perform at Sheepshead Bay” in the 3 September 1910 issue of Automobile Topics magazine at Automobile Topics – September 1910.