• 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.”

     

  • 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.

  • 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
    Madison
    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
    National
    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.

  • 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.

  • Milwaukee’s First Airport

    Posted on February 16th, 2011 John Dorcey No comments

    This story could be from anywhere and anytime during our nearly 110-year aviation history. The mayor had decided that it was time for a new airport. The only question remaining was where to locate the facility. The mayor asked seven local businessmen, each with an interest in aviation, to meet in his office on Tuesday. A five-man committee resulted from that meeting. The committee’s charge was to investigate potential airport sites and secure the needed property.

    The meeting could have occurred anywhere and anytime. In this case, it was Milwaukee in 1919. Milwaukee Mayor Daniel Hoan held the meeting on April 29, 1919. Members of the airport site committee included W. E. McCarty, Milwaukee County Board, chairman; F. A. Vaughn, president Wisconsin Aero Club;  August H. Vogel, War Industries Board; Charles B. Whitnall, Milwaukee County Park Board; and Alfred W. Lawson, Lawson Aircraft Company.

    Historical Marker at site of Butler Airport (Rose Dorcey photo)

    The committee wasted no time in getting to work touring several potential sites the very next day. The committee’s work ended with Butler Airport beginning operations on July 3, 1919. The airport would suffer from identity crises over its life. The facility was located on Lisbon Road near the Village of New Butler. It was called both Lisbon Field and Butler Airport. The airport, owned by Milwaukee County, would serve the area’s aviation needs for seven years.

    Change came about as a result of the airmail service that began on June 7, 1926. The airmail route, CAM 9, ran between Chicago and Minneapolis with stops in Milwaukee and La Crosse. Soon complaints came from several directions. The airfield was located too far from the city, some said, while pilots complained about obstructions surrounding the field. The airmail contractor, Charles Dickenson, threatened to discontinue service to Milwaukee unless the situation was improved. The outcry by area businesses and the press had a powerful effect; reaction by Milwaukee County was swift.

    On August 11, 1926, just two months after airmail service began, the County Board unanimously adopted a resolution that the County Highway Commission expend the funds necessary to either improve the existing airport or purchase a new airport site.

    Hamilton Metalplane, Milwaukee County Airport, ca 1930

    Thomas F. Hamilton owned a successful aircraft and propeller manufacturing business in Milwaukee. In 1920, Hamilton had purchased the Hirschbuehl farm located on Layton Avenue on the city’s south side. He located his business there and built an airport on the site that would serve both his business and its customers.

    The Hamilton facility would top the list of potential sites according to an August 13, 1926 Milwaukee Sentinel article, “Hamilton airfield, near Cudahy, was looked upon as one of the most desirable of available properties…”

    The Milwaukee County Board, on October 5, 1926, approved an appropriation of $150,000 and directed the County Park Commission to purchase and equip the Hamilton Airport. Milwaukee County Airport came into existance on October 29, 1926, when the transaction was completed. The Butler Airport site was abandoned and became Currie Park, a part of the Milwaukee County Park System.

    On March 17, 1941 the Milwaukee County Airport was renamed General Mitchell Airport in honor of General William “Billy” Mitchell, famous Milwaukee aviator. The airport’s name was changed one last time, on June 19, 1986, to General Mitchell International Airport.

  • Flying the Bridge Across Lake Michigan

    Posted on January 24th, 2011 John Dorcey No comments

    Imagine flying an open-cockpit airplane across Lake Michigan. It is January 1933 and you fly the “Bridge Across Lake Michigan” route for Kohler Aviation Corporation. The company flies the route four times daily, 12 months a year. The airline has been flying passengers and express between Milwaukee and Grand Rapids, Michigan, since September 1, 1929.

    Maitland Field seaplane ramp, ca 1930

    The wind swirling into the cockpit is cold and brings with it rain, sleet, and snow. While the air is cold, the lake’s surface is even colder. You know, that if needed, rescue craft would be hours away as you study the wind-whipped surface of the lake. The waves increased in size a few miles back and now white caps are torn from their tops by the ever-present wind. You shrink down into your winter flying clothes attempting to find warmth, silently praying for an uneventful lake crossing.

    Company founder, John B. Kohler, has been unsuccessful in winning a lucrative air mail contract for the over-lake route and points east. Things are tough for everyone working for the fledging carrier.

    Not every Kohler flight across Lake Michigan was successfully completed. Newspaper accounts provide details of three failed flights.

    Aircraft recovery, Milwaukee Harbor, August 28, 1932

    Sunday, August 28, 1932
    James Benedict, pilot and Patrick Gossett, co-pilot
    The aircraft taxied out the seaplane ramp at Maitland Field, taxied across the harbor to the entrance and began its takeoff run just before 7:30 a.m. Witnesses report the airplane “hopped” three to six times during its attempt to takeoff. Reports the aircraft took off downwind were investigated by company president John Kohler. His report of no wind conflicted with weather bureau reports of a 12-knot wind at the time of the accident.

    Pilot James Benedict describes the takeoff, “We got up about 20-feet when the airplane seemed to enter a ‘dead air’ area and would not gather forward speed.” Benedict reported that the left pontoon was smashed as the airplane struck the water. Kohler reported that the aircraft suffered more damage while under tow than during the accident.

    A total of seven people were aboard the Loening C-2C Air Yacht, all employees of Kohler Aviation. Only one passenger was injured; Edmund Laskowski suffered a minor scalp wound.

