• Dick Bong writes home

    Posted on May 17th, 2014 John Dorcey No comments

    In the nearly 12 months since Dick Bong had been away from home he had written home about twice a week. He had written additional letters to his siblings, friends and other Bong relatives. In his letter of May 17, 1942 he provides more of his impressions of the P-38 Lightning and we get a glimpse of the 21-year-old’s ties with home.

    Dear Mom:
    Well I now have 7 hours in the P-38. It certainly is quite an airplane. It’s the fastest I have ever flown and is the easiest plane to fly that I have yet flown. However, it is nothing to get careless with. One boy was killed out here yesterday.

    P-38E lands at Hamilton AAF, California; USAAF photo

    P-38E lands at Hamilton AAF, California
    USAAF photo

    Dick continued his letter with comments about cookies in a care package…”I guess I told you that (the) cookies arrived and were promptly did away with in the proper manner.” Other comments regarded relatives living in California and acquaintances from home entering the military. Like most in the service, Bong wanted to ensure everyone had his correct mailing address. “Be sure when you write to me”, he wrote, “you address the letters to the 49th Pursuit Squadron here at the field.” He continued with a question that implies he missed his parents.

    How about that deal of coming out here? … Dad ought to be able to get away for two weeks right after the seeding is done. Let me know about it anyway. I have no expenses here to amount to anything so I could send you a $100 now and another hundred the first of the month. After that, I won’t have any use for money at all, I suppose. I’ll have to send my radio home before I leave too, I suppose.

    I guess that is all for now.

    Love, Dick

    It will be 29 days before Dick’s next letter home. An unusual event with a valid reason. Maybe it was the P-38’s speed, maybe it was the ease with which Bong found it flew, maybe it was his youthful exuberance. What ever the cause, a few weeks after writing this letter young 2nd Lieutenant Bong found himself in hot water. So much so that he would soon be standing at attention in front of the 4th Air Force Commander, Major General George C. Kenney. It would prove to be a meeting that would extend far beyond the office walls.

    70th Anniverssary MOH logoThe Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame is celebrating the 70th anniversary of Richard Bong being awarded the Medal of Honor on December 12, 1944. Touring Wisconsin with the Bong Anniversary Tour is just part of this educational effort. Learn more about the tour, where you can experience the story through a multimedia presentation, and other Bong information at the website.


  • Lt. Bong, meet the Lockheed P-38

    Posted on May 12th, 2014 John Dorcey No comments
    Hamilton AAF main gate

    Hamilton AAF main gate
    Photo courtesy the California State Military Museum

    It was 74 years ago today, May 12, 1942, that 2nd Lt Richard Bong first flew the Lockheed P-38 Lighting. In the book, Dear Mom – So We Have a War, his letters home set the stage for the big day in this young pilot’s life.

    2nd Lt. R.I. Bong
    49th Sqdn, 14th Group
    Hamilton Field, Cal.

    Dear Mom:
    Well, I’m here and settled in my new barracks. This is an old post and it is pretty complete and also pretty nice. I got my assignment today. I’m assigned to the 49th Pursuit Squadron of the 14th Pursuit Group stationed here at Hamilton. We start training tomorrow. Start out in ships like the airlines and then get shipped into P-38s. That is all they have here and so that is all we can fly.

    Richard Ira Bong entered the US Army Air Corps (USAAC) on May 29, 1941 at Wausau, Wisconsin. He had earned his Private Pilot Certificate through the Civilian Pilot Training program (CPTP) conducted at Superior State Teachers College (UW-Superior) in Superior, Wisconsin.

    Flight Cadet Bong went immediately to the Rankin Aeronautical Academy in Tulare, California, for primary training and became a member of Class 42A. He soloed the Stearman PT-17 “Kaydet” less than a month later on June 25, 1941. Next was basic training at Gardner Army Air Field (AAF), arriving on August 20. Here Cadet Bong flew the Vultee BT-13A “Valiant” and soloed this airplane on September 3, 1941. He then went to Luke AAF for advanced training in the North American AT-6A “Texan” arriving on November 4. Graduating from flight school on January 9, 1942 Bong received his wings and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant.

