Cessna. Beechcraft. Stearman. These are some of the classic names of airplanes and aviation companies. Those names belong to men who were pioneers of the aviation industry. Today, we will learn about another of the industry’s best leaders. But this aviation business pioneer wasn’t a man – it was a woman.
Last week we learned about aviation industry leader Clyde Cessna. In 1925, Cessna and another man named Lloyd Stearman created an airplane company along with a young test pilot named Walter Beech.
Walter Beech came from a farm in Tennessee. He built a glider at the age of 14 and served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War I. In 1921, he came to work for an airplane company in Wichita. Four years later he joined Lloyd Stearman and Cessna to form Travel Air Manufacturing Company. Here he met a woman named Olive Ann Mellor.
Olive Ann came from Waverly in eastern Kansas. She attended business school in Wichita and then was bookkeeper for a company in Augusta before becoming bookkeeper and then office manager for Travel Air Manufacturing. She and Walter Beech were married in 1930.
In the following year, Travel Air was purchased by the Curtiss-Wright Airplane Company. Walter Beech became president of Curtiss-Wright, but he didn’t like the fact that those duties kept him in New York, away from the production of airplanes.