• Civil Air Patrol seeks Congressional Gold Medal

    Posted on April 9th, 2012 John Dorcey No comments

    Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) is the most recent cosponsor of senate bill S.418. He signed the bill on March 26, 2012. So far five Wisconsin representatives have cosponsored the house version, H.R.719. The bills, if passed, will award the Congressional Gold Medal to World War II veterans of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP). Representative Bob Fisner (D-CA) introduced the bill on February 15, 2011. He has since been joined by 163 cosponsors. The Senate bill was introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) on February 28, 2011. Johnson brings the total senate cosponsors to 82.

    You might wonder what the Civil Air Patrol did to be considered for this prestigious award. The Coastal Patrol, as the CAP was originally known, was created by presidential executive order on December 1, 1941 as part of the Office of Civilian Defense. Antisubmarine operations using civilian volunteer pilots, flying their personal aircraft, began in March, 1942. The program lasted for 18 months. The civilian patrol experiment was an overwhelming success.

    During the 18 months of combat operations the Coastal Patrol sank two enemy submarines and attacked another 57. That success came with a cost. The Coastal Patrol lost 90 aircraft at sea, 26 crew members were killed, and seven were seriously injured. Fairchild Model 24s and Stinson 10As were two of the more common aircraft used but many other types were pressed into service. As the program developed, aircraft were armed with 50 and 100-pound bombs and 325-pound depth charges. The program began operations from three bases eventually growing to 21 facilities along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

    WAHF inductee Logan A. “Jack” Vilas was active in the Coastal Patrol and founded an unofficial club for Coastal Patrol personnel. Coastal Patrol pilots who, during a mission, made a forced landing on the water were made members of the Duck Club. By the end of the 18 month program, 114 pilots survived a forced water landing. Pilots from 16 of the 21 Coastal Patrol bases were club members.

    The Coastal Patrol flew other than antisubmarine missions – target towing, search and rescue, border patrol, disaster relief, and emergency transport. During the war 60,000 adult members had volunteered to serve their country through the Coastal Patrol. A total of 824 Air Medals were awarded by executive order of the president for service as flight crew on antisubmarine missions for the Coastal Patrol. By the end of the conflict nearly 750,000 flight hours had been logged, while 150 aircraft were lost, and 64 members killed. Like the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) these aviators had been promised veteran’s benefits. Benefits never materialized for either group. The WASP were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010.

    You can assist the CAP Congressional Gold Medal recognition effort in two ways. First, contact your senator and representative and ask them to support S.418 or H.R.719. Second, help locate CAP veterans. If you, or someone you know, served in the CAP between December 7, 1941 and August 15, 1945 and was 18 years old, or older, during that time you or they will be eligible for the award. Upload their information into the World War II Congressional Gold Medal database, or send it to Holley Dunigan.

    FMI: http://www.americainwwii.com/stories/guarding.html

  • History comes alive

    Posted on March 31st, 2012 John Dorcey No comments

    There are many opportuntities for you to experience Wisconsin’s history come alive this spring. The Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame will be participating in some of these events and attending others. We hope to see you there.

    West Allis Historical Society

    April 16
    History of Mitchell International Airport
    West Allis Historical Society
    West Allis
    The West Allis Historical Society will host a presentation by long-time Mitchell Gallery of Flight director Chuck Boie. Boie, a retired corporate illustrator from Milwaukee, is an expert on the airport’s history. The Mitchell Gallery of Flight is a museum located within the airport’s terminal. The presentation includes numerous images, many of which are not available elsewhere.

    The West Allis Historical Society is located at 8405 West National Avenue.  The program begins at 7 p.m. is free and open to the public.


    May 3
    Wisconsin Veterans Museum (WVM) Gala
    Monona Terrace
    The Wisconsin Veterans Museum’s (WVM) Foundation will hold its annual fund raiser on Thursday, May 3. The event, held at the Monona Terrace, will include a reception, dinner, and booksigning. The evening’s keynote address features historian and writer Hugh Ambrose. Ambrose, author of The Pacific, served as historical consultant for the HBO miniseries of the the same name. Ambrose will share his journey in writing the book and work on the video series.

