David L. Behncke was born on a farm near Cambria, Wisconsin. Airline pilots revere him as the founder and long time president of the Air Line Pilots Association.
In 1913, Behncke, at age 16, ran away to Milwaukee to enlist in the Army. Lacking any documentation of his age, and looking younger than his reported 18 years, the recruiters turned him down.
Finally, his father allowed him to join the Army in 1916 and later, as a corporal, Behncke won his enlisted pilot's wings in San Diego. He was awarded a second lieutenant's commission in 1917 and served as a flight instructor. He was first discharged from the Army in 1919. Behncke would serve in the Army on three separate occasions; 1916 - 1919, 1925, and 1927 - 1928.
Beginning in 1920 he barnstormed around the Midwest with Behncke's Flying Circus and then in September, 1921 he won the Chicago Air Derby. He covered the race-course distance of 55 miles in 49 minutes.
He owned and served as the airport manager for Checkerboard Flying Field in Maywood, IL outside of Chicago from 1921 through 1923.
He flew the "air express" flying men's suits for Society Brand Clothes to nearby cities.
Early in 1926 Behncke was the first pilot hired by Charles Dickenson, a Minneapolis businessman who held the first private airmail contract for service between Minneapolis and Chicago.
Dickenson Air Lines eventually became Northwest Airways and later Northwest Airlines. Northwest Airways began passenger service on February 1, 1927 when Behncke flew the carrier’s first passengers.
Finding himself again a civilian pilot in search of another job in 1928 he flew for Boeing Air Transport, later United Airlines, on the Chicago to Omaha run.
He organized the Air Line Pilots Association in 1931serving as president until 1951. He did much to promote airline safety and was respected by pilots flying for all airlines.
Behncke wanted an independent federal agency to investigate accidents as early as 1937. He was the first to advocate the concept that would ultimately become, in 1966, the National Transportation Safety Board.
For a detailed history of the Air Line Pilots Association and Behncke read the book, Flying the Line by George E. Hopkins.
David Behncke (right) with his parents (center) in Cambria, WI 1916
David Behncke at Checkerboard Airport