• 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.

    5/17/1942
    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.
    5/7/42

    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:

    5/12/1942

    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

  • 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.

  • An Old and Yes, a Bold Pilot

    Posted on October 12th, 2013 John Dorcey 4 comments
    Central County Airport (68C)

    Central County Airport (68C), photo courtesy WisDOT Aero

    Yesterday was a great day for flying – the morning air was like glass, the fall colors were dramatic in the glittering sunlight, and there was a birthday celebration to attend.  Even better, a birthday party at an airport. This wasn’t just any birthday and Iola’s Central County Airport (68C) isn’t just any airport. You might assume that this little gem of a landing facility is in the central part of Wisconsin. Actually located east of the state’s geographic center, it is however in the center of Waupaca County.

    Each of the airport’s three turf runways provide a challenge for pilots. There are trees, wires or farm buildings providing distractions during the approach. Then there are the relatively short runways – average length is barely 2000 feet. Almost every Friday throughout the year, the Central County Flyers Association hosts a lunch that draws a crowd. Yesterday, it was an exceptional crowd. Early reports put the unconfirmed number of aircraft that flew in at just over 50, including a pretty Beech 18 from Manitowoc (KMTW). The auto parking lot was overflowing with an estimated 75 vehicles.

    You could assume that it was the food or the beautiful fall weather that attracted the crowd. While it is true those things helped, everyone was there to celebrate the 100th birthday of local pilot Paul Johns. Paul was born in Indiana on October 11, 1913, raised in Illinois, and spent his adult life in Wisconsin. Well he lived in Wisconsin when he wasn’t flying somewhere else in the world. Paul soloed a glider at the tender age of 15 in 1929. Two years later he soloed a Curtiss Pusher and another year later, at age 18, he held a limited commercial pilot certificate. Joining the Naval Reserve during the Depression, Paul acquired a radio repair certificate and his A&E aircraft mechanic certificate. He then began instructing naval cadets in the Link Trainer. He was hired by Pan Am Airlines in 1939 to develop their instrument training program.

    Air race legend Bill Brennand (left) and Paul Johns (right) elder statesmen of Wisconsin aviation

    Air race legend Bill Brennand (left) and Paul Johns (right) elder statesmen of Wisconsin aviation

    Paul achieved his ultimate goal when he was named a line pilot for the carrier, first flying DC-3s throughout the Caribbean and South America. Then, in 1944, Paul was transferred to the carrier’s Pacific fleet where he flew the PB2Y3 and the fabled Boeing 314 Clipper. Captain Johns completed 220 trans-Pacific flights. His growing family pulled him away from those long flights and Pan Am and he hired on as a corporate pilot in Racine, Wisconsin. He flew Beech 18s for J.I. Case and a DC-3 for Walker Engineering. Reaching retirement age Paul transferred into the Walker’s engineering department.

    Just part of the crowd celebrating Paul John's 100th Birthday at Iola's Central County Airport

    Just part of the crowd celebrating Paul John’s 100th Birthday at Iola’s Central County Airport

    He may have retired from corporate flying but he never lost his love of flying and maintaining aircraft. At the tender age of 75, Paul ordered plans and materials for a Kitfox homebuilt airplane. One year after construction began, the aircraft made its first flight. He flew the airplane for seven years before selling it. After 66 years of flying Paul hung up his goggles. Paul remains active in the electronics and computer fields. He was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame in 2009. He’s attended every annual event since.

    Paul still drives himself out to the Central County Airport every Friday for lunch. You will find him seated at the end of a picnic table where he shares his many flying stories with anyone who asks. The twinkle in his eye seems to get brighter as he moves along each story. His reliving those history making flights must keep him young. Happy Birthday Paul! Captain Johns, you are amazing, for at 100, you are indeed an old pilot and a bold pilot.

  • Alexander Field Celebrates its 85th Anniversary with Link to its Past

    Posted on August 29th, 2013 Rose Dorcey No comments

    Ford Tri-Motor is central to the airport’s roots

    Alexander Field-South Wood County Airport (KISW) is celebrating its 85th anniversary this weekend, and an airplane like one that’s forever linked to the airport’s history will be there all weekend. EAA’s 1929 Ford Tri-Motor arrived in Wisconsin Rapids today. Airport Manager Howard Joling encourages community members to come out to celebrate the airport’s rich heritage.

    “It’s not just an airport anniversary, but for the whole community, the airport is something that started when the mills were in their infancy, and things were beginning to grow and take off,” said Joling, explaining the airport’s longstanding significance to the city. “When the airport started, Nekoosa Papers had their Ford Tri-Motor here, which they purchased in 1928, and used it as promotion for its company.”

    And while the Nekoosa Papers’ Tri-Motor didn’t survive the decades, it was destroyed by a tornado in Iowa long ago, EAA’s Tri-Motor Model 4-AT is very similar.

    EAA's Ford AT-4 Tri-Motor

    EAA’s Ford AT-4 Tri-Motor

    “Our aircraft was built in 1929,” explains Ed Rusch, of Coldwater, Michigan, captain of EAA’s Ford Tri-Motor. “There was a Ford Tri-Motor brought here by an industrialist who had operations in this area in 1928. It was an earlier version of this aircraft, but basically the same.”

