Borne On The South Wind, A Century Of Kansas Aviation

Chapter Summary

By Frank Joseph Rowe & Craig Miner
Copyright 1994, The Wichita Eagle & Beacon Publishing Company
Wichita, Kansas

Chapter 3, Green Light Aloft

Chapter 3, "Green Light Aloft" (1919-1929) focuses on a period when aviation (regionally in Kansas, as well as on a national scale) really catches on, and fires the public imagination. It has been referred to by many historians as "the golden age" of flight. It was the age of Barnstormers and "Flying Circuses", of the flights by legendary pilots Charles Lindbergh, Art Goebel and Kansas’ own Amelia Earhart. It was a time when venture capitalists such as Wichita’s Jake Moellendick helped fund the development of many aircraft manufacturing companies. Wichita, Kansas would emerge as a long-term powerhouse of aircraft design and development with a total of 40 aircraft-manufacturing firms being established.

Beginning in 1919, post war conditions stifled aircraft development with the availability of cheap surplus Jenny’s & Standards (railroads and highways were more of a priority). Barnstorming outfits (such as Garvers Flying Circus) made use of these aircraft to entertain communities, but it also laid the foundation in the public’s mind of the exciting possibilities of flight. Slowly, aircraft such as the Curtis Oriole and the Wichita-built Laird Swallow would pave the way for new aircraft design that departed from the aging World War I surplus. Further public promotions such as the 1924 National Air Congress (Wichita), the Ford Reliability Air Tours and the 1928 All Kansas Air Tour proved highly instrumental in demonstrating the practicality, safety and widespread commercial application of aviation.

The romantic public perception of aviation that stemmed from the Lindbergh flights, as well as the "Bull Market" of 1925 – 1928 provided cash for investing in many of the up-start aviation companies. Perhaps most significant of these early businesses was the series of aircraft companies that were established in Wichita. From the E.M. Laird Company evolved such noteworthy descendents as Swallow Airplane Manufacturing Company, Travel Air Manufacturing Company, Stearman Aircraft Company, Cessna Aircraft Company as well as Beech Aircraft Company.

Aviation both in Kansas and Nationally became much more organized and matured into a long-term, viable business. The establishment of the Air Mail Act of 1925, the Air Commerce Act of 1926, The establishment of ATC’s in 1927, The Civil Aeronautics Act as well as the formation of the Bureau Of Air Commerce all provided the basic structure to sustain and grow the industry.

As promising as this period would be, it would not be too long before many of the aircraft companies that were formed during this time would be fighting for survival in the face of the "Great Depression".

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