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Al the Flying Ancestor

April 17, 2015

This is about Al the Flying Ancestor. (Sorry, I was thinking of Rocky the Flying Squirrel as I wrote that line.)

Al was my grandfather’s uncle. At least I think he was an uncle. (My wife, the family genealogist, could confirm but she’s not here right now.)

Once, when I was just a pisher (i.e., a young person), my grandfather took me to the San Diego Air and Space Museum to look for information about Al.

My grandfather was very proud of his uncle. Therefore, so was I, although I didn’t really know anything about him at the time.

I don’t think we found out anything about Al in that museum. My grandfather was greatly disappointed. So was I.

But then we had ice cream and everything was OK. I liked that part best.

Later I learned more about Al. Even later, at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., I saw a small display about him.

Now that was exciting.

Then I looked him up online. See,

Al was the first Jewish aviator in the United States!

That’s a pretty big deal I think, at least it is in our family.

My grandfather’s uncle was really named Laibel Wellcher. Like so many others, Laibel was a Russian Jewish immigrant who came with his parents and siblings to the US in the late 19th Century.

When he joined the US Navy in 1901, he Americanized his name to Arthur Welsh.  His friends called him Al. Thus, so do I.

After the Navy, Al learned flying from Orville Wright and attended and later taught flying at the Wright Flying School.

Maybe that’s why I like to fly.

However, in June 1912, while conducting a test flight for the War Department, Al’s plane crashed which killed him and one Lieutenant Hazelhurst also on board.

That wasn’t so good, but I still like to fly and fortunately aviation has improved.

Here’s one more cool fact:

Orville Wright and his sister attended Al’s funeral in Washington, D.C. and Orville Wright was a pallbearer. (I learned this – and some of the other interesting facts in this piece – from the website given above, i.e., at .)

If you’re interested, you can learn a lot more about Uncle Al from the that website too, and there are some terrific images on the site as well.


David I. Karp is a full time mediator of real estate and business disputes in Southern California who sometimes likes to share family history and in any event likes to write. His professional website is at .


From → Bubbe Meises, Stories

One Comment
  1. Paul S permalink

    I love this story as it reminds me vividly of hearing the childhood tales of my own great uncle who flew in WW1 and fought with the Red Baron before he was captured by the Germans. We had paintings of him flying and fighting and I was surely as proud of him as you were of Al…..

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