    Nekoosa-Edwards Paper Company purchased the plane in 1928 for $48,000, according to Joling. The industrialist Rusch spoke of, John Alexander, then the paper company’s manager, purchased 330 acres to be used for a new airport. It’s been in operation since. At one time, it was served by Midstate Airlines. Today, it’s an important economic agent for the community, says Wisconsin Rapids Mayor Zach Vruwink. Hear Mayor Vruwink’s comments here.

    Today’s arrival of EAA’s Ford, NC8407, was highly anticipated by area news representatives, who eagerly stepped on board for a 20-minute flight over Wisconsin Rapids. It was an opportunity to link to the city’s past, and imagine what the area looked like in the late ’20s, with its rivers, lakes, forests, and paper mills. Dozens of men and women gathered to take pictures and see the plane up close, and view the numerous historic airport photos on display.

    Ruth Johnson, Wisconsin Rapids pilot

    Ruth Johnson, Wisconsin Rapids pilot

    One woman stood out. Ruth Johnson, nee Blount, shared her personal history with the Wisconsin Rapids airport. “A gentleman named Jim Johnson had spray painted an old hangar at the airport in 1957,” Ruth recalled. “Several of us then formed a local Civil Air Patrol branch to practice searching for downed planes.”

    Ruth Blount was 19 years old in 1958. She and Jim became friends. “Jim bought an Ercoupe in 1958,” Ruth continued. “He told me I could take lessons in his plane. I did, and after seven hours, I soloed.” Ruth paused, then smiled and added, “Some of the guys had nine hours.” Ruth was told that she was the first woman who had soloed an airplane at the airport.

    Ruth and Jim got along well, and were married in 1961. They flew for many years together, creating many warm memories. “We would fly to Green Bay for a hamburger and a malt, and fly back without a flight plan,” she recalled. “Many happy hours were spent in the air.”

    Jim and Ruth Johnson made a home in Biron, a village just east of Wisconsin Rapids. When Jim died in 1990, Ruth got out of flying.

    “It just wasn’t fun anymore,” she said.

    But being back at the airport, running into old friends and making new ones with her effervescent smile, brought back good times for Ruth. “Oh, it’s good to be back at the airport,” she said. “You meet such nice people through aviation.”

    As if taking a ride in a rare, historic airplane to view the beautiful Wisconsin Rapids area isn’t reason enough to stop at the airport this weekend, Ruth may have just convinced you.

    Tri-Motor flights  are available from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Friday through Monday, for $75, or $50 for kids 17 and under. EAA Chapter 706, based at Alexander Field, is offering breakfast from 8 – 10:30 on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Lunch is by the American Legion throughout the weekend from 10:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. A hangar dance, with ’20s and ’30s music by the Swaneee River Oriole Orchestra (Ruth’s son, Johnny, is a member) takes place Saturday night from 7 – 10. We hope to see you there!

     

  • 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.”

     

  • 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.

  • Lawson Demo Flight Departed 93 Years Ago

    Posted on August 27th, 2012 John Dorcey No comments

    The following article was originally printed in the Fall 2007 issue of Forward in Flight magazine. The magazine is published quarterly by the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame (WAHF). Membership in the organization including magazine subscription is available for $20 annually. Alfred Lawson was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame on October 24, 1992.

    Alfred Lawson

    Alfred Lawson

    It was August 27, 1919 when Alfred Lawson, assisted by a crew of four, departed the New Butler, Wisconsin, flying field in his airliner. This was the second flight of the “House on Wings.” Their destination was Ashburn Field in Chicago. The 100-mile trip would become the first leg of a demonstration tour lasting more than two months. Lawson wrote of the journey in the publication, A Two Thousand Mile Trip in the First Airliner. The 12-page journal includes images taken during the trip and other posed publicity photos.In addition to Lawson, the crew consisted of Charles Cox, assistant pilot; Vincent Buranelli, Lawson factory superintendent; Carl Schory, engine mechanic and Andrew Surini, mechanic. Lawson explained his plans for the flight crew, “I had decided that I would act as captain and navigator of the airliner and that my assistant would do most of the steering…”

    Lawson was secretive about his plans for the trip, even keeping the crew in the dark. “Even the crew did not know that I intended to take the airliner to Chicago and Andrew Surini arrived there in his shirt sleeves and overalls while Carl Schory had left most of his raiment in his automobile, which remained standing upon the flying field at Milwaukee.”

    The trip would resume on Sunday morning, August 31, 1919. Lawson continues his report, “After spending a day or two in Chicago, inspecting the different fittings of the airliner …I decided to make a two hundred and fifty mile flight from Chicago to Toledo.” In addition to the crew, three Chicago newspaper reporters and Ralph Diggins were passengers on this leg. Diggins was a well-known aviator of the day and owned Checkerboard Field.

