In today’s episode of This Day in Miami History, we acknowledge the 93rd birthday of Airlene Falconer (née Evans), who on this day in 1929 became the first baby born in an airplane over Biscayne Bay.

Please make sure to subscribe to This Day in Miami History on your preferred podcast player (Apple, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, Amazon). Visit the This Day in Miami History shop for “Elect Ralph Renick for Governor” shirts, bumper stickers, and more! Have a comment? Find @thisdaymiamipod on your favorite social media platform. Like what you’ve heard? Leave a review, and tell a friend!

SKSA on YouTube

[00;00;00;13 – 00;00;32;15] Matthew Bunch: On Sunday, March 22, 2015, a flight from Miami International Airport to Doha, Qatar, was forced to make an emergency landing in Newfoundland on the eastern coast of Canada after a passenger gave birth to a baby boy. The child, which was delivered early but was healthy, became the youngest passenger ever received at Gander Airport in Newfoundland. Childbirth is an incredibly difficult and dangerous process.

[00;00;32;18 – 00;01;08;01] Matthew Bunch: Even under the best conditions, unexpected hazards can arise that can threaten the health and well-being of the child and the mother. In an airplane, the uncertainty expands even further. And it’s why most medical professionals recommend against flying while pregnant after 36 weeks of pregnancy, Dr. Travis W. Heggie, considered an expert in the area of travel and wilderness medicine, conducted a retrospective study of all known in-flight births on commercial airlines between 1929 and 2018.

[00;01;08;03 – 00;01;48;23] Matthew Bunch: And in his count, there were 74 infants born on 73 commercial flights. It’s not very common. Obviously, when it can be avoided, mothers tend to avoid putting themselves in a situation where the delivery would be expected. Except for one. The first one. That happened today. This Day in Miami History: October 26, 1929, when in a plane over Biscayne Bay, Airlene Dorothy Evans becomes the first baby born on an airplane in world history.

[00;01;49;00 – 00;02;07;23] King Elizabeth: ♪ “Miami Sunrise” by King Elizabeth ♪

[00;02;07;25 – 00;02;35;12] Matthew Bunch: Now, before I go any further, and in the interest of full disclosure, I do want to make clear that there is technically one other claim to the earliest born baby in an airplane. And that is the case of Guynemer Breyer, born to Georges Breyer in 1922. According to newspaper reports, he was born in an airplane 6,000 feet above the Mediterranean Sea.

[00;02;35;14 – 00;03;07;16] Matthew Bunch: The problem is later reports about Guynemer really don’t exist in the contemporary press. It was the story about his birth, and that’s about it. On the other hand, there’s a lot about Airlene Evans, which we’ll get to in just a moment. So, we will take the 1922 birth off the table for now without any additional supporting evidence and go with the 1929 birth of Airline Evans as the hook for the first child born on an airplane in the world.

[00;03;07;18 – 00;03;39;11] Matthew Bunch: What’s remarkable about this story is the degree to which the Evans family planned, prepared and intended for this to go off. Thomas Watson Evans, the father of the baby, was a doctor. He held his degree in naturopathy and was a respected member both of the Miami community and the larger Florida medical community. But if he liked his practice, what he loved was seeing his name in the paper over and over again throughout the 1920s, ‘30s, ’40s.

[00;03;39;13 – 00;04;08;02] Matthew Bunch: Dr. T.W. Evans and his wife Margaret appear over and over on the social pages, that they were either visiting someone out of town or hosting someone in town. And usually on the page mentioned right there next to him was Mrs. Evans. Margaret Opfor her birth name, married to T.W., taking her place in Miami social circles and eventually her place in aviation history.

[00;04;08;04 – 00;04;33;07] Matthew Bunch: So the fact that they might be involved in a little bit of a newspaper stunt isn’t the most surprising news to anyone who knew them. The Evanses planned with both the Philbrick Ambulance Service and Pan American Airways. Now, interesting note, the name Philbrick might be familiar to those of you who are familiar with old Miami, because Philbrick was also the name of the most prominent funeral home in town.

[00;04;33;09 – 00;05;04;19] Matthew Bunch: Up until the 1970s, it was common for funeral homes to provide ambulatory services, which is exactly what they did. In this case, the ambulance was called at about 3:30 p.m.. The baby was born at 4:12 p.m.. There was no time for TSA agents to slow them down. Of course, this was in 1929, so the ambulance was able to pull right up to the Pan Am airplane.

[00;05;04;22 – 00;05;32;13] Matthew Bunch: The sound you’re hearing is of a Fokker Trimotor. The Fokker Trimotor was an airplane produced by a Dutch manufacturer in the 1920s. That was one of the more common airplanes used by Pan Am before they pivoted to the Clipper plane in the 1930s. I know what you’re thinking about the sound: Exactly the kind of ambient noise you would expect for a nice, peaceful delivery of a child into the world.

[00;05;32;15 – 00;06;11;02] Matthew Bunch: No matter what you think about the process, the result was pretty clear and pretty successful. Airlene — and yes, that is a pun — was born healthy and was born in a relatively short amount of time, all things considered. Part of that was thanks to the pilot, Casper Dorman Swinson. After a quick takeoff, Swinson found altitude approximately 1,200 feet and held a constant course. This did minimize some of the sound from the engines and made the process of delivery for Dr. Haggard relatively smooth.