    Lockheed C-40, image courtesy National Museum of the USAF

    Lockheed C-40
    Image courtesy National Museum of the USAF

    2nd Lt Bong stayed at Luke as an instructor, building his skills as a pilot and adding one more aircraft type, the P-36, and flight time to his logbook. He arrived at Hamilton with 501 hours of military flight time, all of it in single engine aircraft. The “ships like the airlines” Dick wrote about in his letter home (above) was the Lockheed C-40, or its civilian designation, the Model 12 Electra. He received one hour of instruction in this type, his only twin engine time, and later that same day made his first flight in the P-38. This first flight would last 40 minutes.

    Here is Dick’s next letter home:


    Dear Mom:
    Well I flew a C-40, (a ship like the one that flies on the airways and comes into Duluth or Superior every day), and a P-38. WOOEY!! What an airplane. That’s all I can say, but that is enough. You know what they look like from the pictures.

    He continued a few paragraphs later,

    Our training program is supposed to finish on the 13th and we leave the states shortly afterward, I guess. I don’t know where to, but it will be a long ways from home.

    It won’t turn out quite like that, but that is another story.

    The Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame (WAHF) kicked off its Bong Anniversary Tour at the Wisconsin Aviation Conference in Wausau on May 5-7, 2014. Learn more about the tour kickoff  or all of the tour details.

    70th Anniverssary MOH logo

  • WAHF Remembers Richard Bong

    Posted on May 7th, 2014 John Dorcey No comments

    bong_logoanniversary_logo70th Anniverssary MOH logoThe Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame (WAHF) announced a state-wide celebration recognizing Richard Ira Bong at the Wisconsin Aviation Conference in Wausau today.  In addition to the announcement, the organization showcased its Bong/Medal of Honor exhibit and distributed event materials. Keynote speaker for this evening’s banquet is WAHF board member John Dorcey who will provide an overview of Bong’s life. Major Richard Bong received the Congressional Medal of Honor, December 12, 1944, at Tacloban Airfield, Philippine Islands.

    Bong Veterans Historical CenterIn collaboration with the Richard I. Bong Veteran’s Historical Center, Superior, Wisconsin, the celebration of Bong’s achievements will include presentations across the state by WAHF speakers throughout the year. His accomplishments will be conveyed by a multimedia presentation, four-panel exhibit, limited edition Bong trading cards, and a model of the Lockheed P-38 aircraft he flew.

    WAHF exhibit at 2014 Wisconsin Aviation ConferenceWAHF speakers are available to travel throughout Wisconsin, giving presentations that highlight Bong’s background and the events that led to him being selected as a Medal of Honor recipient. Representatives from service clubs, historical societies, EAA chapters, flying clubs, or any interested parties are encouraged to contact WAHF about scheduling a presentation. To request a speaker, call Rose Dorcey at 920-385-1483 or send her an email. Read the WAHF press release.

  • Aviation history – it’s a small world

    Posted on January 1st, 2014 John Dorcey No comments

    While studying aviation’s roots you can’t help but discover how aviation history, and the stories of those who made it, are intertwined with one another. Aviation, a small world today, was an even smaller world then. It seems, everyone in aviation knew everyone else. Today, we talk of six degrees of separation, among early aviators we dare say it was closer to one degree.  Aviation pioneers shared knowledge, parts, successes and failures.  They worked for, or with, one another. They competed against each other. In some cases they buried one another. An article in the current issue of Forward in Flight (membership magazine of the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame) provides a perfect example of these overlapping stories.

    Midwest Airways hangar at Milwaukee County Airport ca 1929

    Midwest Airways hangar at Milwaukee County Airport ca 1929

    In September, 1927, Milwaukee’s Knaup Brothers – Ray, Ed and Jim, incorporated Midwest Airways and began operations at the newly formed Milwaukee County Airport. The three brothers provided air charter, pilot services, aircraft maintenance and aviation fuel. They also sold airplanes, becoming distributors for Ryan Aircraft. The brothers placed an order for an astounding 12 Mahoney-Ryan Brougham aircraft late that year. Airplane deliveries began in the spring of 1928. One of the first deliveries of the popular Brougham aircraft went to William J. Newman from Chicago, Illinois. Newman was building a lakefront resort and residential development on his soon to be finished manmade lake at Delton, Wisconsin. He used the aircraft in promotional tours and other marketing efforts. We will return to Lake Delton soon.

