The Reynolds "Man Angel" is a most fascinating and difficult study. Fascinating because of the shear audacity of an man-powered airship - and not by the mechanism one might think, i.e., driving a propeller using a bicycle pedal and chain arrangement! No! The Reynolds Man Angel was propelled by OARS! And the study is most difficult because though there were six "Man Angel" models, photos of only two seem to exist, and there is a huge discrepancy in the historical record between the Reynolds oar-driven airships and the short-lived Thomas Baldwin oar-driven airship which was built and operated in the same time period (1905-1906). In fact, the existing photos of the "Man Angel No. 2" is often labeled as the "Baldwin Air-oared airship" and vice versa! This was a mystery for a long time as I did continued research, which I finally solved! Skip to "A Mystery Resolved", below, if you wish to read what I was able to determine.

Note: This article is only about the Reynolds "Man Angel" and the confusion with the identity of the Baldwin oared airship of the same period. But both oared-airships were preceded by and oared-airship in Russia! A Russian named "Danilevsky" built and tested an oared-airship in 1899! Not much information is found on the Danilevsky airship though I am gathering information about his work which may result in a new page about him on this site. Here is a photo of the Danilevsky oared-airship:

Photo credits: Public domain

The "Man Angel No 1":

Photo credits: Public domain

[Note: In this very fine photo (click on the photo for a wonderful, high-res version), the pilot is apparently 17-year-old Ms. Hazel Odell who was invited by Alva[h] Reynolds to pilot the Man Angel in an attempt to demonstrate that anyone could fly it. Her flight was August 1st, 1905, and in this photo, the airship is tethered. Since the craft is completely neutral in buoyancy, Ms. Odell was likely able to maneuver it with the oars while she was tethered. An article in the August 2nd Los Angeles Herald (reproduced below) suggests that she remained tethered for this first female flight of the Man Angel No 1.]


Construction of the Man Angel airship, which began in March, 1905, was typical of the era. In this case, Japanese silk formed the envelope, doped with diluted "para gum" to create a gas-tight, "rubberized surface" to retain the hydrogen which filled the bag. A netting of rope surrounded the gas-bag, and suspended from the netting is a triangular framework, in this case bamboo, which became the "gondola" or "car" on which the pilot was positioned.

Since the Man Angel carried no heavy gasoline engine, the hydrogen envelope could be just large enough to displace the weight of the envelope itself, the rope rigging, the bamboo frame, the oars, the pilot and some ballast. The envelope of the Man Angel No. 1 was about 34 feet long and 14 feet in [greatest] diameter. The gondola was about 12 feet long and wide enough to support a seated pilot, perhaps 30-36 inches wide. The gas envelope held 3,000 cu ft of hydrogen and the envelope weighed a mere 18 pounds.

[The historical record indicates six "Man Angels" were built though photographs of only the Man Angel No 1 and Man Angel No. 2 have been identified. There is a photo identified as the "Man Angel No. 6", but I have found that the photo is instead the Baldwin air-oared craft. See "A Mystery Resolved", below.]


"Operations", of course, consisted only of demonstrations at State Fairs and carnival sites. A "man-powered-by-oar" airship had little practical value and was destined to be short-lived!

The record indicates Reynolds built six Man Angels and leased them to various fairs in Kansas, Arizona, and Texas where flight demonstrations were done twice daily (weather permitting of course). But it must have been quite an operation! Not only did Reynolds require a solid contract to recoup expenses and make a profit, but the inventor needed a hydrogen generation plant at each site, in any part of the country, requiring tons of iron filings and sulphuric acid. (See Hydrogen for Early Airships).


Ordinarily this section describes the fate of the airship of interest. In this case, the demise of all six Man Angels is completely unknown. Reynolds tried to get some "competition" going, (it would have kept the activity in the public-eye and thus good for revenue), but the only other "air-oared" airship, built and demonstrated by Thomas Baldwin in 1905, was operated only briefly before it was destroyed on an unknown date in 1905 or 1906 when the hydrogen-filled envelope mysteriously ignited and the airship was destroyed. In October, 1906, Reynolds tired to set up a race with an automobile, confident his "Man Angel" would win and even put down $1,000 as prize money to be held by the Herald Examiner! It is recorded that on the day of the race, strong winds prevented the Man Angel from making much progress, and while the race was lost, the Man Angel was destroyed after being blown into a telephone wire and then into a tree.