    Tickets are available online or by phone at 608-264-6086. All proceeds from the event support the development of educational programs and exhibits at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum.


    May 4
    Operation Greatest Generation
    Railroad Museum
    Green Bay
    A day-long celebration and recognition for the Wisconsin men and women who shaped the course of history during World War II. Actvities include WWII vehicle exhibit, WWII re-enactors, tours of General Eisenhower’s European command train, and the 132nd Army Band. Featured guest speakers include Hugh Ambrose, author of The Pacific, and James Magellas, WWII veteran and author of All the Way to Berlin.

    Operation Greatest Generation runs from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The event is free and open to all veterans, their guests and the public. The National Railroad Museum is located at 2285 South Broadway in Green Bay. An RSVP is strongly encouraged. For more information and to RSVP, visit the Wisconsin Veterans Museum website or call 608-266-1009. Additonal information and directions to the National Railroad Museum are avilable at their website.


    2012 Wisconsin Aviation Conference logoMay 7-9
    Wisconsin Aviation Conference
    Chula Vista Resort
    Wisconsin Dells
    The 57th annual conference, the one conference where all of Wisconsin aviation meets, is scheduled for May 7-9. There will be 12 educational sessions including the following topics: NextGen, marketing techniques, attracting and retaining FBOs, aviation insurance, and airport economic impact statements. Beyond the educational opportunities, there will be association meetings, award ceremonies, and networking opportunities.

    The conference is sponsored by the Wisconsin Airport Management Association, Wisconsin Aviation Trades Association, Wisconsin Business Aviation Association, aviation consultants and suppliers. The Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame is one of more than 40 exhibitors. Additional information is available at www.wiama.org or by calling 715-358-2802.

  • A spring week in London, 1918

    Posted on March 24th, 2012 John Dorcey No comments

    It was in the spring of 1917 that Rodney Williams, like many others his age, answered the call. The Carroll College (Waukesha, Wisconsin) student joined the Air Service of the American Expeditionary Forces. Training would be a year-long adventure for Williams, a year that would see him in Wisconsin, Texas, and Ontario, Canada. Late in 1917, after assignment to the 17th US Aero Squadron, Williams shipped out from New York for advanced training in Great Britain. In Spring 1918, Rodney and other members of 17 Sqaudron were at RAF Turnberry. There they would receive advanced training in gunnery and aerial combat. Williams recorded his experiences, thoughts, and feelings in a diary dated from Winter 1917 to April 21, 1919. The Wisconsin Veterans Museum holds Williams’ 97-page, single-spaced manuscript in its archives. We share Williams’ details of a week in the spring of 1918 just as he wrote them with punctuation and spelling unchanged.

    Lt Rodney Williams AEF

    Lt Rodney Williams

    Following a train ride from RAF Ayr and Turnberry to London –

    “We arrived in London at 6:00 AM a tired and hungry lot for we had been unable to secure sleeping compartments for the journey down from Scotland. The only other alternative was sleeping (if you could) in a crowded day coach. Also we had no refreshments since tea the afternoon before, except a cup of coffee at Leeds which had scalded my mouth and tongue unmercifully. We went no further than the station restaurant to satisfy our hunger. After that we hailed a taxi and in a short time were reporting at RAF Headquarters. Here we were told to report to the Central Dispatch Pool in London. Evidently our early arrival in France was to be delayed.

    The CDP was an organization for furnishing pilots to fly machines from one place to another as needed in England and also flying new machines across the channel to France. The necessary number of pilots was secured by utilizing flying officers who had completed their training courses and were waiting for orders to proceed to France in addition to a regular staff of pilots who were resting from the strain of a six to nine month period of service at the front. Each morning the pilots on duty would report for orders where upon they would receive directions to proceed to some ‘acceptance park’ or other aerodrome, and take a machine to its proper destination, whether it be in England, Scotland, or France. Maybe a pilot would be gone several days on one trip before returning to the CDP, this was because it was necessary to return by train, or by boat and train if from France. Some times however instead of recrossing the channell by boat a large Handley-Page aeroplane would bring fifteen or sixteen pilots back at one trip thus saving anywhere from a half to a whole days time for each one.