    Midwest Airways (Milwaukee) Mahoney-Ryan Brougham ca 1927

    Midwest Airways (Milwaukee) Mahoney-Ryan Brougham ca 1927

    Another aircraft delivery, this one made by Midwest Airways pilot Elmer Leighton, left San Diego, California, during the last days of May, 1928. Leighton arrived at Kohler, Wisconsin, on June 4. Owner of this airplane was Walter J. Kohler, Sr., president of the Kohler Company. The airplane was a Ryan model B-1, Brougham, serial number 108, and held registration number NC-5220. The aircraft was powered by a 220 horsepower Wright J-5 Whirlwind engine.

    Six days later the airplane was westbound as Kohler, his son Walter Jr., and Kohler Advertising Director L. L. Smith flew to Kansas City, Missouri, to attend the Republican National Convention. Upon returning from Kansas City, Kohler learned that he had been nominated as Republican candidate for Wisconsin Governor. Kohler flew to Green Bay to appear before delegates of the statewide convention.  Kohler used his airplane extensively in his campaign for governor, landing in 46 counties and covering 7,200 miles. Walter J. Kohler, Sr was an aviation advocate as Governor. He was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame in 2013.

    The Kohler Airport spawned many pioneer aviators, two of them becoming Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame inductees. Anton Brotz worked in the Kohler engineering department and did experimental work in high-altitude flight. Melvin Thompson was an early pilot for the Kohler, maintained company aircraft and served as the Kohler Airport Manager.

    The Kohler Mahoney-Ryan airplane was purchased by Mel Thompson in 1937 who used it for charter work. He sold it to Merle Zuehlke, manager of Milwaukee’s Curtiss-Wright Airport, now Timmerman Airport (KMWC). Zuehlke used the airplane in parachute testing during World War II. Zuehlke sold the airplane sometime in late 1944 or early 1945 to Jack W. “Mac” McBoyle of Lake Delton. Mac owned two other Broughams at the time. He purchased NC-7209 from air race legend Roscoe Turner in either 1943 or 1944. This aircraft was sold in 1946. The second aircraft, NC-4940, was purchased from Johnny Livingston, another air racer. The Kohler aircraft, NC-5220, had been stored outside at McBoyle’s Lake Delton Airport. Worse for wear, it was sold for parts in 1948.

    This is just one example of how people in aviation history and their stories overlap. The magazine, Forward in Flight, is published quarterly by the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame (WAHF). WAHF’s annual membership fee is $20 and includes a subscription to Forward in Flight.  Online membership to WAHF is available here.


  • Governors Kohler Conference Room

    Posted on October 16th, 2013 John Dorcey No comments
    Conference room dedication reception

    Conference room dedication reception

    It was a gloomy fall day in much of Wisconsin yesterday with low hanging clouds and intermittent rain. Not so in Sheboygan where a group of aviation minded folks gathered at the Aviation Heritage Center of Wisconsin (AHCW). By midafternoon, as if by plan, the rain stopped and the cloud bases rose and the sun was shining, if only above the overcast. About 125 people had come to dedicate the facility’s Governors Kohler Conference Room.

    The Kohler family has been engaged in aviation for generations, beginning with Walter J. Kohler, then continuing with his son Walter J. Kohler, Jr. and grandson Terry J. Kohler. Each generation has used and championed for aviation. That effort continues today through support of the AHCW. John Helminiak, Executive Director, serving as emcee of the event, asked those present to remember four words, four common threads, among each of the Kohlers – Duty, Honor, Passion and Integrity. Reflecting as the program ended, it was obvious those traits were indeed prevalent in each Kohler generation.

    Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

    Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

    The dedication ceremony included a presentation by Governor Scott Walker who spoke of the passion for public service that both Governors Kohler had in full measure. He then related how Terry Kohler, and his wife Mary, share that same that passion for public service while using aviation through their efforts with the International Whooping Crane Foundation and the Trumpeter Swan Recovery project.

    Wisconsin and Sheboygan County each has a rich aviation history and the heritage center provides an excellent venue to share that history while providing a place for education, research and outreach. The conference room dedication is among the final entries of the heritage center’s first decade. Founded in 2004, the heritage center has grown to a first-class facility housing history displays, an aviation library, a flight school and meeting facilities. The future of AHCW looks bright as plans for a building expansion and additional aircraft displays begin to take shape and while needed funds are collected.

