• 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.”


  • 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.

  • Wisconsin Aviation Conference 2010

    Posted on May 5th, 2010 John Dorcey No comments

    The 55th annual Wisconsin Aviation Conference concluded today in Waukesha, Wisconsin. The conference attracted hundreds of aviation professionals – airport managers, staff, and commissioners, consulting engineers, suppliers, contractors, FBOs, pilots, and government officials. The multiple day event included 12 educational sessions, three association meetings, and a banquet presentation by Mark Van Tine, President and CEO of Jeppesen.

    Recognizing the past and future of Wisconsin aviation has been an important part of each year’s conference. Scholarships have increased in importance with three awarded this year totaling $3000. Five individuals were recognized for their dedication, work ethic, and commitment in various aspects of the industry.

    Distinguished Service Award

    Clint Torp

    Awarded since 2000, the award recognizes individuals for their long-term efforts in the industry or a successful special project. Clinton Torp, Assistant Airport Manager, La Crosse Municipal Airport, La Crosse, Wisconsin, is this year’s recipient. Clint was recognized for his work on the WAMA website and online conference registration. Clint is a 2005 graduate of the University of North Dakota and is working on his MBA at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.




    Blue Light Award

    Fred Beseler

    The Blue Light Award recognizes people in the media industry for their reporting efforts regarding the state’s aviation industry. Fred Beseler has been an aviation writer since 1981, when he wrote a two-page feature on EAA AirVenture for the La Crosse Tribune. For the past three years, Fred has been a regular contributor to Forward in Flight, the magazine of the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame (WAHF). Fred joins two other WAHF writers, Gary Dikkers and Rose Dorcey, who have earned the Blue Light Award.



    Engineer of the Year

    Dave Jensen (left) with Mark Porlier

    The conference has been recognizing the work of engineers since 1983. This year’s recipient, Mark Porlier of Clark Dietz, Incorporated, has worked on projects at more than 20 Wisconsin airports over the years. Mark’s recent work at the Lakeland/Noble Lee Memorial Airport earned him this year’s award. Redesigning the airport’s non-airside lighting systems, taking advantage of LED lighting, instant-on motion controls, and other technology advancements will reduce the airport’s electrical consumption by 83%. The Lakeland project recently earned an American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) award.



    Aviation Person of the Year

    Rose Dorcey with John Reed

    This is the longest running of the awards presented as part of the Wisconsin Aviation Conference. Beginning in 1969, Wisconsin aviation notables including nine inductees to the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame have earned this recognition. Rose Dorcey is the 2010 Wisconsin Aviation Person of the Year. A nomination for Rose read, in part, “Wisconsin has been a leader in aviation and the centennial celebration told the story. That story would not have been heard if not for Rose Dorcey’s commitment, enthusiasm, and leadership.”



    Lifetime Service Award
    C. Barry Bateman has been the airport director at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport since September 1982. He has overseen numerous major airport improvement projects and hundreds of small ones. One project that grew from an early vision – the development of an aviation museum, has become a model for other airports. The Mitchell Gallery of Flight is located near Concourse C in the airport’s terminal. Barry has provided numerous internships and has partnered with the Wisconsin DOT’s Bureau of Aeronautics and its Aviation Careers Education program. Bateman also serves as manager of Milwaukee’s Lawrence J.Timmerman Airport.

    The 2011 Wisconsin Aviation Conference – the 56th annual conference – will be held in Green Bay, Wisconsin’s, Sierra Hotel. The conference begins May 2 and concludes May 4, 2011. Additional information will be available through the Wisconsin Airport Management Association.

  • What’s in a name?

    Posted on September 4th, 2009 John Dorcey 4 comments

    Last week the Waukesha Freeman editorial staff suggested renaming the Waukesha County Airport as a way to honor Waukesha native Les Paul. The August 26 article states: “Crites Field could be renamed Les Paul International Airport. Rock stars might fly in here just to land their private jets at a really cool airport.” Folks involved in Wisconsin aviation already consider Waukesha airport as “really cool” and that its name – Crites Field – is most appropriate. The idea does lead one to ponder Wisconsin’s airports and their names.

    Today there are 133 public-use airports in Wisconsin – 97 are publically owned and 36 are privately owned. There are another 437 privately owned facilities that are restricted use. You can search the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Master Record database.

    Names of the publically owned facilities typically reflect their owners or location. Wisconsin has 35 airports with municipal in their name, 16 that have county in their name, and 19 with a general location name. Regional is in the name of 10 Wisconsin airports. The 17 remaining airports have names of historic interest.

    Alexander Field South Wood County Airport is better known as Wisconsin Rapids. John Alexander donated land for the airport and is remembered for the gift. Lawrence J. Timmerman was Chairman of the Milwaukee County Board for 33 years. Upon his death in 1959, the Curtiss-Wright Airport was renamed in his honor. The Brown County Airport is named for Austin Straubel, the first military aviator from Green Bay to lose his life in World War II. Middleton Municipal is also known as Morey Field after Howard Morey, the airport’s founder. Richard I. Bong Field in Superior is named for “Ace of Aces” Dick Bong. Hillsboro’s airport is named after Joshua Sanford, a Native American who flew in Chennault’s 14th Air Force. General Mitchell International Airport is named after Milwaukeean General Billy Mitchell. The Lakeland-area airport is also known as Noble F Lee Memorial. Lee was a pilot, flight instructor, and longtime airport manager.

    It is the private airports where we find some interesting, creative names. Wisconsin is known for its beer so we shouldn’t be surprised to find Beer Airport in St. Croix County. Too many beers and it is said you have gone on a Bender – an airport in Marathon County.

    Aircraft related names abound – Funk Aerodrome (Kewaunee), J-3 Cub Field (Jefferson), Plows and Props (Walworth), Rag Wing (Langlade), Wag-Aero (Walworth), Weedhopper Meadow (Walworth), and finally, Broken Prop (Waushara), hopefully not named for some pilot’s misfortune.

    Wisconsin’s natural resources are reflected in a number of airport names – Bark River (Waukesha), Battle Creek (Waukesha), Eagle Ridge (Dunn), Blair Lake (Iron), Bogus Creek (Pepin), Black Otter (Outagamie), and Lake Ell (Portage).

    While Able doesn’t have an airport in Wisconsin, Cain’s Field is (Oconto). Don’t land poorly at Heckler’s Strip (Dane) – you’ll probably hear about it. Larson Airport (Winnebago) is on the National Register of Historic Places.

    Finally, my favorites – Bucky’s (Waushara), Dinnerbell (Fond du Lac), Kitty Wompus (Sawyer), Mount Fuji (Walworth), Polish Paradise (Adams), Uff-da (Dane), Will-be-gon (Washburn), Whoopy Hollow (Lafayette), and With-Wings-and-a-Halo (Winnebago).

    There is much in an airport’s name – history, pride, creativity, and some humor. The Waukesha County Airport is named after two brothers – Dean and Dale Crites, who made an enormous impact on Wisconsin aviation. Changing the name to salute Les Paul, or anyone else, would be a mistake.