• 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.

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