    Governors Kohler Conference Room

    Governors Kohler Conference Room

    Many of those present at the dedication will meet again in Oshkosh, on Saturday, October 26, as Walter J. Kohler Sr. is inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame. Walter Sr. was the first politician to use an aircraft while campaigning. While campaigning for governor in 1928 he used his Ryan Brougham airplane to crisscross the state. During one two-week period, Kohler flew more than 7,800 miles. During the campaign, and later as governor, he pushed for more airports, better airports and an increased aviation emphasis in Wisconsin’s national guard.

  • Sputnik IV impacts in Manitowoc 51 years ago today

    Posted on September 5th, 2013 Michael Goc No comments

    This article first appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of Forward in Flight, a quarterly membership magazine published by the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame.

    Sputnik IV in Manitowoc
    WAHF has a new photo entry in its archives. The image depicts WAHF board member and space bug Tom Thomas at the exact spot where a fragment of a Soviet Sputnik satellite crashed in 1962. Tom is kneeling just about in the center of North Eighth Street in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, where a brass ring marks the point of impact.

    Tom Thomas at Sputnik IV impact site

    Tom Thomas at Sputnik IV impact site

    The Soviet Union launched Sputnik IV in May 1960; three years after the famous Sputnik. It shocked the American aerospace community with the realization that “we” had lost the first round of the space race to our Cold War adversaries. With a manned space flight in their plans, the Soviets had placed a dummy “cosmonaut” in Sputnik IV. They also hoped to bring the satellite back from space and retrieve the “cosmonaut” and scientific data intact. They began the re-entry process in June 1960 but the ship’s orientation mechanism failed and Sputnik instead entered an elliptical and temporary orbit around the earth.

    The Soviets were still receiving radio transmissions from Sputnik until it re-entered the atmosphere in the early morning hours of September 5, 1962. At about 4:30 a.m., central standard time, a fragment 8- by 3-inches came out of the sky and bored three inches into the pavement on Eighth Street. City police soon arrived on the scene and took custody of the metallic hunk. Smaller pieces of debris were later found on the roof of a nearby church. All were turned over to the FBI and pieces were later transferred to several research labs for analysis. Scientists at Harvard University discovered traces of the rare black crystal known as wustite and the usually unstable mineral akaganite. Both were formed when iron and oxygen in the satellite were subjected to the intense pressure and heat of re-entry. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory sent staff to Manitowoc to search for additional specimens.

    After completing its analysis, the United States offered to return the fragment to the Soviets but, exhibiting the puzzling combination of arrogance, secrecy, and fear common at the time, they refused. After a few months passed and the publicity died, the Soviets said they would take the fragment after all. Replicas were fabricated, and one is on display at the Rahr West Museum in Manitowoc.

    Sputnik IV plaque, Manitowoc, WI

    Sputnik IV plaque, Manitowoc, WI

    The crash of the satellite was a surprise in Manitowoc but a corps of amateur and professional astronomers knew it was coming and observers from as far away as Eagle River in the north to Milwaukee in the south saw it break up on re-entry and appear to scatter more than one chunk of debris on its way down.

    Inevitably, questions have been asked. Could more fragments of Sputnik IV have survived re-entry intact? Might they yet be found in some backwoods farm field, or wetland in northeast Wisconsin? Nobody knows.

    The truth is out there.

  • Cumberland Airport Has New Name

    Posted on August 29th, 2013 John Dorcey No comments

    Four years ago, nearly to the day, we wrote regarding a suggestion to rename the Waukesha Airport. The suggestion came from the editorial staff of the Waukesha Freeman newspaper. Our article, What’s In a Name, discussed Wisconsin’s airports, their names, and how or why that name was chosen. We disagreed with the suggestion to change Waukesha’s and the change didn’t come about.

    Fast forward to late August 2013 when WAHF member/supporter Brad Volker, Rice Lake, shared an article from the Cumberland Advocate. The article details the histories of two airport benefactors whose work will be acknowledged as the City of Cumberland changes the airport’s name from Cumberland Municipal Airport (KUBE) to Toftness/Erickson Field. We thank the Cumberland Advocate for providing permission to reprint their article. We also recognize the article’s author John Ostrem, a member of the Cumberland Airport Commission.

