• 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.

     

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