    While stationed at the CDP (I was only there a week) I witnessed the last bombing raid that the Huns made on London. It was a warm sring evening and the streets were filled with busses, taxi cabs, and other vehicles besides the thousands of foot passengers. Tho only ten o’clock I had retired and as my bed stood beside an open window I had been lying there listening to the night sounds of the great city. It seemed as tho I could feel it pulsating like the heart beats of some mighty monster.

    When the sirens shrieked out their gastly warning I sat up in bed and leaned out of the window; almost instantly the throbbing of the night life increased in rapidity even as my own heart beats had. Motors raced by and the foot passengers hurried home or to nearby raid shelters, policemen blew their whistles and the lights began going out. Then the pulsating, which had become a virtual race, settled down to a faint murmering as of distant waters and finally absolute quiet reigned except for an occasional taxi hurrying along in the darkness or a commanding voice from the street crying, “Put out that light.” Just as the lull before the storm this period of death-like quiet is the most terrifying part of the raid. Like the ruslting of the trembling leaves when the first gust disturbs their calm and heralds in the coming downpour even so was that first shaft of light which mounting skyward stood as a signal, followed by one search light after another, here, there and everywhere until the surrounding sky seemed filled with torrents of light; some waving to and fro and some standing still, others weaving a triangular web in which they hoped to enmesh the night raiders whose Engines could now be heard droning out the familiar O’ou-O’ou-O’ou. Suddenly almost beneath my window, BANG! WHR-ish! went an anti-air craft gun and the shell whistled up, up, and then burst into numerous fiery red particles flying in every direction. Afer a few seconds the report came back – just a distant, “Oh!”

    Then BANG! BANG! BANG! went the rest of the battery and soon the air was filled with the roar of the guns and the whir of the shells as every anti-aircraft battery in and about London put up the barrage which was a very curtain of fire around the city thru which the Huns dared not penatrate. For a half hour this kept up as Hun after Hun arrived and failing to break thru the barrage dropped his bombs near the suburbs and started home ward and all this time the broken fragments of shrapnell were falling on the roofs and in the streets like hail. When the Huns started away from the barrage they were not thru however for then the night flying home defense squadrons got in their work. Little sparks of red and bluish light could be seen chasing each other across the sky in groups of 20, 30, 40 or even a hundred, and I knew them to be tracer bullets from the machine guns of the airmen aloft. After a particularly long burst of these tracers from one gun I noticed a spark in the sky as if some one had lit a match and then it began growing larger and larger till suddenly flames shot up thirty or forty feet in the air and a Hun machine came whirling down in a mass of flames. Six other raiders were brought down that night before they reached the channell. It was some 20 minutes after the last raider had departed before the “All Clear” was sounded thru the streets and then the lights were turned on and people came pouring out of the tubes (underground railway stations) where they had taken shelter. Once more traffic was resumed and the city throbbed gently on. The last raid was over (but the Huns were the only ones who knew it; it had become too costly for even those spend thrifts of frightfullness.)

    The next day I was ferrying a machine to France and while crossing Kent flew over the wreckage of one of the Gothas which had been shot down by a night flying scout. It was a huge ugly looking machine painted all black, but now badly smashed and little resembling the machine that had started out so triumphantly not twenty four hours before on its murderous mission.”

    Sopwith Camel

    Lieutenant Rodney Williams, and the 17th Aero Squadron, would eventually make it to France. He would shoot down the squadron’s first aerial victory and eventually five total victories. He would also be wounded in the thigh during his last combat sortie, spending the last weeks of the war recuperating in England.

    Returning to Wisconsin, Williams would work as a salesman and manager at the Waukesha Airport. Later, he served as manager of the Jefferson County (Wisconsin) Dairy Improvement Association, retiring in 1971. He attended several reunions of World War I aviators. He died at the Wood Veterans Home in Milwaukee in 1972. The Wisconsin Veterans Museum (Madison, Wisconsin) has on display a replica of Sopwith Camel D6595 that Williams flew while with the 17th. Williams was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame in 2002.