    Commission to name Airfield after local aviators

    Toftness / Erickson Field
    Aviation pioneers Irving Nordeen “IN” Toftness and Willard “Bud” Erickson will have the Cumberland Airfield named in their honor at the Fly-In pancake breakfast held during the Rutabaga Festival, Sunday August 25 at 10:30 AM. Mayor Tom Mysicka will officiate at the ceremony honoring each of these pilots that started the Cumberland Airport in June of 1946. Today the Airport with its 4,000’ hard surface runway, arrival and departure building, 17 hangars with 21 aircraft represents a nearly $10 million replacement cost and serves 11,000 landings/takeoffs each year.


    Local chiropractor “IN” Toftness moved to Cumberland in 1932 fresh from Chiropractic College in Davenport, Iowa. He became interested in aviation taking flying lessons in 1939. His wife Louise followed earning her pilots license which was extremely unusual for a woman in those early years of aviation. They had no children and flying became their “only hobby“ according to Dr. Tom Toftness of Cumberland. IN and Louise flew their small planes to the four corners of the United States whenever they had time off from the clinical practice.


    Toftness saw the need for an airport and in 1946, together with CJ and Linda Burton purchased 40 acres of farm land at the current airport site to create their own field. The original airport had several small “T-Hangars,” where airplanes were kept and serviced. Records indicate mechanic Ray Peterson had several small training planes operating on the field. Peterson is the uncle of current Airport Manager Al Seierstad.


    Throughout his flying career IN Toftness owned five different Cessna airplanes and gave rides to Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, and residents of Cumberland. Many tell of their first rides and citizens remember Toftness flying low over town late at night to signal people to take cars to the airport to light the runway.


    In addition to the original 40 acres of land, Toftness and Louise made a significant gift in excess of $200,000 for constructing a hard surface runway. Federal funds were available but without the generous gift from their Living Trust, the Cumberland Airport would have remained a grass cow pasture.


    Our second aviation pioneer is Willard “Bud” Erickson who also dedicated his life to the Cumberland Airport. Erickson was a highly decorated Navy fighter pilot with service in WWII and the Korean War. Following the 1941 Pearl Harbor bombing, Erickson declined a deferment for farming and went to Navy Flight School to follow his dream of flight. Erickson flew 14,400 hours in Navy airplanes and achieved the rank of Lt. Commander. Erickson and wife Doris returned to Cumberland following the Korean War and Bud flew for the Department of Natural Resources as a fire watch spotter and enforced game laws.


    Erickson spent countless hours working with Federal officials to get navigation beacons and lights at the airport and could always be found on the mower and snow blower taking care of the runway. Erickson saw the need to build a longer hard-surface runway to accommodate larger planes so he and Doris generously traded land from their home farm with a local farmer to create the runway.


    The longer runway allowed the State of Wisconsin to designate Cumberland as the loading site for aircraft taking hearing impaired school-age children to a residential school in Delevan. State planes would load students every Sunday afternoon and return on Friday evenings throughout the school year.


    Over the years there have been many businesses at the airport including a travel agency, charter flight service, aircraft and instrument repair facilities, and Romeo Aviation Flight Training School. The airport is used by local businesses including 3M, Seneca Foods, engineering companies, SW Bell Communications, and when the weather is below minimums helicopters from the hospital use the radio beacons to land.


    Both Toftness and Erickson families had aviation as part of their heritage. Mark Erickson is a pilot, Max Erickson is a commercial pilot for UPS flying an AirBus 300 and several of the Toftness relatives are pilots and commercial pilots.


    We have come long way from the early years of Cumberland’s grass strip in a “cow pasture” to the high tech airport with GPS navigation, weather forecasting, and communications systems.


    IN Toftness, whose passion for aviation was matched by his world class respected chiropractic procedures and responsible for starting the airport. Lt Commander “Bud” Erickson, a frightfully young patriotic farm boy launched from aircraft carriers in two wars defending American freedoms, whose leadership and dedication to safety was responsible for so many improvements that we take for granted today. Mayor Mysicka said, “We are very lucky to have such an excellent airport as a community asset and we have these pioneers to thank. It is a great honor for our City to name our field after them.

