James Albert Whitted was born in St. Petersburg on Valentine ’s Day 1893. His father Thomas Allen Whitted had arrived along with his parents to Manatee in 1878 from Boone, Iowa by mule train. Albert’s mother was the former Julia Phillips and daughter of Long Key settler Zephaniah Phillips. After their marriage, Thomas and Julia moved to what is now Gulfport in 1884 where they built their home at night by the light from a lantern. Albert was one of nine children born to T. A. and Julia. Sadly at least four of his siblings died very young.
Albert attended the local schools and by his father’s side, a mechanic, learned the trade and was regarded as an expert mechanic himself. In the early years of his life he owned a small shop in St. Petersburg where he repaired motorcycles. In 1910 he went to New Haven, Conn where he took up motorcycle racing before returning to St. Petersburg where he opened a motorcycle shop. In 1914 while preparing for a motorcycle race Albert sustained severe injuries when thrown from his motorcycle after it hit a bump on Ninth Street. His speed was estimated at about sixty-five miles an hour.
While living in New Haven, Albert’s interest in aviation had peaked and he acquired part ownership in a Curtiss land machine which he helped to build. He enlisted in the aviation corps of the regular army early in the war. He was sent to Pensacola in March, 1917. In August of the same year he qualified as a naval aviator and received his pilot’s number 179 and is classed as one of the first 250 pioneer pilots of the navy. In August 1918, he was an instructor in small seaplane flying and later, with six other pilots, he was selected to instruct the men in the flying of the bigger sea planes of the Navy…the big H-12 type. He received his commission as an ensign on September 25, 1918 and only three days later he was made chief instructor in advanced flying. Before being awarded a commission he had risen to the responsible position as a flying instructor at Pensacola Naval Station. He held the distinction of being classed as one of the first 250 naval flyers and later was one of only six classed to fly the larger type of planes. The best flyers in the navy marveled at Albert’s flying ability and some of his pupils were on the famous trans-Atlantic voyage with Commander Read.
While serving as an instructor in Pensacola, at the naval air station, Albert along with a student aviator fell over 1,000 ft. into the Pensacola bay. Albert suffered only a bruise on his nose and his student passenger suffered a broken arm. The crash was attributed to the student’s excitement causing the mishap.
In 1919 Albert received his commission as a junior lieutenant and was placed on inactive duty. Later that same year on November 14, Lieutenant Whitted married Miss Frances G. Brent of Pensacola, the youngest daughter of F. C. Brent.
After receiving his discharge he bought the hydro-airplane Bluebird, and accompanied by his wife and their dog, flew from Pensacola to St. Petersburg where he began making plane trips for sightseers before moving on to a larger plane the Silver King. Albert eventually built and designed a larger plane, which he named the Falcon. On one such flight, at about three o’clock in the morning Albert and some of his friends decided to make a short flight to Pass- A- Grille. He came back about five o’clock that same morning. Many people were awakened by the tremendous noise and many were curious as to why such an early and short flight had taken place at that time of morning. One could only guess! Albert was addicted to both flying and speed.
On August 19, 1923 tragedy stuck and sadness fell over St. Petersburg, Pass-A-Grille and beyond, when it was learned Albert had crashed his plane off of Pensacola and had perished. He was carrying four passengers. He had been flying along about two hundred feet above the water when a loose propeller of his famed “Falcon” cut through the fuselage and severed wires needed to control the plane. After a desperate effort to regain control of the plane it hit the water so hard the passengers were all killed instantly. The plane had taken off five minutes earlier. The only woman aboard the flight was found floating by Mr. William E. King a longtime friend and associate of the aviator. She died upon being pulled into the boat. The other passengers and Albert were all pinned beneath the plane. It took several diving attempts to pull the men from the plane. The accident happened about forty miles east of Pensacola near Camp Walton on the Santa Rosa sound. The Falcon was Albert’s pride and joy, having been designed and built by him. He was still making changes to its design a short time before its crash. A new motor had just been installed at St. Petersburg before he left for Pensacola and new wings were also added at that time. The 100 mile an hour speed the plane was able to reach was said to have put an enormous strain on its propeller.
The funeral for Lieutenant James Albert Whitted , U. S. N. R. F. was held from his father-in-laws home in Pensacola. He was laid to rest at St. Michael’s Cemetery.
During his commercial air service business, which he held with his brother Clarence, Albert never had an accident and had carried more than 5000 passengers.
The city's airport was subsequently named Albert Whitted Airport in 1928.
Author: Linda Flowers
Author: Linda Flowers
Petersburg Times, Evening Independent, Wikipedia, ancestry.com ,