    1919 Lawson Airline

    Exterior view of the 1919 Lawson Airline

    The crew and passengers would rest overnight in Toledo and continue their odyssey on Monday, September 1. The passenger list changed somewhat. Ralph Diggins would return to Chicago, while two additional newspaper reporters joined the history-making flight. The airliner departed Toledo at 5:30 PM, Lawson described their arrival at Cleveland, “It was 6:50 o’clock P.M. when we landed, and although daylight was disappearing, a monster crowd was at the flying field to cheer us. The people there looked with surprise and pleasure at the mammoth visitor from Milwaukee.”Lawson would spend two days with Glenn Martin at Martin’s facilities in Cleveland. While there, the aircraft was inspected for the next leg of the journey. Alfred spoke very highly of Martin and his employees. After spending time in Cleveland, Lawson made some changes to the passenger list before departing for Buffalo. The two Toledo reporters left the flight while adding three Cleveland reporters. The total number of people aboard had reached eleven. Lawson described this portion of the trip for us. “Nothing of any importance took place in the trip from Cleveland to Buffalo to warrant special mention; the weather was good and the airliner flew along with hardly a movement of any kind.

    The flight departed Buffalo for Syracuse on September 4 and is notable for three facts. First, and possibly foremost in Alfred’s view, a woman joined the group of passengers. Second, the opportunity to race a New York Central train ended with the airliner winning handily. Third, the flight ended poorly. Lawson described it thus: “It looked like we would come out of a bad landing all right when, just before coming to a standstill, we ran into a ditch and the airliner went up onto its nose and remained in that position, with its tail sticking up at an angle of about 45 degrees.”

    The aircraft damage, while minor in nature according to Lawson, caused a week’s delay in the flight. Lawson picks up his tale, “On September 13th, with nine people aboard, we left Syracuse at 7:50 o’clock A.M. and arrived at Mitchell Field, Long Island, New York, at 10:33 A.M., making a remarkable run of 313 miles in 2 hours and 43 minutes.”

    Lawson and crew would spend six days in New York. While there, Lawson invited each newspaper to send a representative “to take a joy ride in it.” On September 15, Lawson took five reporters, a motion picture operator, two photographers and several aviation experts on a 30-minute flight. Among the passengers was Augustus Post who was serving as Secretary of the Aero Club of America. According to Lawson, “Thousands of people went out to Mitchell Field to look at the airliner, and among them some prominent aircraft men who manifested great delight at the sight of the air monster and its surprising performance.”

    The journey continued on September 19, when the crew of five took off bound for Bolling Field, Washington DC. Lawson described the flight, “The weather was hazy and cloudy, but as the land and water marks along the route were good, I found no difficulty in keeping the airliner in a true course, but it kept both Cox and me busy dodging in and around clouds between Baltimore and Washington.” There were nine passengers on this leg including Flying magazine editor Evan J. David.

    In his journal Lawson told of the many dignitaries he met with while in Washington. He said, “I believe I shook hands with all the United States Senators in Washington at that time, one of whom, Senator Warren G. Harding, afterwards was elected President of the United States.” He continued, “I was introduced to so many prominent men in Washington during the few days that the airliner remained there that it would be out of the question to name them all…”

    The flight would continue on September 25 when it departed Washington for Dayton, Ohio. This leg would prove to be disastrous for Lawson, his crew, and passengers. Lawson explained, “Everything went smoothly until we got beyond Cumberland and then we struck some of the roughest weather I have ever experienced. We let the airliner climb up to 17,000 feet, trying to find better conditions, but it was just as rough at that altitude as at a lower one. We could have climbed much higher but as the gas supply was diminishing and as I knew that in that headwind we could never reach Dayton without refueling, I decided to land at a farm near Collinsville, where Cox said he thought he saw a good field. But on trying to make the field aimed at, the airliner was struck by a top wind of tremendous force, which brought us to the earth suddenly in an adjoining cornfield…”

    The aircraft was only damaged slightly but the landing field and all nearby were unsuitable for a safe takeoff. Lawson elected to dismantle the airliner and ship it to Dayton. It would be nearly a month before the airliner was again airworthy. On Friday, October 24, the trip continued again with Indianapolis its next destination.

    Interior view of the 1919 Lawson Airline

    Interior view of the 1919 Lawson Airline

    Weather delayed the planned departure for Chicago until November 6. Lawson described this leg, “The weather was foggy and it was a good thing that I was familiar with the topography of Chicago or we may never have reached Ashburn Field, for we were almost over Lake Michigan before it became visible.”Lawson recorded, “It was zero weather the day we flew from Chicago to Milwaukee, but the 15 passengers didn’t seem to mind it at all as we journeyed along above and to the left of Lake Michigan at an altitude of 10,000 feet. Most of the passengers kept themselves warm by walking up and down the aisles as I had not installed the heating apparatus in the first airliner that I put into the second one.”

    The last lines of the journal reported, “We were met at the field by a large crowd of enthusiastic people and thus ended safely the 2,000 mile demonstration trip of the first airliner.” We do not know when Lawson wrote, A Two Thousand Mile Trip in the First Airliner. We do know that Lawson wrote the journal as part travelogue, part flight report and part marketing commentary. This long flight of his airliner displayed to the country, and the world, Lawson’s greatest aviation achievement.