    Changing an airport’s name to recognize the passion and dedication of two local aviators and sharing their history makes sense. It is a change we can support. Congratulations Cumberland on your “new” airport.

  • Skyroads

    Posted on July 12th, 2013 John Dorcey No comments

    Milwaukee native Lester Maitland added to the roar of the Roaring 20’s. Just a youngster when, in 1917, he entered the Air Service, he was a military flight instructor at age 19. Following the war, he flew in many speed competitions and military flight demonstrations. On October 14, 1922, he became the first US military pilot to fly faster than 200 MPH. Just a year later he flew at speeds barely shy of 250 MPH. Then in June 1927, Maitland, and navigator Albert Hegenberger, flew a Fokker C-2 from Oakland, California to Honolulu, Hawaii. That record setting flight earned him a Distinguished Flying Cross and the MacKay Trophy for 1927.

    cover of the book Knights of the Air by Lieutenant Lester J. Maitland

    Knights of the Air by Lester J. Maitland

    While continuing his military career, Maitland added writing to his resume. His book, Knights of the Air, was published in 1928. In the preface, Maitland shares that his effort is to present a series of short stories… “a story of human beings, a compelling drama of men and events swift in action and full of unexpected turns.” He writes not as a 30-year old, first-time author unsure of his topic but as an acquaintance, a friend, a contemporary of those whose stories he shares.

    Skyroads, the comic, begins

    Skyroads, the comic, begins

    The next year, in 1929, he began a partnership with fellow Air Service instructor and artist Dick Calkins. They collaborated on Skyroads, a daily comic strip with Maitland providing the story line and Calkins the art work.  The comic strip was subtitled, For Passenger and Pilot.

    In the very first panel Maitland shared his thoughts on aviation and its affect on humankind. “Millions upon millions of people now living will share the exaltation of air travel either as passengers or pilots and to all these comrades of the air I dedicate this work.” Each daily installment provided the strip’s protagonists Ace Ames and Buster Evans, partners in the new aviation company “Skyroads Unlimited”, an opportunity to teach readers about aviation.

    Maitland left the team in 1933. There were many spinoffs throughout the life of Skyroads and its derivatives. There were flying clubs with ranks, wings and ‘orders’. There were comic books, feature books and even a radio program. A short time after Maitland’s departure, the strip began losing its appeal, eventually fewer newspapers carried the comic and the series ended in 1942.

    Maitland’s story doesn’t end there. He was serving as base commander of Clark Field in Manila, Philippine Islands during the attack on December 8, 1941. Later, he would serve as commander of the 386th bomb group, a B-26 unit based in Boxted, England. Maitland retired from the military in November, 1943.

  • Gallatins, Corbens and Baby Aces

    Posted on January 3rd, 2013 John Dorcey No comments

    After publishing its first book, Forward in Flight, the History of Aviation in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame (WAHF) had a dilemma. Like many of us, the organization found it had too much stuff. That is, too much history to fit into one book. The solution was straight forward, publish an annual newsletter and share more of Wisconsin’s aviation history. While searching for early documents of the organization we became reacquainted with the five issues of Forward in Flight, the Newsletter of Aviation History in Wisconsin. Michael Goc wrote the following story for the Fall 2001 issue of the newsletter.

    Gallatin brothers Baby Ace under construction

    Gallatin brothers Baby Ace under construction

    Oscar and Harold Gallatin were students at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) in 1930 when the decided to build an airplane. They obtained plans for a Corben Baby Ace along with a set of landing gear struts from the factory in Madison and, according to Corben’s instructions, modified a Model A Ford motor to power their plane. With no workshop of their own, the young men used a shop at MSOE and the basement of the Sommerfield Methodist Church on North Case Street as assembly points. The Methodist pastor had decided that home-building was an act of love not labor, so the Galatian’s were not violating the Sabbath when they kept at it on Sunday afternoons and evenings. As a bonus, the boys could partake of the weekly Sunday dinner prepared by the ladies of the Epworth League, “at low cost.”


    After completing the tube framing and fabric covering, the Gallatins moved their Baby Ace to a hay loft on North Marshall Street to mount the wings and install the motor. When they completed assembling the plane, the brothers wanted to fire up the engine, but had no gasoline. Harold stuck the tip of the acetylene welder in the carburetor intake, Oscar propped the motor, “and it started on the second pull.” The brothers started flying the plane in 1932 at the Waukesha Airport. Harold later recalled that it was “the first and last Baby Ace built in Milwaukee until the EAA began in 1951.”