  • Fritz Wolf: Badger State Ace

    Posted on January 28th, 2012 John Dorcey No comments

    The Wisconsin Veterans Museum unveiled a new World War II era exhibit, Fritz Wolf: Badger State Ace, during ceremonies yesterday afternoon, Friday, January 27. Fritz Wolf, a Shawano, Wisconsin, native and World War II naval aviator, flew with Claire Chennault and his fabled “Flying Tigers”. The exhibit includes numerous artifacts, photographs, and mementos from Wolf’s military service. A short video detailing a homecoming parade held upon his return from his AVG service in July 1942 completes the display. The exhibit will open to the public beginning Tuesday, January 31.

    Fritz Wolf exhibitThe new display is nestled among larger exhibits of the time period – Between the Wars, World War II, and Victory at Sea. This latter exhibit includes a large scale model of the USS Hornet (CV-8) outfitted with 16 North American B-25B aircraft of the April 1942 Doolittle Raid. Plans called for the B-25s to become an AVG bomber group in Chennault’s fledgling air force.

    Museum Director Michael Telzrow welcomed the score of visitors to the ceremony, sharing how the recently donated collection was obviously a labor of love for the Wolf family. He continued by saying, “It is a distinct honor to be selected as custodians of the rich and well-cared for collection.”  Wolf’s children, Catherine White, Linda Ryckeghem, and Richard Wolf, donated the collection to the Wisconsin Veterans Museum late last year. Telzrow then introduced the museum’s curator of history, Jeff Kollath. Kollath told of the Wolf materials’ depth and detail. He closed his comments stating, “The museum is most proud to exhibit the Wolf materials.”

    The Winter 2011 edition of The Bugle, quarterly publication of the museum, featured Fritz Wolf on its cover and included an article detailing his career. A reception for family and friends was held following the ceremony.

    Wisconsin Veterans Museum logoThe museum is unique in that it is a division of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs. The Wisconsin legislature enacted law in 1901 requiring the state to establish a memorial dedicated to commemorating Wisconsin’s role in the Civil War and any other subsequent war. The museum meets the and exceeds the requirements of that law. Today, the museum’s exhibits include award-winning dioramas, full-scale replicas of Sopwith Camel and North American P-51 airplanes, a Huey UH-1 helicopter, and more. The current facility, located at 30 West Mifflin Street, on Madison’s Capitol Square, opened its doors June 6, 1993.The museum has 10,000 square feet of exhibit space with an additional 7,000 square feet of storage area. A gift shop, offices, lecture hall, meeting rooms, and a research area complete the museum’s facilities.

    Fritz Wolf was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame (WAHF) in 1989. Lance Sijan, a WAHF inductee in 2006, is also the subject of a Wisconsin Veterans Museum exhibit.

  • Bob Skuldt has Gone West

    Posted on December 21st, 2011 John Dorcey No comments

    The fabric of aviation is interwoven with threads of aviators of all types. A common part of each of those threads, each of those aviators, is passion. That fabric lost a thread on Monday, December 19, 2011. Bob Skuldt, a very passionate aviator, has gone west.

    Douglas C-47, Wisconsin Air National Guard

    Douglas C-47, Wisconsin Air National Guard

    Bob’s passion for aviation was evident that day in 1928 when he skipped school and rode his bike to the Royal Airport on Madison’s south side. Everyone’s aviation hero, Charles Lindbergh, was scheduled to land there. Bob wanted, you might say Bob needed, to be there, to witness Lindbergh’s arrival. Afterward Bob said, “I told myself that is what I want to do.”

    Bob began his flight training after graduating from Madison’s Central High School. He had a partner join him shortly after beginning his training, a partner that would never leave his side. His wife Letty, then his girlfriend, loaned Bob the money he needed to buy his first airplane. The story goes that he never repaid her.

    After earning his flight instructor rating in July 1942, Skuldt taught glider students for the US Army in Janesville and basic flight training to potential US Navy pilots in Middleton. Bob was granted a direct commission as a 2nd Lieutenant, US Army Air Corps, on November 18, 1943. He would spend the next 10 months ferrying aircraft to the European Theater. On September 22, 1944, Bob delivered a C-87 (cargo version of the B-24) to the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater. He remained in the CBI, flying 72 missions over the “Hump”.