[00;06;11;04 – 00;06;47;04] Matthew Bunch: Swinson participated in this historic flight, but did not do so happily or willingly. Known affectionately as Cap, he piloted the Pan American flight in 1929 and told Grace Wing of the “Miami Daily News” in 1947, quote, “I was never so mad in my life. You can quote me. I took that plane up because I was ordered to and not because I was interested in the publicity. I was scared to death for fear I’d make a rough landing and hurt somebody. I wasn’t a father then, and I imagined all kinds of terrible things happening.”

[00;06;47;07 – 00;07;09;14] Matthew Bunch: Once the Evanses, who boarded the plane as a family of two and left it as a family of three, arrived back at what was then Pan American Airport and what is now Miami International Airport, It became an obvious story for the Miami Herald and the Miami Daily News to cover significantly. But that wasn’t where the story would stop.

[00;07;09;17 – 00;07;26;04] Matthew Bunch: Just in the last week of October 1929, 35 newspapers across the country and around the world — yes, that includes England — ran stories about Airlene Evans being born in Miami. But at some point, the story ends.

[00;07;26;07 – 00;07;54;18] Matthew Bunch: Thankfully, Airlene was a healthy baby girl heading back home with her mother and father ready to take on the challenges that come with entering into the world, and for her parents raising a newborn daughter. But remember, the Evanses had always kind of had a presence in Miami even before the birth of Airlene. And so, yes, there are occasional references to Airlene Evans being born in the plane after 1929.

[00;07;54;20 – 00;08;18;27] Matthew Bunch: But there are more than two dozen references to Airlene Evans in Miami newspapers in the 20th century. A number of those references have nothing to do with her appearing on an airplane. Some of them are about her graduation from Shenandoah Middle School. Some of them are about appearances at a child’s birthday party on the social pages. Some of them are about her activities at college or participating in a sorority.

[00;08;18;29 – 00;08;47;20] Matthew Bunch: She lived a full life outside of the occasion of her birth. She eventually married a man named Norman Falconer. Yes, her married name was Earlene Falconer, and she is still with us to this day. A retiree living on Key Biscayne here in Miami-Dade County. I wish I could tell you at this point that I had a long sit down interview with Miss Falconer to talk about this experience, but I was unable to establish contact with her.

[00;08;47;24 – 00;09;09;06] Matthew Bunch: And even if I did, I don’t know if she’d really want to talk about it. At this point, she’s 93 and happily retired in Key Biscayne. I would imagine she doesn’t want to talk with some random persons walking up to her house. But secondly, and more importantly, remember: her memories about this don’t exist. She was a newborn baby on October 26, 1929.

[00;09;09;08 – 00;09;25;12] Matthew Bunch: So whatever record exists of this important day, it’s going to be found in the documents that I’ve referenced with you today in the archives of the Miami Herald, in the archives of the Miami Daily News, and in the archives of other newspapers around the country and around the globe.

[00;09;25;15 – 00;10;16;11] Matthew Bunch: As you just heard, because of the date of this event and the nature of this event, this story could only be told with the use of newspaper archives. So, as always, I do like to credit for its thorough archive of both the Miami Herald and the Miami Daily News and their reporting of Airlene Evans’ birth. I do also want to thank the YouTube account, SKSA, which has a variety of videos of old and new aircraft, including the Fokker Trimotor, the sound of which you heard on the broadcast. That plane is part of the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society that is based in Australia and I was really glad I was able to include that audio to kind of help put us in the place of where the Evans family was on October 26, 1929.

[00;10;16;13 – 00;11;16;21] Matthew Bunch: As always, I’d like to direct you to our social media accounts at this day, Miami Pod and this day in Miami history on YouTube. And I mention YouTube specifically because on the YouTube account there’s a really special video clip. I was able to acquire some film from eBay, and the film was scout tape from a University of Miami / University of Georgia football game. I wanted it because it was just old film from the Orange Bowl. But it turns out what the film was was one of the most important passing performances in the history of college football. The University of Georgia’s quarterback that night, Larry Rakestraw, broke the NCAA record for passing. And as far as I can tell, this is the first time that video of that performance that a transfer of the film has been made available to the public. So I do encourage you to check out social media and in particular YouTube to see a high quality, high-definition transfer of that film onto a digital format.

[00;11;16;27 – 00;11;36;15] Matthew Bunch: You can also expect to see on our social media accounts updates about new episodes as well as other fun stuff about Miami history we find along the way. So as always, if you want to know if a new episode is out, the best way to do it is to follow or subscribe to a podcast feed on Apple or Spotify or whatever your preferred podcast provider is.

[00;11;36;18 – 00;11;56;00] Matthew Bunch: But don’t forget about social. Also for a fuller archive of every episode and the notes that go along with it. So that will draw to an end this episode of This Day in Miami History. We do look forward to seeing you again next month. And as always, I’ve been Matthew Bunch.

[00;11;56;03 – 00;12;11;21] King Elizabeth: ♪ “Miami Sunrise” by King Elizabeth ♪

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.