Havana Joe McVenture
Joe McVenture was born on May 15th, 1892 in Saint Petersburg Florida to Roy and Patricia McVenture. Joe’s father was an engineer with the Orange Belt Railway, and often had young Joe help with train maintenance. This early understanding and appreciation for how a collection of parts could make a machine, coupled with a love of nature (especially that of birds and flying insects) led to a following of early aviation pioneers. Joe would read all he could from the likes of Lillienthal and Cayley, while following the progress of the Wrights and the innovations of the Aerial Experiment Association.
Joe built a couple of Lillienthal-type gliders that had moderate success. This was around the time his father told him about the Benoist flying boat. It would be on his next run, specifically, the opening of the new flying boat line between Saint Petersburg and Tampa. This would prove pivotal with “up close” exposure during the line’s operation, and eventually led to Joe’s enlistment with the Army Air Service in WWI. Joe would finally learn to fly at Dorr Field in nearby Arcadia before shipping off to San Diego California, all the way on the other side of the country. There he received advanced training as a reconnaissance pilot. He would serve in the turbulent skies of Europe with the 135th Aero Squadron, piloting the Dayton-Wright DH4.
After peace broke out, Joe found himself back in civilian life in Florida. He enjoyed the odd flying job (among a variety of other ventures all over the state, ranging from sponge diving to cattle driving).
In 1927, while living on a 40-foot sharpie in Key West, he got wind of a mail route being flown to Havana, and immediately saw a new horizon. It was due to his time spent in Havana that he earned his nickname (of which he’s very proud). The following year brought passengers looking to escape prohibition for a few days, and eventually Pan American Airways was born. Joe set about finding new routes and harbors for the growing fleet of Clippers.
Joe’s early life was heavily influenced by two disparate worlds: One world was the machines of the railroad, and growing industry of the area driven by coal, steam and electricity. It included the people who worked hard to create, build and maintain the machines. The other was the one he lived in, the natural world, with all its unspoiled beauty and the promise of new variety and color just over the horizon. That world was hopefully unblemished by the very technology enabling it’s exploration.
Also influential to Joe, were the pioneers of aviation around the world. He was engaged in their challenges and triumphs, as they chased each other over the horizon of flight.
On a flight to Saint Petersburg from Key West to visit his parents, Joe was reflecting on some of his childhood heroes as he piloted his Howard DGA11 seaplane. The weather grew increasingly bizarre and threatening off the west coast of Florida. Doing his best to get his craft safely through the unusual and seemingly never ending cloud, Joe emerged on the other side of it, far from his destination. He landed the DGA11 in Lake Agnes, and arrived ashore at Fantasy of Flight to realize he’s traveled nearly eight decades through time! Now he encourages Fantasy of Flight guests to look beyond the horizon, and enjoys sharing stories of adventure and innovation.