    Bob Skuldt, Airport Director KMSN

    Bob Skuldt, Airport Director, Dane County Regional Airport

    Returning home to Madison he was one of the original officers of the post-war Wisconsin Air National Guard. He was hired, from a field of 26 candidates, as manager of the Madison, Wisconsin airport. Bob would hold that position for more than 34 years. Skuldt reportedly gave his operations crew time off for deer hunting one year. A Thanksgiving Day snowstorm found Bob and Letty driving plows to clear the airport’s runways.

    According to Dane County Administrator Clayton Dunn, “Bob was an excellent manager who worked well with his employees.” Dunn went on to say, “He was the consummate gentleman, not only professionally but also as a friend. He left a perfect legacy for this community.”

    Bob logged 7,300 hours flying 50 different types of aircraft during his flying career. He retired as a colonel from the Wisconsin Air National Guard in 1971. Bob served as airport director for the Madison/Dane County Regional Airport for nearly 35 years, retiring in 1981. He was a founding member of the Wisconsin Airport Management Association (WAMA). He was the organization’s president in 1972. Skuldt was also a founding member of the Great Lakes Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE).

    Skuldt served even in retirement. He served on the Dane County Board of Supervisors for eight years, served as Chairman of the Dane County Regional Airport Commission, and was a consultant to Republic Airlines. Bob received many awards and recognitions over the years. Letty was at Bob’s side when he was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame in 2006. Pete Drahn, WAMA Executive Director, said, “Bob… hired me in 1975 starting off my airport career. He was a military and private pilot, WWII combat veteran, husband, father, and good friend. As a member of the greatest generation, Bob will be sorely missed.”

    Bob is survived by his wife Letty and their son Gregory.

    FMI – http://host.madison.com/news/local/obituaries/skuldt-robert-b/article_ad7eb34e-2cb3-11e1-b796-0019bb2963f4.html

  • Air race pilot Bill Brenannd profiled in new book

    Posted on November 30th, 2011 John Dorcey No comments

    You’re in Cleveland, it is the end of August, 1947. You’re a 23-year old pilot from Oshkosh, Wisconsin. You’re competing in your first air race, in a borrowed airplane. Not just any race mind you, you are competing in the Goodyear Trophy Race. You are competing against some of the biggest names in aviation. Herman “Fish” Salmon is to your right, a little farther away is Tony LeVier. These Lockheed test pilots are flying aircraft designed and built by their co-workers.

    cover of book Bill Brennand: Air Racing and Other Aerial Adventures

    Cover of Bill Brennand book

    The white flag goes up and you along with the others start your engines. A green flag replaces the white one, just one minute to go. You ease the throttle forward and the engine responds, the aircraft strains against the brakes. Your ground crew, battling the wind behind the prop, hangs on to your tail, adding their effort to hold the airplane back. The flag drops, the crew releases their grip, and the race is on. Rounding the first pylon you are in the lead. You’ll maintain the lead for the entire race. You win, you win the race!

    Bill Brennand grew up on the family farm conveniently located next to the Oshkosh Airport. Like a lot of kids of the era he built stick and tissue model airplanes. A cold day in March, 1943, accompanied by several friends, Bill walked into the flight school operated by Steve Wittman. His life was about to change forever. The Brennand family still operates the farm adjacent to Wittman Regional Airport (KOSH). Bill still visits the airport. While his gait may have slowed, his eyes still sparkle when sharing highlights of his life story.

    Today Bill shares that story – he calls them aerial adventures – with you in the book, Bill Brennand: Air Racing and Other Aerial Adventures. Bill talks about his time with Steve Wittman, life as a corporate pilot, and his airport west of Neenah. You’ll learn about his 5-year restoration project of a Stinson tri-motor, his many fishing trips to Canada, and expeditions to Mexico and Central America. Finally, you’ll learn about Bill’s development of a swampy area along Lake Winnebago that became a seaplane base – you know it as the EAA AirVenture Seaplane Base.