    Saturday, March 4, 1933
    Pilot Roy E. Pickering and copilot Ben Craycroft
    The westbound flight was observed passing over Grand Haven, Michigan, at 10:09 a.m. bound for Milwaukee. When Milwaukee reported the aircraft was long overdue, another Kohler Aviation aircraft departed Grand Rapids, Michigan, and began search efforts.

    The incident aircraft had suffered a broken throttle rod and landed on the choppy lake surface at 10:20. The crew, alone in the airplane, was only 10-miles off the Michigan coast. A strong northeast wind carried the airplane to a point about 6-miles offshore from Wind Point Lighthouse in Racine County, Wisconsin. The cross-lake journey had lasted more than seven hours. Coast Guard crews from Milwaukee and Racine responded, finding the aircraft listing slightly due to taking on water.

    Thursday, December 28, 1933
    Pilot Pat Gossett and copilot Ben Craycraft
    The afternoon flight from Milwaukee taxied out at 3:10 and was airborne for about 30 minutes when, according to pilot Pat Gossett, “…the motor quit. I don’t know what happened, valve trouble I guess.”

    Gossett and his co-pilot Ben Craycraft told their harrowing story to a newspaper reporter. “We were flying about 200 feet up. There’s not much use making altitude over the lake. The ceiling was low. I turned into the wind and landed. We knew we were in for it. It was getting dark. We both knew the ship would float and that the company would be out looking for us.”

    The company did begin looking soon after the flight was reported overdue. Pilots Roy Pickering and Archie Leighton had just completed their westbound flight when they took off looking for their co-workers. They returned to Milwaukee after 7:00 p.m. without sighting the downed airplane. Several other aircraft were prepared to resume the search the next morning.

    Gossett continued, “Waves were rolling high. We were sitting in the cabin for about 5 hours when the right pontoon snapped off. Then the right wing cracked. The ship started to list and we had to get out on the left wing to balance it. We dragged the mail out after us and hung on.”

    Pilot Pat Gossett and co-pilot Ben Craycraft were seasoned aviators, both serving in the military.  “Way down deep, I thought we’d never see land again. The waves were hitting the plane hard. We could hear it rip and crack. I knew it wouldn’t be long before it went down,” said Gossett. He added, “Then we saw a light.”

    The light the wet, tired, and frigid crew saw was the Coast Guard cutter Escanaba. It was just before midnight when the Escanaba crew pulled Gossett and Craycraft aboard.  The pilots had been on the water for more than eight hours. Coast Guard crews from all along the Wisconsin and Michigan shores had been searching for the downed airmen since receiving the report at 5:30 p.m. The Escanaba had steamed more than 53 miles from its home port of Grand Haven, Michigan, during the search.

    Gossett, when asked if he would fly again, responded, “I was seasick, cold, and tired. Scared? Never, I will be flying again tomorrow.”

  • Bridge Across Lake Michigan

    Posted on January 2nd, 2011 John Dorcey No comments

    Frank and John B. Kohler of Grand Rapids, Michigan, envisioning an aerial “Bridge across Lake Michigan” founded Kohler Aviation Corporation on August 30, 1929. Passenger and freight service between Milwaukee and Grand Rapids began the next day. Travel time between the cities (90 miles straight line distance) was reduced from 14 hours by rail to 1 hour and 10 minutes by air. One-way fare was $18; a round-trip ticket cost $30.

    Kohler Aviation, Loening C-2C, Milwaukee ca 1930

    The airline owned five Loening C-2C Air Yacht amphibian aircraft. The Air Yacht carried six passengers in an enclosed cabin while the pilot flew from an open (two-seat) cockpit. Powered by the Wright Cyclone (525-hp) the aircraft cruised at 102mph. The aircraft had a gross weight of 6,250 pounds, a range of 500 miles, and cruised at 102 mph. Loening built 23 examples of this model.

    Just three months later, during November 1929, Kohler Aviation sold their routes to Northwest Airways. Kohler, under contract with Northwest, continued to provide the scheduled air service. Kohler was awarded air mail route CAM 32, as a Northwest Airways subcontractor, between Milwaukee and Detroit on March 1, 1933. The first air mail was flown the next day, departing Milwaukee at 7:30 am, with an intermediate stop at Muskegon. Scheduled arrival time in Detroit was 11:25 am. The first schedule included four daily flights—two in each direction.

    Headquarters, Kohler Aviation, Grand Rapids MI ca 1930

    President Franklin Roosevelt cancelled all air mail routes on February 19, 1934 and turned the air mail over to the military. Tragic results and ballooning costs caused the government to reconsider. On May 8, 1934, President Roosevelt and Postmaster General James Farley reinstituted private carriage of the mail. It was too late for Kohler Aviation Corporation.

    Their bid for the new Detroit – Milwaukee route was denied by Postmaster Farley. Kohler Aviation had been used by former TWA President Richard Robbins as a test case. Robbins, who was forced out of TWA for his involvement in the Spoils Conference of 1930, convinced Kohler they would benefit from his involvement. Robbins was named Vice-President of Kohler Aviation. It was then that the carrier’s application for their own contract was denied by the Post Office. Robbins then resigned from Kohler.

    Kohler Aviation declared bankruptcy in May 1934, and their assets were acquired by Pennsylvania Airlines in June 1934. Pennsylvania Airlines would be renamed Capitol Airlines in 1948 and later still merged with United Airlines. There was no relationship between Kohler Aviation Corporation and the Kohler Corporation of Kohler, Wisconsin.

    Images courtesy of Eddie Coates.