• 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.

  • North Central Airlines – who knew there were two of them?

    Posted on October 14th, 2012 John Dorcey No comments

    Wisconsin Central Airlines, a former division of Four Wheel Drive Company located in Clintonville, Wisconsin, would in 1952, change its name to North Central Airlines. But before that, six years before, a different North Central Airlines took off from Stevens Point. Who knew there were two North Central Airlines?

    The City of Stevens Point broke ground on its new airport September 12, 1941. After overcoming several challenges, the airport development project was completed and the airport was opened September 20, 1942. Several weeks prior to the airport’s opening, Albert E. Padags was hired to be the city’s first airport manager. Padags came to Stevens Point from Wisconsin Rapids where he had served in the same capacity. Padags also moved his aviation business, Padags Flying Service, to Stevens Point.

    A. E. Padags

    Albert E. Padags, General Manager
    North Central Airlines

    Aviation was soon booming at the new airport. Central State College (UW-Stevens Point) was approved as a Civilian Pilot Training (CPT) school in February, 1942. Due to the CPT contract, Padags Flying Service had nine flight instructors, in addition to Albert, on the payroll. The company also employed two secretaries and a single mechanic. Ten additional T-hangars were constructed on the airport in September, 1943.

    Aviation’s boom continued as the war ended and airline travel expanded. Four airlines approached the city of Stevens Point. Northwest Airlines was first with plans for a Milwaukee hub and service to Stevens Point. Other potential service providers were Duluth Airlines, Great Continent Air Service, and a local carrier. A.E. Padags envisioned an intrastate carrier based at Stevens Point. He named himself general manager, he called the new carrier North Central Airlines, the Indian Trail Route and then he acquired a Douglas DC-3.

    Route and schedule plans called for a morning departure from Wausau to Madison via Stevens Point, then continuing on to Milwaukee. An afternoon departure out of Milwaukee would head north to Sturgeon Bay, continue on to Land O’Lakes, and then return to Wausau. This was certainly an aggressive route structure with a seemingly oversized aircraft.

    Two public relations flights were made in late May, 1946. The first was a five-hour scenic trip over north and northeast Wisconsin. The second flight took 13 Stevens Point dignitaries to Milwaukee where they lunched with John Bohn, Milwaukee’s mayor, and Milwaukee County Board Chairman Lawrence Timmerman.

    The local airline never did carry a paying passenger. The airline and its North Central Airlines name went away for unknown reasons. Wisconsin Central Airlines provided airline service to Stevens Point beginning in 1948. It would, after relocating to Minneapolis in 1952, change its name to North Central Airlines, the Route of the Northliners. Just as A. E. Padags had envisioned, North Central Airlines would serve Stevens Point with DC-3s, except, it was the second North Central Airlines that provided the service.

  • Beechcraft Heritage Museum

    Posted on April 22nd, 2011 John Dorcey No comments

    We have passed through some beautiful country today as we travelled from Birmingham, Alabama, to Tullahoma, Tennessee. The weather has been CAVU with temps in the 70s. Our last leg on this trip has been state highways and we have enjoyed the opportunity to see the Tennessee countryside. We passed a number of other attractions – the last being the Jack Daniels’ Distillery in Lynchburg. We saved the distillery tour for another day.

    Beechcraft Heritage MuseumThe Beechcraft Heritage Museum is located adjacent to the Tullahoma Regional Airport (KTHA). The museum is west of the Runway 36 extended centerline on the airport’s south side. The drive in to the facility was along a shady, tree-lined lane that reminded us of many Wisconsin airports. Began as the Staggerwing Museum Foundation in October 1973, the museum was given its current moniker in April 2007. The current name reflects the organization’s commitment to preserving the heritage of the entire lineage of Beechcraft.

    1932 Model 17R-1

    The museum is made up of a collection of several buildings. Our tour began in the Beech Center. We visited the gift shop and then began viewing the museum’s collection of 24 aircraft. The museum displays two firsts; the first Travel Air (1925, Model 1000) and the first Model 17 Beechcraft Staggerwing (1932, Model 17R-1). Aircraft displays provide plenty of room for close examination. Aircraft are all in pristine condition. Beyond the aircraft collection the museum holds many artifacts of early aviation.

