A Marine in WWII and Army veteran of the Korean War, “Tommy Fitz” was having a drink in Washington Heights one night when another patron bet him that he couldn’t go to New Jersey and be back in 15 minutes.
For anyone else, this might have been impossible.
In fact, the Police Aviation Bureau called it next to impossible, estimating the odds of success at “100,000-to-1.” Shortly before 3 a.m. on Sept. 30, 1956, the “twenty-something” Fitzpatrick hopped in a single-engine plane at New Jersey’s Teterboro School of Aeronautics and took off without lights or a radio.
“Supposedly, he planned on landing on the field at George Washington High School but it wasn’t lit up at night, so he had to land on St. Nicholas instead,” said Jim Clarke in an interview with the New York Times’ Corey Kilgannon. Clarke was a local resident at the time and remembers seeing the plane in the middle of the street.
According to the New York Times, locals called the first landing “a feat of aeronautics.” The owner of the plane did not press charges. Fitzpatrick was given a $100 fine (almost $900 when adjusted for inflation) for violating a city law which forbids landing airplanes on New York City streets. He also lost his pilot’s license. And that was that.
Until Fitzpatrick did it again, two years later.
This time, the Marine veteran stole the plane at 1 a.m. from Teterboro School and landed it at Amsterdam and 187th Street. He stole the second plane because someone at the bar didn’t believe that he stole a plane the first time around.
For the second theft, the judge threw the book at Fitzpatrick, sentencing him to six months confinement.
“Landing on a street with lampposts and cars parked on both sides is a miracle,” said Fred Hartling, whose family was close to Fitzpatrick. “It was a wonder – you had to be a great flier to put that thing down so close to everything.”
Aside from his two skillful drunken landings, Tommy Fitz was also a Purple Heart recipient and earned a Silver Star in Korea.
During a strategic withdrawal, Corporal Fitzpatrick noticed a wounded officer, about 100 yards forward of his position. In attempting a rescue, he and a companion were seriously wounded. Cpl. Fitzpatrick despite severe pain and loss of blood made it back to safety, directed a second successful rescue party, organized and provided covering fire to support the rescue. For this action, he was awarded the Silver Star.
Thomas Fitzpatrick died in 2009 at age 79, survived by his wife of 51 years. As of 2013, the Washington Heights neighborhood still had a drink named for ol’ Tommy Fitz: the Late Night Flight.
Courtesy of the Dinner Party Download:
.5 oz Kahlua
1.5 oz vodka
.5 oz Chambord
1 egg white
dash simple syrup
“…Pour Kahlua into the base of a cocktail glass.
In a separate mixing glass, muddle the blackberries, add Chambord and one ounce of vodka, and shake with ice.
Strain carefully into a layer over the Kahlua.
In another mixing glass, shake egg white, syrup, and remaining half ounce of vodka — without ice — to create an emulsion.
Layer this fluffy white foam on top…”