Limited in war, fliers vital in peace

This article originally appeared in the Eagle on Monday, November 19, 1984.

By Dan Close
The Wichita Eagle

Russell Jump is wearing leather aviator togs and stands proudly next to

his wartime “Jenny” biplane in the old sepia-colored photo.

Below the old picture hang his green-tinted flying goggles, above it the

dull silver wings from his wool uniform.

Jump, 89, was a World War I aviator.

Like most of his fellow American Army pilots, the Wichitan finished

training just as the war ended and didn’t fly in any dogfights against the


But the wartime aviation boom was its own reward.

“It was new and venturesome,” recalled Jump, a former businessman and

mayor of Wichita in 1952 and 1953.

“I just felt like I wanted to be a pilot,” he said. “You’ve got to

remember, that was only a few years after Orville Wright flew for the first

time. I was excited.”

So was the rest of America. When the war ended, the market was flooded

with banged-up war surplus airplanes that ex-Army pilots snapped up at bargain

basement prices.

“Many of the old planes were sold off and many of the pilots went into

barnstorming,” Jump said. “It got people aware of aviation and flying. I have

no doubt that barnstorming with those old (Curtiss) Jennies greatly helped

aviation in general and the aviation companies in particular.”

After the war, Jump founded a successful uniform manufacturing business.

But a number of former wartime pilots brought invaluable flying experience to

Wichita and started airplane manufacturing companies.

In 1919, Emil Matthew “Matty” Laird – who missed the war because of

injuries from a Jenny crash – and oilman Jacob “Jake” Moellendick formed the

E.M. Laird Airplane Co. Wichita’s first commercial aviation factory, it later

became Swallow Airplane Manufacturing Co.

Billy Burke, who had been hired by Wichita Airplane Co. to bring Laird to

Wichita, had been a wartime pilot. So was Laird’s barnstorming pal, George

“Buck” Weaver, who later formed his own aircraft manufacturing company in


And there was Lt. Julius Earl Schaefer, an ex-Army pilot at Post Field in

Fort Sill, Okla. Schaefer, a West Point graduate, didn’t earn his wings until

nine days after the Armistice was signed Nov. 11, 1918.

But he flew to Wichita and helped convince Moellendick and other

businessmen that aircraft companies had a future. Schaefer later worked for

Stearman Airplane Co. and was a vice president of Boeing Airplane Co.

Walter Beech enlisted in the Army Signal Corp in 1917, learned to fly at

Rich Field in Waco, Texas, and wangled a job as a part-time instructor.

After the war, Beech moved to Arkansas City and began barnstorming with a

wartime buddy. Beech joined Laird in 1920 and became manager of Swallow in

1923. He resigned in 1924 and in 1925 formed Travel Air Manufacturing Co. with

Clyde Cessna, Lloyd Stearman and Walter Innes. In 1932, Beech founded Beech

Aircraft Co.

Lloyd Stearman was working toward an architectural degree at Kansas State

Agricultural College in Manhattan when he joined the Navy during WWI. They

sent him to San Diego for flight training.

When the war ended, Stearman came to Wichita and joined Beech at Laird.

Stearman joined Beech to form Travel Air. In 1926, Stearman left to found

Stearman Airplane Co. in Venice, Calif., but moved his company to Wichita in


Wartime aviators played a big role in establishing the early successful

aircraft companies – which would lead to the founding of air mail service,

airlines and sophisticated combat planes in WWII – even though they hadn’t

played a big role in defeating the enemy during World War I.

American aviators were in fact ill-prepared to enter the war.

“None of the airplanes were suitable for combat aviation,” according to

“American Aviators in the Great War (1914-1918),” published this year by the

Glasebrook Foundation for Preservation of Military Aviation History. The

Carson City, Nev., organization keeps track of the 16,000 people thought to

have been WWI aviators.

“Huge sums of money were quickly allocated to expand the infant aviation

industry, train pilots, build the airplanes in which to train them, and design

and construct combat aircraft to provide aerial support for the armies in the

field and ships at sea,” states the foundation’s volume. “World War I ended

before America’s aircraft industry could begin to meet the requirements for

sufficient combat aircraft.”

Despite that, an unknown number of aviators – including some Kansans –

actually fought in the skies over Europe.

“. . . Kansas boys flew planes in battle where life itself depended on

their flying better than the enemy,” Wichita historian Bliss Isely wrote in

1937. “Returning home, the war aviators taught other Kansans the art of air


Jump, the Wichita wartime flier, was typical of the breed of pilot spawned

by war fever.

“I was going to Kansas State University, and I just wanted to get into

the service,” Jump said. “The war had just started that year.”

Born Frank Russell Jump on March 16, 1895, in Galesburg, Ill., he enlisted

Dec. 22, 1917, and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley

School of Military Aeronautics on July 8, 1918.

Betweeen July and October 1918, Jump learned to fly Jennies at March Field

in Riverside, Calif. He got his Reserve Military Aviator rating and was made a

second lieutenant on Nov. 2, 1918.

“I just took to it like a duck takes to water,” Jump said. “I enjoyed it.

I was flying solo within 10 days. But it was dangerous. We lost men just

learning how to fly.”

Jump and classmate Walter Varney, who later founded a successful airline,

were among the pilots who flew 103 planes in formation over Los Angeles during

a War Bond drive in 1918.

Over in Europe, he said, the importance of airplanes was growing as the

war dragged on.

“We originally used airplanes over there to direct artillery,” Jump said.

“They got to fighting one another and started shooting one another down to

prevent the other side from signaling. Then they got into just plain combat.”

Five days before the Armistice was signed, Jump began a two-month stint as

an instructor at March Field. World War I was nearly over, and Jump wouldn’t

get a chance to fight the Germans.

“I would speculate that probably less than 5 percent of the pilots who

trained in this country did get overseas,” Jump said. “Most of the pilots who

flew in combat were trained early-on in France and England.”

After he was discharged Jan. 4, 1919, Jump moved about for a couple of

years before starting his uniform manufacturing business that became the

Arotext Co. in 1924. He sold the business and retired in 1963.

A member of the Order of Daedalions, an Air Force organization for ex-

military pilots, Jump never flew much after the war. But he is proud of the

vintage photos and flying goggles and silver wings that remind him of his

adventurous past – a time when aviation was young and promising.

“People felt we were doing our bit to win the war,” Jump said. “We were

always treated with respect. And look what’s happened to flying now.

©The Wichita Eagle