Ignominious End

The available record indicates that Reynolds never raced a Man Angel airship again after the October, 1906 event. Reynolds, the consummate "inventor" apparently left aviation and concentrated on his other ideas. He is known to have invented, in the latter part of the decade of the 1900s, a way to generate electricity using using ocean energy at a pier and as late as 1918, he obtained a patent on a simple device to prevent barnacles and other marine organisms from attaching themselves to submerged posts (piles). While this section of "Then & Now" is intended for the "ignominious end" of the particular airship - for they all came to an unfortunate end - this particular "end" is for Alva Reynolds. Inventor Reynolds, unfortunately, receives not even a "footnote" in history for his work with airships. There is not a "Wiki" page for him and his date of death could not be found nor his burial place. It seems for all Alva Reynolds did, he's all but disappeared. That's ignominious indeed.

A Mystery Resolved

Competing identities

A mystery quickly emerged when my investigation into the "oared" airships of Alva Reynolds. I quickly found that the same image was attributed to Reynolds and to Thomas Baldwin and vice-versa! The more I dug, the more confusing the identity!

Photo credits: Public domain)

There are still other photos mislabeled:

Photo credits: Public domain)

And still more:

Photo credits: Public domain)

And the pilot seen in that last set of photos is said to be "unidentified" or is identified as "Guy Mecklem"! Yet, upon close study, it's not at all clear that the pilot is Guy Mecklem! (Aeronaut Guy Mecklem is known to have been hired by Thomas Baldwin to fly Baldwin's version of the "oared" airship - and not Reynolds' airships.)

Photo credits: Public domain

One would think that the autobiography of Guy Meckelem would clear up the issue - but it does not! Meckelm's (unpublished) 58-page autobiography shows the same photo (1st photo-pair above) identifying it as "L. G. Mecklem rowing the Baldwin airship through the sky at Chutes Park in Los Angeles in 1905" - yet the same photo is elsewhere described a the Reynolds "Man Angel No 2"!

How to Resolve the Mystery?

More than once I tossed up my hands concluding this mystery could not be resolved. Then one day, after seeing yet another photo said to be the Baldwin 'Aerial Rowboat', I had an epiphany! I realized that the oared airship in the photo looked like the "style" of a typical Baldwin airship! Baldwin airships have a very "unique" set of discernible features which identify them! And that was the clue I needed! Baldwin's airships were distinct! Therefore, the Reynolds "Man Angel" airships could be distinguished from the Baldwin 'Aerial Rowboat'!

Baldwin preferred to assemble his gas-bags with (what I will call) "longitudinal squares" rather than "staggered squares" (think "brick wall construction"). (In the California Arrow, only the central "cylinder" of the envelope used "longitudinal squares" while the "end cones" used a "staggered" pattern. Later Baldwin airships seemed to use the "longitudinal squares" pattern as far along the envelope body as possible.) I'm talking about this:

Photo credits: Public domain

At left, see how Baldwin preferred a regular pattern of envelope "squares" along a longitudinal line and how Reynolds (right image) preferred a pattern of overlapping squares laid out or staggered like a brick wall? (I don't pretend to have precisely marked the location of the seams in the squares illustrated in these photos. This is for explanatory purposes only.) This pattern differentiation goes a long way to identifying which airship was from which inventor. Here is a valuable example of a later Baldwin airship where the "longitudinal squares" design is very evident. This is the Baldwin No 9:

Photo credits: Public domain

[Important note: For the California Arrow, perhaps originally, there is evidence that Baldwin used an envelope which fully employed the "staggered square" pattern throughout. Several photos of the California Arrow can be found which clearly display this "bricklike" pattern in the appearance of the gas-bag, while later photos show what is clearly a different envelope. Evidently, in this time period, 1904, Baldwin was experimenting with materials, design, doping of the fabric, as well as wear and tear requiring a new envelope. There seems no doubt that Baldwin migrated to the "longitudinal squares" I've attempted to describe. Photos of later Baldwin airships, built well after the California Arrow, clearly show the preferred use of the "longitudinal squares" pattern in his gas-bags. In fact, there is a wonderful photo of the airship built by Guy Mecklem after Mecklem and Baldwin parted ways which illustrates that Mecklem assembled his airship gas-bag using the "longitudinal squares" method as well! He would have learned this assembly technique from Baldwin.]

A second differentiation, and I'm not going into detail of the nuances of it, is in the way the webbing of the netting is made. There is a clear difference between the netting of Baldwin and the netting of Reynolds.

Therefore I consider the mystery solved. Here are the properly identified airships:

Photo credits: Public domain

Photo credits: Public domain

And now, we can move on:

Reynolds Man Angels

The historical record indicates six "Man Angels" were produced. Getting passed the confusion of the "Man Angel" being identified as the Baldwin "Aerial Rowboat" and vice-versa, one quickly finds that only TWO Man Angels can be identified in photographs available on the INTERNET! These are the Man Angel No. 1 and the Man Angel No. 2. Photos of the Nos 3, 4, 5, and 6 seem to not exist.

