Duval La Chapelle was one of the original pilots for the Wright Brothers flight demonstration team.
Born to French-Canadian parents, his fluency in the French language took him to Paris to work as an engineer around 1900. When the Wright Brothers began marketing and flying their aircraft in Europe, they hired La Chapelle as their mechanic. He returned from Europe in late December of 1909, still employed by the Wright's as their mechanic, with the expectation of becoming one of their demonstration pilots. He began training in the Spring of 1910. His flying career was short lived, as he almost crashed a Wright Flyer into a hangar on his first solo flight. He had been hiding the fact that his one eye was bad from cataracts, caused by a small metal filing from maintaining the engines.
La Chapelle returned to Paris in December, 1910, shortly before the Wright's shut down their demonstration team due to the deaths of two pilots. In Paris he married Jeanne Binche on May 30, 1911. She passed away on January 26, 1935, in Paris.
In Paris La Chapelle became the designing engineer of Colombian Gonzalo Mejia who financed the invention and construction of a boat to deliver mail and passengers hundreds of miles inland on the shallow, weedy Magdalena River to Bogota. Due to World War I, Mejia and La Chapelle relocated to Nyack, NY. On Nov. 11, 1915 the pontoon airboat Yolanda II with a large rear-mounted airplane propellers madea successful, widely-reported test run from Nyack to New York City. The boat was shipped to Columbia. La Chapelle received several patents for his “gliding boat” and was a boat builder in Nyack into the 1920’s. In 1922 La Chapelle was responsible for pontoon design for the Hugo Sundstedt-lead team designing a 100-passenger commercial seaplane. (Thanks to Robin Brown for the 'marine' aspect of La Chapelle's biography.)
He passed away on October 7, 1932, while living in Flushing, New York, and is buried in Mount St. Mary's Cemetery in Flushing.
Cemetery records have his last name as "Chapelle".
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