North Carolina Centennial of Flight

Jacob Aaron Hill

Born in Davie County in 1862, Jacob Aaron "Jake" Hill moved to Forsyth County in 1880 and later rented land in the rural Black Mountain area of Stokes County. Since childhood, Hill had been intrigued by the possibility of flight. He closely followed the work of European aeronauts in the late nineteenth century and began plans for his own flying machine. In March 1901, Hill started looking for investors to help turn his designs into reality.

The tenant farmer claimed to have solved a problem that had plagued the Brazilian aeronaut Alberto Santos-Dumont for three years. By focusing on methods of stabilization, Hill's dirigible would be fully controlled by balloons. Having been denied many requests for financial support, Hill worked with cheap materials and finished building his dirigible in 1902. The only known photograph of Hill's completed ship shows a stabilizing system that includes an airbag, an airfoil , and four parasols. The dirigible's airbag or the body itself may have been filled with hydrogen.


A steerable self-propelled airship.


A device that can lift or control a plane in flight.

Lacking financial support, Hill never accomplished his promised test flights. The farmer-aeronaut kept his dirigible in a backyard shed, and he stopped experimenting not long after hearing of Santos-Dumont's successes in 1902. Jake Hill died in Winston-Salem on November 17, 1927, having witnessed Charles Lindbergh's visit to the town in The Spirit of St. Louis just a month earlier.