    Bill told his story to writer Jim Cunningham. Jim captured both Bill’s words and his passion. Jim says, “This story is Bill’s, and he has called things as he’s seen them.” Order your copy by using this order form. You can visit the publisher, Airship International Press, at their web site or call Dave Smith at 309-827-8039.

  • November is Aviation History Month

    Posted on November 9th, 2011 John Dorcey No comments

    The Montgolfier brothers, Joseph and Jacques, experimented with filling paper and fabric bags with smoke and hot air during November, 1782. Their experiments continued, the balloons got bigger, and on June 4, 1783 they gave their first public demonstration. Their 28,000 cubic foot balloon, weighing about 500 pounds, lifted off from Annonay, France. The 10-minute flight covered a little over a mile. Jacques would be the first human to go aloft in a hot air balloon on October 15, 1783. The Montgolfier’s earliest experiments are recognized as the birth of aviation and are the reason we celebrate Aviation History Month in November. I want to share two stories with you today. One is an old story that is new to me, the other a more recent one.

    Hugh Robinson biography

    The Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame has shared stories of Wisconsin’s First Great Year of Flight this fall. The year 1911 saw nine different aviators demonstrate various airplanes in 13 cities throughout the state. One of those pilots was Hugh Robinson. Robinson’s early background was very similar to many of aviation’s pioneers. He was mechanically inclined, owned a bicycle shop, designed and built engines and automobiles, and finally in 1907, built and flew a dirigible. The next year, while working as a chauffeur in Europe, he witnessed an aerial demonstration by Wilbur Wright.

    Upon returning home to St. Louis, Robinson designed and built a monoplane that he exhibited at the 1909 St. Louis Centennial Exhibition. He met Glenn Curtiss while there, they became fast friends, and before leaving Curtiss had offered Hugh a job. Robinson was a Curtiss exhibition pilot when he visited Wisconsin. He made stops in La Crosse and Prairie du Chein during the fall of 1911. Curtiss and Robinson collaborated on various projects until Curtiss’ death in 1930. Robinson died in 1963. Serious students of aviation history will want to read the book, Hugh Robinson, Pioneer Aviator, written by George L. Vergara.

    Lance Sijan story

    A native of Bay View, a Milwaukee, Wisconsin suburb, Lance Sijan was a star athlete during high school. He graduated from the US Air Force Academy in 1965. Completing flight training, he was assigned to the 480th Tactical Fighter Squadron/366th Tactical Fighter Wing at Da Nang AFB, Vietnam. Visiting Bangkok, Thailand, during R&R, Sijan returned to Da Nang in early November. His first mission back was 44 years ago today – November 9, 1967. He would not return.

    The story of Sijan’s fateful mission, the attempted rescue, his 46-day survival on the jungle floor, his capture and ultimate death in the Hanoi Hilton is one that every American should know. Sijan is known by his peers as a hero. He was a 26-year-old midwestern boy next door. He was doing his duty. He died, living the military code of conduct. I don’t have many heroes, but Lance Peter Sijan is one of them. Learn more about Sijan and his story in the book, Into the Mouth of the Cat, by Malcolm McConnell.

  • The Airplane Comes to La Crosse

    Posted on October 15th, 2011 John Dorcey No comments

    The Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame (WAHF) and La Crosse County Historical Society will present “The Airplane Comes to La Crosse” on Sunday afternoon, October 30 at 2:00 p.m. The presentation will be in the main auditorium of the La Crosse Public Library, 8th and Main Streets.

    Hugh Robinson, Pioneer Pilot

    Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame board member Frederick Beseler will present a slide show detailing the flight of pioneer aviator Hugh Robinson. In October 1911,  Robinson took off from Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis on a quest to fly down the Mississippi River to New Orleans to collect a $20,000 prize.

    Along the way, Robinson stopped in La Crosse – the first time a powered aircraft visited the city. Robinson was a close associate of and demonstration pilot for famous motorcycle racer and airplane designer Glenn Curtiss. Beseler’s presentation will also describe Curtiss’ and Robinson’s many aviation accomplishments and the state of aviation technology in 1911.

