Pilot Walter H. Beech (left), with navigator, Brice Goldsborough, 1926, Walter H. Beech, along with E.M. Laird, J.M. Moellendick, Lloyd Stearman, and Clyde Cessna, is regarded as a founder of the aircraft industry in Wichita. A native of Tennessee, Beech began flying in 1914. After serving in the army air corps during World War I, he spent three years barnstorming over the central states. In 1921, Beech settled in Wichita to work for a local aircraft manufacturer. Four years later, he founded his own company, Travel Air Manufacturing Company. It produced the plane seen in this photograph. The Great Depression forced the closing of this company but in 1932 he opened his new business, the Beech Aircraft Company. His aircraft set standards considered unattainable by other “experts.” Walter Beech died in 1950 but his company continues to be a major producer of aircraft for personal, business, and military use.
L. Philip Billard With His Longren Biplane, Topeka, Shawnee County, 1912-1917, In 1912, Philip Billard learned to fly from Topeka aviator and aircraft builder, A.K. Longren. His flights around the capital city were frequently mentioned in the Topeka papers. This attention was due partly to the public’s fascination with this new invention and to the fact that Philip Billard was the son of Topeka mayor, J.B. Billard. His father was quoted in the CAPITAL in 1912 as being “opposed to his son purchasing the racing biplane [seen here], because of the dangers of flying, but Phil wanted something that was faster than an auto,…”
His father’s concerns about the dangers of flying were well founded. Many pilots had accidents in these early aircraft. Tragically, in 1918, Philip lost his life in a plane crash in France. While serving as a test pilot and instructor during World War I, he was killed when his plane disintegrated.
Clyde V. Cessna (4th from left) with the first plane he built in Wichita, Oklahoma, c. 1917, Born in Iowa in 1879, Cessna came to Kansas the following year when his family settled in Kingman County. His interest in flying supposedly developed from attending a traveling “air circus” in Enid, Oklahoma, in 1910. He immediately abandoned his job as an automobile salesman and went to work for an aircraft company in New York. In 1911, Cessna quit to build his own plane. It crashed on an early flight but he was not discouraged.
During the winter of 1916-17, Cessna moved his operations to Wichita where he continued to improve his design skills. In 1925 he became a partner of Stearman and Beech in the Travel Air Company. A disagreement over whether to build monoplanes or biplanes ended the arrangement two years later. Cessna was determined to build a high-performance, single-wing plane. He succeeded in this task in 1927 with the production of model AW. Cessna retired in 1936 to return to farming. He died in 1954 at the age of 74. The company that still bears his name is today one of the leading manufacturers of small aircraft in the world.
Amelia Earhart, Amelia Earhart, one of the nation’s most famous women flyers, was born in Atchison in 1897. Amelia’s love of flying began in her youth. When she became a pilot in the early 1920s, society did not support women’s entry into the field of aviation. Amelia spent her life advocating the equality of female and male pilots and proving it through her record-setting flights.
Amelia Earhart gained national prominence in 1928 by being the first woman to cross the Atlantic. Not content with only having been a passenger on that flight, Amelia piloted herself across in 1932. She was the first woman to fly the Atlantic alone. Over the next five years, Amelia set aviation records, wrote books and articles, and taught at Purdue University. In 1937, while attempting an historic around-the-world flight, she mysteriously disappeared over the Pacific.
A. K. Longren and His Wife With Longren Plane #5, Topeka, Shawnee County, c. 1912-1920, A.K. Longren’s brief flight in his pusher-type biplane on September 2, 1911, marked the beginning of a new era in Kansas aviation history. The “Topeka I” was the first Kansas aircraft to actually fly.
Born on a farm near Leonardville, Longren spent his life working in the field of aviation. As a young man, he barnstormed throughout the Midwest from 1911 to 1914. His numerous flights earned him the nickname “Birdman.”
In these early years, money was often an incentive for young aviators. At one event, Longren was guaranteed $5,000 if he could get his plane airborne. After waiting all day for the wind to die down, he finally took off. His plane managed to get only a few feet off the ground before crashing into a river bank. Longren was reported to be uninjured, and it is unknown whether he was able to collect his prize money.
Longren Exhibition, Flyers Van, Topeka, Shawnee County, c. 1915, Longren Aircraft Corporation’s Shop, Topeka, Shawnee County, c. 1916, Longren invested much of his income from barnstorming into his Topeka factory. This was the first successful aircraft manufacturing firm in Kansas. Eventually forced to close his plant in 1926, Longren spent the next 20 years as a consultant for other manufacturing companies. Longren died in California at the age of 68. The only surviving example of his work is a pusher-type biplane built in 1914. It was once owned by fellow Topeka aviator, Philip Billard. The plane is now on permanent exhibit at the Kansas Museum of History.
Glenn L. Martin, Born in Iowa in 1886, Glenn Martin spent his childhood in Liberal and Salina. Even as a boy, Martin was fascinated with flying and experimented with biplane-type kites on the windy Kansas prairie. In 1905 the Martin family moved to California. It was there that Martin’s first aircraft was built and flown in 1909. Two years later he returned to Kansas for a series of barnstorming flights. Martin went on to become a world famous aircraft manufacturer.