Edward H. Phillips, “Barnstorming Wichita’s Aviation Past”


By Edward H. Phillips

has had its share of famous aviation personalities–Walter Beech, Clyde
Cessna, Lloyd Stearman, to name just a few. But there were many others
who followed in their footsteps and eventually made significant contributions
to American aeronautics.

such person was Dwane L. Wallace. A native Kansan, Wallace combined
engineering talent with management skills to resurrect an impotent airplane
company and design one of the world’s most efficient aircraft. After
graduating from college in the early 1930s with a degree in aeronautical
engineering, Dwane found work at the fledgling Beech Aircraft Company
that was building the unconventional, negative stagger-wing Model 17
biplane. Beech had set up shop in Clyde Cessna’s factory on Franklin
Road, and Wallace was hired to help perform stress analysis on the B17-series
and the radical A17F with its nearly 700-hp. Wright radial engine. Dwane’s
boss was Ted Wells, designer of the Model 17R that put Beech back in
the airplane business in Wichita.

Wallace (right) hands the keys to a new Cessna 180 to Jack Lysdale,
a reporter for TV station WCCO in St. Paul, Minnesota. The stationÕs
Cessna 140 is in the background. (Noel Allard)

whose love of flying had been kindled in the mid-1920s by his famous
uncle, Clyde Cessna, soloed in a well-worn Travel Air biplane in March
1932 and later earned his private pilot license. Although he continued
to work diligently for Beech, Dwane had a dream: he was contemplating
plans to reopen the Cessna Aircraft Company, whose doors had been closed
since 1932.

what Wallace really needed was a product to build and sell. He was well
aware that in a Depression-ravaged economy there was little demand for
expensive airplanes. Yet, Dwane also realized that many pilots would
not be content with an inexpensive, single-seat aircraft powered by
a miniscule engine. Fortunately, a potential solution was readily available.
Dwane chose to redesign and upgrade the popular Cessna Model AW cabin
monoplane that was built and sold by the Cessna company during 1928-1930.

now had an airplane but he needed a company to build it. Aided by his
brother Dwight, who was an experienced attorney, and with help from
Mr. Cessna himself, Dwane was able to wrest control of the company from
the board of directors in January 1934. The Cessna Aircraft Company
had been born again, and Wallace began transforming the Model AW into
what would become the Cessna C-34. To expedite the process he hired
two talented engineers to help him–Jerry Gerteis and Tom Salter. In
addition, some engineering work was done by Clyde Cessna’s son, Eldon,
who left the company in 1935 after a dispute with Wallace over wages.

prototype C-34 first flew early in August 1934 and the Civil Aeronautics
Authority approved the design in June 1935. The C-34 sold well and evolved
into the C-37, C-38, and finally the C-145/C-165. During seven years
of production only 186 airplanes were sold, but the spunky little C-34
and its descendents put Wallace on the road to fame and fortune.

World War Two, Dwane and his management team oversaw massive expansion
of the company’s facilities to meet war demands, especially for the
twin-engine military AT-17, UC-78, JRC-1 and Canadian Crane I/II versions
of the commercial T-50. More than 5,000 of these trainers were built
between 1940-1944 and further established the company’s reputation as
builder of rugged, reliable airplanes. With the end of the war in sight
by late 1944, Wallace began preparations to transition the company for
a wartime to a peacetime footing. He strongly suspected there would
be a huge demand for new airplanes after the conflict was over, and
Cessna Aircraft Company would be ready with the new Model 140 and Model

the 1940s drew to a close, Wallace had begun to create a product line
at Cessna that offered an airplane for almost every need. In the 1950s
the company dominated sales of general aviation airplanes with upgraded
versions of the two-seat 140, the four-seat Model 170, the utilitarian
Model 180, and later the famous Model 172, 150, and the twin-engine
310 that became a 1950s television icon thanks to Sky King and his partner
Penny. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s Dwane continued to guide
the company through its introduction of new and improved airplanes,
while maintaining a steady hand at the helm as he turned Cessna into
the world’s largest producer of small airplanes.

and friends. Wallace (left) poses with Walter H. Beech, a Beechcraft
Model 18, and a Cessna Airmaster (right). The two men oversaw
production of more than 12,000 military trainers and transports
during World War Two. (Phillips)

of Wallace’s more significant achievements, however, is often overlooked
or understated. Early in the 1960s he recognized that a market was emerging
for an inexpensive business jet that would be affordable, easy to fly,
reasonably fast, and simple to maintain. The Learjets, Lockheed JetStars,
and North American Sabreliners of the era were fast but relatively expensive
to own and operate. Wallace wanted to create a new airplane aimed at
the entry-level segment that could bring all of corporate America into
the Jet Age.

1968 Cessna Aircraft Company stunned the aviation world when it introduced
the FanJet 500 powered by two Pratt & Whitney JT15 turbofan engines.
Development of the small, compact JT15 made the revolutionary business
jet possible. It was a risky venture and many pilots were skeptical
about the aircraft’s performance, but Dwane’s instincts proved correct.
Although selling the FanJet 500 was tough, it soon proved itself and
sales took off. Later it was renamed the “Citation” and the rest, as
they say, is history.

Wallace’s bold venture had paid off. The Citation eventually dominated
the global market and has made Cessna the world’s largest producer of
business jets by a wide margin. The company offers a range of Citations
to meet customer needs, including the fastest business jet available–the
Citation X. After leaving management of Cessna Aircraft Company to his
successors, Wallace became a successful financial entrepreneur. But
his health had begun to fail. He died in December 1989 at age 78 after
a lengthy illness.

L. Wallace was an unpretentious man who did not seek notoriety for himself,
yet became a key pillar of Kansas aviation. He has earned a place of
honor and achievement in American aeronautics along with the respect
of many who knew him well. Over a period of nearly 50 years he took
a bankrupt company from near obscurity to global prominence. Wallace
ranks as one of the state’s, if not the nation’s, most successful aviation