    Hugh Robinson at La Crosse WI, 1911

    2011 marks the centennial anniversary of powered flight for thirteen Wisconsin cities. The Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame is sponsoring a number of events in celebraton of the Centennial of Wisconsin’s First Great Year of Flight.

    The October 30 event is free and open to the public.

  • Lieutenant Colonel Austin A. Straubel

    Posted on July 4th, 2011 John Dorcey No comments

    Austin Straubel’s grandfather, H. August Straubel, was among the early settlers of Brown County, Wisconsin. His family put down roots in 1846, later he would join the army and fight in the Civil War. History would repeat itself in Austin’s life.

    Austin was born to Carl A. and Alice C. (Van Dycke) Straubel on September 14, 1904, one of four children and the couple’s only son. Austin played tackle on the Green Bay East High School’s football team. He attended the University of Wisconsin (Madison) where he continued playing football. After graduating in 1927, he returned to Green Bay and worked at his father’s business, Midwest Cold Storage.

    “He went to Oshkosh to take flying lessons,” his sister, Florence, revealed in an interview. “He didn’t exactly sneak off to learn to fly, but he didn’t broadcast it to our parents.” Steve Wittman may have been Straubel’s flight instructor as Wittman had recently been hired to operate the airport in Oshkosh.

    Straubel joined the Army Air Corps in 1928 and completed military pilot training in Texas and March Field, California. Among other postings, Straubel spent time in the Philippines during the 1930s before returning to the states for additional training.

    7th Bombardment Group

    7th Bombardment Group

    It was December 7, 1941, and Major Straubel was commanding the 11th Bombardment Squadron, part of the 7th Bombardment Group (Heavy), and things had just gotten crazy. The group was stationed at Hamilton Field, California, and their ground support troops had sailed on November 21 for the Philippines. Straubel’s squadron was preparing for their flight to the Philippines. Confusion continued and amazingly, orders called for some aircraft to fly west while others flew east.

    Joined by the eight others in his crew, Straubel flew Consolidated LB-30 (B-24) AL-609, via the African route, arriving at Singasori Field, Malang, Java, at 1130 on January 11, 1942. They were part of a mixed group of B-17s and LB-30s, some of which flew the Pacific while others, like Straubel, flew the Atlantic. Immediately after arriving each crew went to work removing their aircraft’s long-range fuel tanks and correcting maintenance discrepancies.

    Five aircraft were assigned the group’s first mission on January 16. Straubel would lead three LB-30s and two B-17s. The Liberators were to bomb the airfield at Langoan while the Fortresses were to attack ships in Manado Bay. Straubel would earn the Distinguished Flying Cross for his efforts that day.

    Douglas B-18 "Bolo"
    Douglas B-18 “Bolo”

    On February 2, 1941, Major Straubel was joined by 2nd Lieutenant Russell M. Smith, copilot, and Staff Sergeant George W. Pickett, flight engineer. The three were flying a Douglas B-18 “Bolo” (36-338) to Bandung. Straubel, unhappy with the relationship between 5th Bomber Command and his 7th Bomb Group, had decided to meet with Major General Brereton, Deputy Chief of Staff. After meeting with Brereton, he departed for Malang with three passengers the next day. While flying through a pass near Surabaya, Straubel’s aircraft was attacked by Japanese Zeros and shot down. All aboard were killed in the crash or died shortly afterwards at a nearby hospital.

    Straubel was the first Brown County aviator to lose his life in World War II. The Brown County Airport Committee, in a March 20, 1946 letter, asked the Brown County Board of Supervisors to “consider naming the new Brown County Airport in memory of Austin Straubel.” The facility is widely known today as Austin Straubel International Airport (GRB). Straubel, buried in Java, was reinterred at Green Bay’s Woodlawn Cemetery on January 8, 1949.

  • National AMT Day

    Posted on May 24th, 2011 John Dorcey No comments

    How did today come to be National Aircraft Maintenance Technician Day? It all began on June 15, 1901, when Charles Edward Taylor started working for the Wright brothers. Today, Taylor is unknown outside of the aviation industry and by many history buffs. In Dayton, during the early 1900s, Charles was the go-to guy for the Wrights.

