This aerial photography pioneer and veteran of both World Wars was born today in 1886. Now WE know em

426px-CPT_Albert_Stevens

Albert William Stevens was born March 13, 1886 in Belfast, Maine.

He attended the University of Maine eventually graduating in 1909 with a Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering.

During college, Stevens took an interest in photography.

For the next 8 years he worked as an engineer in the gold fields of Idaho, Alaska, California and Montana.

Stevens enlisted in the U. S. Army Air Corps at the age of 31 in January of 1918.

He was commissioned a 1st Lt. and after attending the aerial photography school at Cornell University, he served with distinction during WWI as the commanding officer of the 6th Photo Section. Stevens became arguably the best aerial photographer of the First World War having perfected the art of oblique photography.

Fairchild

Stevens was also awarded the Purple Heart during the war.

For the next several years, he was one of the leading aerial photographers for the U. S. Army Air Corps.

He also took aerial photographs for the National Geographic Society.

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While flying over South America in 1930, Stevens took the first photograph that showed the curvature of the horizon, proving once and for all that our planet is not flat.

Albert, accompanied by Charles McAllister, also took the first photograph of the Moon’s shadow projected onto Earth during a solar eclipse in August of 1932.

 

Explorer I

explorer1_gondola

Then on July 29, 1934, Stevens and two other U.S. Army officers ascended in a specially constructed balloon and gondola named Explorer I, attempting to break the altitude record for manned flight.

Major William E. Kepner, First Lieutenant Orvil A. Anderson, and Captain Stevens

Major William E. Kepner, First Lieutenant Orvil A. Anderson, and Captain Stevens

When they neared to record height, the balloon ruptured, sending their gondola plunging to earth.

ascending

Fortunately, all three crew members were able to exit the plummeting gondola and parachute to safety before Explorer I crashed.

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Explorer II

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On November 11, 1935, Albert Stevens, along with Orvil Anderson, made a record balloon ascent from the Stratobowl near Rapid City, South Dakota sponsored by the National Geographic Society.

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There were 20,000 spectators watching live, along with millions of Americans listening live to an NBC radio broadcast.

explorer_II_launch

The sealed Explorer II gondola climbed to 72,395 feet, nearly 14 miles, setting the altitude record unequaled in his lifetime. In fact, his altitude record held until 1956.

One of this flight’s most dramatic successes was again related to aerial photography. Stevens was able to capture photographs that showed the division between the troposphere and the stratosphere.

Stevens’ last great achievement came on June 8, 1937 when he took the “perfect” photo of the total eclipse of the sun from 25, 000 ft. over Chile while working for the Hayden Planetarium.

He was medically discharged from the Army in April 1942 and died at his home March 26, 1949 in Redwood City, California.

 

Explorer II gondola in the National Air and Space Museum

Explorer II gondola in the National Air and Space Museum

 

Now WE know em

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