Landing a plane in the middle of the night on a busy NYC street while intoxicated sounds surreal, doesn’t it? However, Thomas Fitzpatrick landed not one, but two planes in New York City’s streets. The first time was on a bet, but the second time was because a man at the bar refused to believe he did it the first time, so should we believe him?
Fitzpatrick’s incredible feat earned him a mixed drink named after him, “Late Night Flight,” in the bar where he landed the plane.
The life of Thomas Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick was born in the Upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights in 1930. Fitzpatrick lived his life the way he wanted, according to his brother, Fitzpatrick lied about his age to serve in World War II and joined the United States Marine Corps at the age of 15.
He learned to fly a reconnaissance plane before being honorably discharged from the Marine Corps. Instead of leaving the military, Fitzpatrick enlisted in the US Army and was stationed in Japan.
When the Korean War broke out, Fitzpatrick was set to return home. He was the first New York City resident to be wounded in Korea. “He was wounded while driving an ammunition truck to rescue some American soldiers trapped by communist fire,” according to a report. Despite being a restless soul, he received a Purple Heart for his service.
“Tommy had a crazy side, the whole group of them, my brother’s friends, were a wild bunch,” Fred Hartling, an old neighbor of Fitzpatrick and Hartling’s brother, who was good friends with Fitzpatrick, said.
Fitzpatrick became interested in flying at some point and enrolled in flying school at the Teterboro School Of Aeronautics. He was working as an airplane mechanic by the age of 26.
Thomas Fitzpatrick’s First Drunken Flight
On September 30, 1956, Thomas Fitzpatrick, a World War II veteran turned airplane pilot, did the unthinkable. He’d been drinking at a bar when he made an inebriated bet that he could drive from New Jersey to New York City in 15 minutes. To prove his point, he stole a single-engine plane and flew it without lights or radio before landing in front of a New York City bar on St. Nicholas Avenue near 191st Street.
It was an incredible feat, which is why the plane’s owner refused to press charges against Fitzpatrik’s drunken flight. The flight was described as a “feat of aeronautics” and a “fine landing” by the New York Times.
Thomas Fitzpatrick’s Second Drunken Flight
Two years later, on October 4, 1958, around 1 a.m., Fitzpatrick stole another plane and landed on Amsterdam and 187th street in front of a university building after another bar patrol refused to believe his feat of driving from New Jersey to New York in 15 minutes.
But this time, Judge John A. Millen, sentenced him to six months in prison, stating, “Had you been properly jolted then, it’s possible this would not have occurred a second time.” Fitzpatrick said “it’s the lousy drink” that caused him to attempt the stunt.
For the second landing, Thomas Fitzpatrick was charged with grand larceny, dangerous and reckless operation of a plane, flying without a valid license in violation of Civil Aeronautics Administration regulations, and making an unauthorized landing within city limits.
Fitzpatrick’s goal, according to local Jim Clarke, was to land on the field of George Washington High School. Another resident, Sam Garcia, remarked on how times have changed, saying that “if it happened today, they would call him a terrorist, lock him up, and throw away the key.”
Fitzpatrick worked as a Steamfitter for 51 years, raising three sons, Thomas E. Jr., Daniel F., and Stephen P. Fitzpatrick. On September 14, 2008, he died of cancer at the age of 79.
Now that you’ve read about Thomas Fitzpatrick, read about Robert Wadlow, the tallest man ever lived.