    Charley moved his family to Dayton in 1896 and opened a machine shop in 1898. The Wrights brought jobs to him as they designed improvements to their bicycles. The relationship between the brothers and Charley grew. Three years later, the Wrights convinced Taylor to come to work for them. His salary was $18 a week.

    Taylor was hired to work in the bicycle shop primarily so the Wrights could concentrate on their glider experiments. Eventually, his responsibilities grew. Charley assisted the brothers in designing and building their wind tunnel. In his 1948 biography, My Story, Charley said, “We made a rectangular-shaped box with a fan at one end powered by the stationary gas engine they had built to drive the lathe, drill press, and band saw.” He added, “I ground down some old hacksaw blades for them to use in making balances for the tunnel.”

    Charles E. Taylor

    During the winter of 1902-1903, Taylor built the final piece needed for powered flight – an engine. Using only a lathe, a drill press, and assorted hand tools, Charley constructed a four-cylinder engine that produced 12 horsepower at 1,025 rpm. Using this engine, the Wrights were to become the first to fly in powered, sustained flight.

    Taylor assisted in developing Huffman Prairie into the country’s first airport beginning on April 24, 1904. While the brothers continued traveling the world selling the airplane, Charley maintained the facility. He could thus be called the world’s first airport manager.

    On September 17, 1908, at Fort Meyer, outside of Washington D.C., Orville was conducting demonstration flights. A propeller failure led to a crash injuring Orville and killing his passenger, Lt. Thomas Selfridge. Taylor combed through the wreckage discovering the accident’s cause – delamination of a propeller that lead to its failure and ultimately causing the crash. Taylor could now be called the first powered-aircraft accident investigator.

    Charles continued working for the Wrights until 1911, supervising work in their engine shop. He lamented, “Some of the personal feeling of the old days, when there were just the three of us, was gone. It was beginning to be big business.”

    Late in the summer of 1911, Calbraith Rodgers was offered Charles Taylor a job. Rodgers needed a mechanic to assist him in his attempt to win the prize offered by William Randolph Hearst for completing the first transcontinental flight. Charles agreed to serve as Rodgers’ mechanic. Charley was paid $10 per day and expenses. Rodgers completed the flight in his Wright EX aircraft with the dedicated help of Charles Taylor.

    Charles returned to Dayton and worked for the Wright-Martin Company until 1920. He then returned to California and things turned sour for Charles Taylor – his wife died, the depression forced closure of his business, and other investments failed. Henry Ford discovered Charley working at North American Aviation and lured him east once more. Ford wanted Taylor to help recreate the Wright brother’s bicycle shop in his museum outside of Detroit, Michigan. That project ended in 1941 and Taylor returned to California. Charley would suffer a massive heart attack in 1945, ending his working career. He died January 30, 1956 and is buried in the Portal of Folded Wings Mausoleum. A resting place dedicated to pioneer aviators.

    Charles Edward Taylor was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1965. The Wright brothers were inducted in the organization’s first inductee class in1962.

    The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began recognizing Aircraft Maintenance Technicians (AMTs) in 1992. Award criteria are stringent, beginning with a 50-year tenure. Learn more about the FAA’s Charles E. Taylor Master Mechanic Award in their Advisory Circular AC65-26.

    The FAA has awarded 1,549 aircraft mechanics the Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award (as of May 12, 2011). Twenty of those 1,549 mechanics are from Wisconsin.

    Today is National AMT Day due to the tireless efforts of numerous supporters. California Representative Bob Filner (D-CA51) and 12 cosponsors introduced a bill creating National AMT Day on May 24, 2007. The date is significant in that it is the birthday of Charles Taylor. The US House of Representatives passed House Resolution HR 444 (110th Congress) on April 30, 2008. The resolution, summarized by the Congressional Research Service, reads:

    Supporting the goals and ideals of National Aviation Maintenance Technician Day, honoring the invaluable contributions of Charles Edward Taylor, regarded as the father of aviation maintenance, and recognizing the essential role of aviation maintenance technicians in ensuring the safety and security of civil and military aircraft.

    Happy birthday, Charley!