    We spent some time in the Walter H. Beech Hangar studying materials and artifacts of aviation’s Golden Age. We moved on to the Louise M. Thaden Office and Library. Housed in a 100-year-old log cabin, the library contains many artifacts of this early aviatrix. We then made our way back to the Beech Center and the museum’s offices.

    Beechcraft Starship

    Wade McNabb, museum CEO and Curator, joined us for the second half of our tour. He took us through the Bonanza/Baron Museum that also includes a Beech Starship. Wade is an excellent ambassador for the museum and organization. The Tennessee Department of Tourist Development created an excellent video on the museum.

    Our tour concluded just in time for a late lunch. Wade made an excellent recommendation – Emil’s. The 1905 home of doctor and former Tullahoma mayor Jack Farrar provides an excellent backdrop for the restaurant. When travelling in the Tullahoma area we recommend you pause for a delightful dining experience at Emil’s.

    The fifth of five aviation museums for our spring vacation proved to be a real gem.

  • Southern Museum of Flight

    Posted on April 21st, 2011 John Dorcey No comments

    Vietnam helicopter exhibit

    The timing of our visit to the Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham, Alabama, couldn’t have been better. The grand opening of a new exhibit and diorama was set for this evening. The exhibit, The Vietnam War Helicopters, was the star of the event that included a symposium, music, and light hors d’oeuvres. Nearly 400 Vietnam veterans and their families attended the gala. The exhibit features two aircraft – a Bell AH-1 Cobra and a Hughes OH-6 Cayuse. The OH-6 Light Observation Helicopter was nicknamed “Loach”.  The exhibit depicts the true story of Troop C, 6thCavalry Regiment. We completed our tour of the museum
    before the early evening event.

    Lockheed Y-12

    We started our tour at the outdoor exhibit area, located two blocks west of the museum. The 22 aircraft making up the outdoor exhibit are on the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (KBHM). Airport security fence prevents up-close viewing. A rare A-12 Blackbird is among the display aircraft.

    We then moved to the museum proper. Four wings in an X-shape house the museum’s 68,000 square foot facility. A unique feature of the museum is its dioramas. In addition to the new Vietnam Helicopters, dioramas depict the history of the Tuskegee Airmen, defection of Lt. No Kum Soc (Korea), and the Lake Murray B-25. Another diorama about crop-dusting is in the planning stages.

    Radial engines on display

    Aeronca K1 Scout

    The museum displays a nice collection of early general aviation aircraft and radial engines. The museum is also home to the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame. Biographical plaques tell the stories of those Alabama aviators who made aviation history. Related to the Y-12 aircraft, the CIA’s Project Oxcart is detailed in a museum exhibit.

    The museum has many opportunities for youngsters. They provide four different Alabama School Course-of-Study Tours and workshops for both Girl and Boy Scout badges. In addition, a classroom for hands-on work and a 70-seat theater are available.

    A little off the beaten path, you’ll need to closely follow the plentiful signs directing you to the museum, or use a GPS. A nice aviation museum.

  • Air Force Armament Museum

    Posted on April 20th, 2011 John Dorcey No comments

    A quick review of our Spring 2011 museum/history tour. We left Wisconsin on Friday, April 15. An RON in Paducah, Kentucky, set up our first history stop at the Shiloh National Military Park. After an early departure Saturday morning, we arrived at Shiloh about 3½ hours later. We toured the Interpretive Center, watched the 1950s era movie, Shiloh: Portrait of a Battle, and visited the bookstore. After a picnic lunch we toured the battlefield. We then continued south to Birmingham, Alabama, for our next overnight. After Ft. Rucker we drove to Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida on Monday. We toured the National Museum of Naval Aviation yesterday.

    Entry at AF Armament Museum

    Plans for today called for a drive east to Eglin Air Force Base and the Air Force Armament Museum. Today was our third day in Florida and the Armament Museum is our third military aviation museum of the trip. The Air Force Armament Museum is located adjacent to Eglin AFB, just west of the main gate.

    The idea for an armament museum was approved by Eglin command staff in early 1974. Much like the Army Aviation Museum, a lack of facilities slowed the development process. Two years later, in 1976, the museum opened its doors for the first time, in a former Enlisted Club facility. The Air Force Armament Museum Foundation was established that same year. The on-base facility was closed in 1981 and the museum was again without a facility until 1985. In mid-November 1985 the museum again opened its doors, this time in a new 28,000-square-foot facility. The museum was now home.