Man Angel No. 1

Photo credits: Public Domain

As with the first photo of the Man Angel No.1 at the very top of this page, the No. 1 is distinctive for the "Reynolds" design of the envelope, the short "car" with no pointed ends forward or stern, and oars displaying four, clear "panels. The specifications of the No. 1 are listed in "Construction", above. Here, the craft is said to be piloted by Herbert Burke.

As already mentioned with the opening photo of this article, A. L. Reynolds, desperate to keep his invention making money, claimed that the airship was so easy to fly "anyone" could fly it. To prove his point, on August 1, 1905, he put on-board 17-year old Hazel Odell. Here is a delightful article about Ms. Odell's flight from the August 2nd, Los Angeles Herald. (Click on the image for a much larger, readable format image):

Photo credits: Public Domain

Man Angel No. 2

This seems to be the only good photo of the No. 2 in flight! It's available on many sites, and, as already mentioned, is often misidentified as the Baldwin oared-airship. (There are two other, small, barely resolved photos of the No. 2 in flight, published in magazines of the era, but they are not worth reproducing here.)

Photo credits: Public domain

Next is a shot of the No. 2 on the ground in 1905. Note the oars are not present and there is a larger airship in the background. It is the Trombley-Haddock "Bullet".

Photo credit: CSU Dominguez Hills Archive

The design of the No. 2 is seen to be nearly identical to the No. 1. It has a nearly identical envelope, perhaps a few feet longer at 38-40 feet, but is a bit narrower in diameter than the No. 1. The "car" is of the same general design except the fore and aft bamboo poles are brought together to a point. The car is still reported to be 10 feet long.

And that's it! I've found no other photos of the Reynolds "Man Angel" airships! I'm sure they exist, and I look forward to the day someone stumbles onto this small site and contacts me with a new photo, perhaps of the No. 3, 4, 5, or 6!

Sites of Interest

Fiesta Park, Los Angeles, California, USA

The photos of the Man Angel No. 1, above, were shot from Fiesta Park in Los Angeles. Fiesta Park was a grandstand/sports/entertainment venue in what was South Park, Los Angeles, California. From 1894 to 1916, Fiesta Park served as a location for a variety of exhibitions and festivals, as well as a field and track meets, ball games, car shows, and unique demonstrations such as man-powered airships! Fiesta Park was located in an area bordered by Grand Avenue on the south, 12th Street on the east, Hope Street on the west, and Pico Boulevard on the north. In 1901, President William McKinley was an honored guest at Fiesta Park for an event during a trip to California.

In the map image below, note the church at Hope and 12th St, (across the NE corner of the park). This same church is plainly visible in the photos of the No. 1 in flight over Fiesta Park!

Photo credits: 1909 Los Angeles map.

Knowing the exact location of Fiesta Park, and identifying the church as the same church in the photos of the Man Angel No. 1 made identification of this location a snap. Here is the same site today:

Photo credits: Google Earth

The location of the airship flights is 34.040310oN, 118.264439oW. Notice the proximity of the modern-day "Staples Center" (circular building, top-center of the image above) just 2 blocks north of the location of the historic flights of the Man Angel No. 1!

Chutes Park, Los Angeles, California, USA

Photos of the Man Angel No. 2 were taken from "Chutes Park", an amusement park in South Park, Los Angeles from about 1900 to 1912. If interested, you are directed to Chutes & Luna Park - Los Angeles - 1900 - 1912.

Photo credits: Public domain

From the perspective of the photo above, flights of the Reynolds Man Angel No. 2 took place from the area behind the "strip" buildings in the middle-right of the photo. Beyond these structures was a large baseball field.

The Park was located south of Washington Ave, east of Grand Ave, north of 21st St, and west of Main St in Los Angeles - just a little over 1/2 mile from Fiesta Park! Here is a wonderful 1907 map of the Park. You can clearly see the location of the ball park, the Chutes Theater, the water chutes themselves and the lake into which the chutes emptied. (Click on the image for a larger version):

Photo credit: Public domain

Here is an overlay of the Chutes Park map over modern-day Los Angeles. I've marked the location of the ball field where the airships would have been launched. Today, if one drives on S. Hill St, between Washington an 21st St, they'd be driving right through this historic area! The location is 34.031366oN, 118.267375oW:

Photo credits: Google Earth