    The Gallatins built at least three airplanes in the 1930s and 40s, including an original design logically called the Gallatin. The low-wing, single-place, monoplane was powered by a two-cylinder Aeronca engine. On a test flight out of Waukesha, a wind spar bracket failed, and Oscar died when the plane crashed.


    Waukesha Airport, ca 1934

    Waukesha Airport, ca 1934

    After World War II Harold had a hangar where he kept building airplanes and became known for his use of the Wankel engine. He hung onto the plans for his 1930s Baby Ace and, a few years before the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) was organized, shared them with EAA founder Paul Poberezny. His well-publicized adaptation of the Corben Super Ace gave Poberezny and the EAA a boost in its early days. Gallatin himself signed on as EAA #20, an appropriate gesture for the man known as the “father of homebuilding in Milwaukee.”

    Source materials for this story include materials from the WAHF archives and the Harold Gallatin papers.

    Harold Gallatin served on EAA’s board of directors for three years. He died in Waukesha, Wisconsin on November 28, 2002. On hearing of his passing EAA President Tom Poberezny said, “Harold was a true representative of the grassroots aspect of the organization, he was there back in the beginning.”


  • Air Racer from Wisconsin Rapids

    Posted on November 24th, 2012 John Dorcey No comments

    One of the missions of the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame (WAHF) is to share the stories of Wisconsin’s aviators. Ideas for these stories come from attendees of WAHF presentations, continuing research by WAHF members, archival donations, and sometimes reading a book. This is a case of the latter. I was paging through Forward in Flight, the history of aviation in Wisconsin and discovered a one-page article on the Wisconsin Ninety-Nines. While the article provided a general history of the Wisconsin chapter, it was the air racing theme that caught my attention. One paragraph named some of the state’s air race pilots including Lois Truchinski.

    “Over the years many other Wisconsin women participated in AWTAR,
    including Anne Roethke and Dorothy Parks of Madison,
    Lois Truchinski of Wisconsin Rapids and Dora Fritzke of Milwaukee…”

    excerpted from Forward in Flight, the history of aviation in Wisconsin

    Lois Truchinski (left) with copilot Pat Weir

    Lois Truchinski (left) with copilot Pat Weir

    Lois is from Wisconsin Rapids, my wife’s hometown. We were already in town for a wedding, and I was able to spend a little time researching files at the McMillan Memorial Library. After collecting some basic information about Lois, I contacted her and scheduled an interview for a few days later. We spent a delightful three hours with Lois as she described her life in aviation. Her life story, like most, is filled with opportunities and successes, challenges and failures, laughter and tears. It was the cross-country air racing that had piqued my interest and it is about that part of her story I remain most fascinated.

    Women pilots have competed in various air races since the 1929 transcontinental Women’s Air Derby. The annual race continued for 10 years until interrupted by World War II. The Ninety-Nines took a leadership role in the post-war races, which began in 1947. The race changed its name to the All-Woman Transcontinental Air Race (AWTAR) while embracing the Will Rogers’ “Powder Puff Derby” name as well. After 31 years and 30 races, the AWTAR ended with its last running in 1977. A race-minded group found financial-backing and the replacement Air Race Classic began with its first race in 1977. Eventually, funding through development of a non-profit organization brought a sense of longevity to the race, which continues today.

    1978 Angel Derby program cover

    1978 Angel Derby program cover

    Races are typically flown by two pilots who must meet minimum experience and certification requirements. The aircraft are also restricted in horsepower and equipment. Each airplane has a safety and compliance inspection prior to race departure.

    Lois raced four races, more transcontinental air races than any other Wisconsin pilot. She competed in the 1977 and 1978 Angel Derby – an international flight beginning in the United States and ending in Freeport, Bahamas. In 1979 and 1980, Lois and her copilot competed in the Air Race Classic. WAHF member/supporters can read the entire Lois Truchinski story in the upcoming Winter 2012 issue of Forward in Flight, our membership magazine. Becoming a WAHF member/supporter is easy and inexpensive, simply follow this link.

    Thank you to Susan Royce who provided the 1978 Angel Derby program cover and other race details.