    Gun Vault

    There are 25 aircraft displayed outside and four more inside the museum. In addition to the aircraft there are hundreds of munitions. A gun vault houses not only airborne guns but hundreds of pistols, rifles, carbines, and other munitions. Missiles and bombs are also well represented. A video tells the story of Eglin AFB and its role in munitions development.

    B-52G with Hound Dog

    The outside display included a Boeing B-52G Stratofortress or “BUFF” with a North American AGM-28B Hound Dog missile alongside. I spent six years working on the B-52H/Hound Dog system at Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota. The missile is displayed on a storage/transportation trailer but without the pylon (adapter between the missile and the bomber’s wing).

    AC-47 "Spooky"


    Other unique aircraft displayed outside include: Douglas AC-47 Gunship “Spooky”; the first Lockheed AC-130 Gunship “Spectre”, AF Serial No. 53-3129; a Martin B-57 “Canberra” and a Boeing B-47 Stratojet. Outside aircraft are a little weathered and suffer from bird droppings but these are minor distractions.

    AC-130 "Spectre"

    Inside exhibits include tributes to USAF Congressional Medal of Honor recipients including Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame (WAHF) inductees John Jerstad and Lance Sijan. Another exhibit was a tribute to the Doolittle Raiders. The “Raiders” did training and their aircraft were modified at Eglin early in 1942 prior to their April 18, 1942 Tokyo Raid. WAHF inductee Richard Knobloch was the copilot on Aircraft 13 – “The Avenger “.

    F-105 with munitions

    We enjoyed our time at the Air Force Armament Museum. Some of the displays are in need of minor repair while others are beginning to show their age. These are minor discrepancies and should not deter anyone from visiting.

  • Midwest Flyer earns National Journalism Award

    Posted on September 20th, 2010 John Dorcey 1 comment

    Midwest Flyer publishers Dave and Peggy Weiman were in Wichita, Kansas, last week covering the National Association of State Aviation Officials’ (NASAO) 79th annual convention. The Weimans are well known throughout the Midwest for reporting aviation news through their magazine. Last week, something a little different occurred in Wichita – the couple made the news.

    NASAO presented the Weimans with the organization’s 2010 National Journalism Award. The award recognizes the couple’s superior news coverage of aviation issues. Accepting the award, Dave acknowledged the strong working relationship the magazine has with state aeronautics offices throughout the Midwest and the NASAO staff. He also recognized Minnesota and Wisconsin for their efforts at promoting aviation safety through special sections in Midwest Flyer.

    Founded in 1978 as Wisconsin Flyer, the Weimans renamed the magazine Midwest Flyer in 1980 and since then things really… well, took off. Today, the magazine provides aviation news coverage across 11 states. The couple has raised two daughters, founded two other aviation publications, and owned three airplanes in that time. Visit the Midwest Flyer website for additional information.

    This is only the second time the National Journalism Award has been presented by NASAO. The inaugural award was presented to Gordon Baxter, long-time writer for Flying magazine. The Weimans have garnered a number of awards through their publishing efforts. Previous awards include – Airshow Safety Pioneer Award (1997), AOPA Presidential Citation (2003), Award of Excellence (Minnesota DOT, 2004), Blue Light Award (WAMA, 1981/2005), and Aviation Business of the Year (WATA, 2000/2009). Congratulations to Dave and Peggy. The couple have been long time member-supporters of the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame (WAHF).

    Pictured with Dave (right) and Peggy Weiman is Al Whitaker. Al was the subject of an early Dave Weiman Wisconsin Flyer article.(Tom Thomas photo)

  • They came, they saw, they ate

    Posted on July 3rd, 2009 John Dorcey 1 comment
    Bill Kinsman describes the facility as, “A little grass airport out in the middle of nowhere.”  Bill is president of the Central County Airport Association and one of the airport’s biggest boosters. His description is factual, but don’t be fooled. This little grass airport booms on Fridays and a few other days throughout the year. The attraction for the Central County Airport (68C) is simple – food and fellowship.

    Take today for example.  The weather was perfect for flying and the fact that many working folks had the day off for the July 4th holiday set the stage for record attendance. Sixty-six airplanes and one helicopter arrived over a 90-minute span. These 67 aircraft set a record for Friday arrivals, but only by a few. Many others – myself and wife, Rose, included – arrived by ground vehicle.

