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Antony Habersack Jannus, more familiarly known as Tony Jannus (1889-October 12, 1916), was an early American pilot whose aerial exploits were widely publicized in aviation's pre-World War I period. He flew the first airplane from which a parachute jump was made, in 1912. Jannus was also the first airline pilot, having pioneered the inaugural flight of the St. Petersburg Tampa Airboat Line on January 1, 1914, the first scheduled commercial airline flight in the world using heavier-than-air aircraft. The Tony Jannus Award, created to perpetuate his legacy, recognizes outstanding individual achievement in the scheduled commercial aviation industry and is conferred annually by the Tony Jannus Distinguished Aviation Society founded in Tampa, Floridamarker, in 1963.

Early years

Jannus was born in Washington, D.C.marker, where his father Frankland Jannus was a patentattorney and his grandfather, Roger C. Weightman, had previously been mayor (1824–1827). By 1910, the 21-year old young man was employed as a boat engine mechanic. He became interested in flying when he saw an airshow in Baltimore, Marylandmarker, in November, 1910, and began flight training that year at College Park Airportmarker in Maryland. In 1911, Jannus was the first pilot to fly the Lord Baltimore II, an amphibious airplane built in Baltimore, from the city's Curtis Bay. His older brother, Roger Weightman Jannus (1886-1918), also learned to fly and both brothers became test pilots for airplane builder Thomas W. Benoist in St. Louis, Missourimarker, in late 1911.

On March 1, 1912, Tony Jannus piloted a Benoist biplane when Albert Berry made the first parachute jump from a moving airplane near St. Louis. Later that year, Jannus set a overwater flight record following the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers from Omaha, Nebraska, to New Orleans in a Benoist flying boat.
The next year, Jannus participated in a New York Times-sponsored air exhibition. He flew actress Julia Bruns in a Baldwin Red Devil 4,000 ft above Staten Islandmarker for twenty minutes on October 12, 1913. The next day, he flew in an air race over Manhattan, the Times reporting that "The graceful Benoist biplane sailed along on an even keel...driven by the famous Tony Jannus". Jannus described flying as, "...poetry of mechanical motion, a fascinating sensation of speed, an abstraction from things material into an infinite space." The following month, he moved to St. Petersburg, Floridamarker.

First scheduled airline flight

Prior to 1914, travel from Tampa, Floridamarker, to St. Petersburgmarker, located on a then-isolated peninsula, required a slow steamboat trip across Tampa Bay or a circuitous, three-hour journey by railroad. A bumpy automobile or horse and buggy ride took several hours over primitive, unpaved roads. The airplane at the time was a rare novelty, lacking any practical application. Impressed by the record-setting overwater flight made by Jannus in 1912, Florida businessman Percival Fansler approached some St. Petersburg businessmen the next year with a proposal to use Benoist flying boats for "a real commercial line" over open water between the two cities. . Convinced by Fansler's plan, several St. Petersburg community leaders, led by L. A. Whitney of the local chamber of commerce and Noel Mitchell, agreed to provide financial support for the creation of an airline service to connect the two cities. A 90-day contract with Benoist was signed on December 17, 1913 (the 10th anniversary of Wilbur and Orville Wright's historic first airplane flight), to provide airplanes and crew for two daily round trips across Tampa Bay, dubbed the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line — the world's first scheduled airline.
Tony Jannus piloting the Benoist flying boat
Fansler told the St. Petersburg Times: "The St. Petersburg waterfront is an ideal place for starting and landing as the trip to and from Tampa will be one of the most beautiful in the country. Skimming a few feet above the surface of the water... with the purr of a 75 h.p. engine and the whirring of a propeller turning several hundred times a minute, the rush of the cool salt air and the shimmering sunlight on Tampa Bay — no trip could be more enjoyable.".

Departing from a location on January 1, 1914, near the downtown St. Petersburg Municipal Pier on Second Avenue North, Jannus piloted the twenty-three minute inaugural flight of the pioneer airline's Benoist XIV flying boat biplane. A crowd of 3,000 gathered at the pier to watch the history-making takeoff at 10 a.m. and were told by Fansler that "What was impossible yesterday is an accomplishment today, while tomorrow heralds the unbelieveable". Then-mayor of St. Petersburg, Abram C. Pheil was a passenger on the inaugural flight. At a fare of five dollars, it was the first time tickets were sold to the general public for point-to-point scheduled air travel. The Benoist reportedly reached a maximum speed of during the flight, according to a United Press account. Other reports indicate that Jannus flew over the Bay at an altitude of less than . Upon the airboat's arrival in Tampa, the Tampa Tribune reported, "a crowd of two thousand was waiting...Messrs. Jannus and Pheil bowed and smiled". Thereafter, flights departed St. Petersburg daily except Sundays at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.. Return flights left Tampa at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Curtiss test pilot

Following the end of the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line's scheduled service between the two Florida cities on March 31, 1914, Jannus left St. Petersburg and quit flying for Benoist, becoming a test pilot for Curtiss Aeroplane Company. In July, 1915, Jannus successfully flew the prototype Curtiss JN-3, forerunner of the JN-4 "Jenny" of World War I fame. On October 1, 1915, he was sent by Glenn Curtiss to Russia as the company's test pilot and trainer of Russian pilots flying Curtiss airplanes in combat during World War I.


Jannus died on October 12, 1916, near Sevastopolmarker (then part of Czarist Russiamarker) when his plane, a Curtiss H-7 he was using to train Russian pilots, had engine problems and crashed into the Black Seamarker, killing Jannus and his two-man Russian crew. His body was never recovered.


The Tony Jannus Distinguished Aviation Society founded in 1963, perpetuates the memory of Jannus as the first commercial airline pilot, by annually conferring the Tony Jannus Award for outstanding achievement in scheduled air transportation. Past recipients of the award include such luminaries as Eddie Rickenbacker, Donald Douglas, Jimmy Doolittle, C. R. Smith (the founder of American Airlines), William A. Patterson (president of United Airlines 1934–1966), and Chuck Yeager. Those so honored are enshrined at the St. Petersburg Museum of History's Tony Jannus exhibit.

An operational replica of the Benoist Model XIV airplane flew across Tampa Bay in a 75th anniversary re-enactment of Jannus' flight, on January 1, 1989. It is now exhibited at the St. Petersburg Museum of History at the St. Petersburg Pier, approximately from the site of the inaugural flight. The birth of commercial air transportation is also commemorated by another replica of the Benoist airplane at the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airportmarker's baggage claim area in the terminal and a Tony Jannus Award exhibit at Tampa International Airportmarker.

On December 17, 2006, Jannus was posthumously inducted into the Paul E. Garber First Flight Shrine at the Wright Brothers National Memorialmarker at Kitty Hawk, North Carolinamarker, joining other honorees such as Wilbur and Orville Wright, Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, and Chuck Yeager, who have shaped the aviation industry.

The St. Petersburg concert venue Jannus Landingmarker is named for him.


  • Bickel, Karl A. - The Mangrove Coast, 1942 by Coward McCann, Inc., Fourth Edition in 1989 by Omni Print Media, Inc., p.265

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