What aircraft was the most widely used model for training airplane pilots during World War II? Would you believe, an airplane named for one of the early pioneers of the aviation industry who came from rural Kansas?
In recent weeks we’ve learned about Clyde Cessna and Walter Beech, two of the three men who founded an airplane business in Wichita in 1924. Today we’ll learn about the third of those three: Lloyd Stearman, whose plane, the Stearman Kaydet, was the primary trainer for World War II pilots.
Lloyd Stearman was born in the rural Kiowa County town of Wellsford, Kansas in 1898. Wellsford had been a thriving community but faded away through the decades until it legally disincorporated. Other than the southeast Kansas town of Treece, which disbanded itself due to pollution problems in 2012, Wellsford was the last Kansas town to eliminate its legally incorporated status which it did in 1975. As of the town’s last official census in 1970, Wellsford had an official population of 9 people. Now, that’s rural.
Lloyd Stearman was born at Wellsford and went to school in Harper. While in grade school, he saw his first airplane, piloted by Clyde Cessna.
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.
The world’s most popular airplanes. That’s one description of the planes built by the Cessna Aircraft Company, maker of more light aircraft than any company in the world. It was all started by a rural Kansas farm boy. And he’s the subject of today’s Kansas Profile.
Clyde Cessna was born in Iowa. When he was one year old, his family moved to Kansas and lived on a farm near the rural community of Rago in Kingman County. Rago is unincorporated. It’s located east of the town of Spivey, population 79 people. Now, that’s rural.
As a farmboy, Clyde learned to be a good mechanic and handyman. He helped area farmers with their equipment and then branched out into working on automobiles. He became an auto mechanic and then a car salesman in Enid, Oklahoma.
One day in 1910, he went to Oklahoma City and saw what was called an “air circus”: An exhibition by a group of touring stunt pilots. He was so intrigued by the airplanes that he quit his job and moved to New York to take a job in aircraft construction.
He learned the craft of airplane manufacturing and then moved back to Oklahoma to build his own planes. Cessna crashed on his first flight attempt but made his first successful flight in 1911, eight years after the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk. With that flight, he became the first person to build and fly a powered aircraft in the heartland of America, between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains.
Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University writes Kansas Profile. The weekly posts highlight individuals or companies in rural Kansas who are making a difference to their community and state.
The Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development is a public / private partnership between Kansas State University and the Huck Boyd Foundation. The mission of the institute is to help rural people help themselves. Learn more at www.huckboydinstitute.org.