    Some of the planes that brought diners to lunch today

    Pilots who arrive early become judges after landing and parking. Listen closely; you can overhear them as they comment on the style and technique of each landing. Olympic judges might be easier to please! Others walk from one airplane to the next, lingering at those that hold a special attraction.

    The aircraft mix was diverse – a large collection of Cessna 150s and 172s, a gaggle of Piper Cherokees, and a Mooney. The homebuilts, also large in number, included two Sonex models, several Kitfox, and at least three RVs. Antique and classic aircraft were represented by an early model Cessna 170, a couple of Stinson Station Wagons, a trio of Ercoupes, and a real pretty Piper Pacer among many others.

    Bill Kinsman, President, Central County Airport Association

    Lunch is served promptly at 12:00 – or when the food is ready. About 200 sat down to lunch today. You must be a member of the Central County Flyers Association to buy lunch. Memberships are available at the door. Price for lunch is a very reasonable $6.99. Bill does all the cooking and collects the money as diners move through the line. Six volunteers, the unsung heroes, assist Bill by handling all the other details that must be attended to during meal service.

    There are 715 members in the association as of today. They come from all over the US, from Montana to Florida, from California to New York. Bill is as surprised at the growth of his effort as anyone. He admits, “I could never have planned anything like this.” Rose and I saw lots of familiar faces, said hi to many, and spent some quality time with a few. It is this fellowship that satisfies Bill the most.

    Jet fly-bys are a rare treat and we experienced one today. A Canadair Challenger made a low pass that brought oohs and aahs from the crowd. You would have thought we were at a fireworks show. I guess we were – a show for aviators.

  • First to fly in Australia – 99 years ago today

    Posted on March 18th, 2009 John Dorcey No comments

    A paddock outside Diggers Rest, a village 20 miles northwest of Melbourne, was the site of a race – a race to determine who would be the first to fly in Australia. The winner grew up in Wisconsin.

    While some of the minor details surrounding the event are somewhat clouded, the facts are known, if not widely. Harry Houdini was the first to fly a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft in controlled flight in Australia. Houdini made aviation history on March 18, 1910, in his Voisin aircraft. His first flight lasted barely a minute, traversed a complete circle, and was witnessed by a dozen or so onlookers. That flight was followed by two others. The second ended in a nose-first landing after covering a distance of nearly two miles. The third flight lasted about three and a half minutes, flew a circular path of greater than two miles distance and reached an altitude of 100 feet.

    We also know that another hangar tent was located at the same paddock outside Digger’s Rest. Inside the tent rested the remains of a Wright aircraft. Some reports state the Wright and a Bleriot model were imported by Mr. L. A. Anderson to achieve the goal of first to fly in Australia. Pilot Ralph Banks, in an attempt to beat Houdini, took off on a windy March 1. The aircraft cleared the launch rail, struggled to about 12 feet, and crashed back to earth. Banks was hurt only slightly, the aircraft was less fortunate.

    As with the Wright brothers’ flights much discussion (and disagreement) focuses on what constitutes a successful flight. Numerous attempts were made by various pilots, each with questionable success. All of the attempts were international in makeup. Houdini, an American, who first flew in Germany, succeeded in a French aircraft. Banks (possibly Australian, English, or American) attempted with an American aircraft. Englishman Colin Defries had made an attempt in Anderson’s Wright on December 9, 1909, in Sydney. He made a second attempt in the Bleriot (French) on December 18. These attempts resulted in some damage to each aircraft. Another Bleriot, this one a model XI, was owned by an Australian businessman by the name of Jones, Australian Frederick Custance attempted to fly it on March 17, 1910.

    Harry Houdini at the controls of his Voisin aircraft ca 1910

    Houdini flew additional flights first on March 20, again at Digger’s Rest with about 120 onlookers. Later he flew at the Rosehill Racecourse in Sydney. While at Sydney, Houdini addressed an audience stating, “After my reputation as the Handcuff King is forgotten, I will be remembered in Australian history as the first man to fly here.”
    Images, videos, and additional information can be found at:





  • Hello world!

    Posted on February 15th, 2009 John Dorcey 1 comment

    A couple of facts about history according to your blogger:

    • History is being made everyday. What you or I may find insignificant today may well be in tomorrow’s history books.
    • Time clouds the memory, bias may change the perspective, but historical facts never change.
    • For every story recorded in history there are many more to be told.

    We look forward to sharing Wisconsin’s aviation stories; we look forward to hearing even more.