B1 The Pioneers

How Wichita Kansas became "the Air Capital" (1)

Kansas, a central US state that is equidistant from both oceans in the midwestern prairies, is called "The Sunflower State" or "Wheat State". It is indeed a state that produces a lot of cereals.

He was incorporated into the union in 1803 following the sale of Louisiana by Napoleon under the Louisiana Purchase.


In this early period of aviation in the early years of the 20th century, the very prolific development of aeronautics in this region is once again due to the association of a great financier and a passionate technician.


The first named Jacob Melvin Moellendick was a visionary industrialist who had understood that the airplane he was already using for some of his travels could become a means of transport in the future and that he had a definite commercial future. He had made a fortune with oil fields near Wichita in Kansas and had financial means to get involved in a new adventure. On the advice of one of his friends, he made an offer to Emil Matthew Laird.

He is a self-taught native of Chicago. He is nicknamed "Matty" (right). At the age of fifteen in 1911, he had already tinkered a bicycle with wings of gliders in the attic of his mother's house. In 1913, he took off his first aircraft from a height of 3m. At the age of 20, he was an experienced aviator and was hired to perform flight demonstrations in small air rallies.


In 1920, he accepted Jake Moellendick's proposal: 'Money and a place to build airplanes' and moved to Kansas to set up his business, the Laird Airplane Company with a common friend Billy Burke (left).

Kansas is a region of great cultures and the work of the land is rather rough at the beginning of the 20th century. Many young people curious and enthusiastic in agricultural mechanics and automobiles eventually let themselves be tempted by aviation. The country is full of talented characters and exalted by this temptation to defy the laws of gravity. They will be attracted by the possibilities offered by this area of Kansas with immense plains whose conditions are ideal for the development of new machines.

A farmer and auto mechanic named Clyde Vernon Cessna, born in 1879 in Iowa, was passionate about mechanics of all kinds. It was in 1910, during a Show of the Air Circus, while working as a car salesman in Enid Oklahoma, that Clyde Cessna fell into the aeronautical 'pot'.

He traveled to New York at Queen airplane Company to learn how to build aircraft. Quickly, he began to make his first plane the 'Silverwing'. It was an American copy of the wood and linen monoplane of the Blériot XI motorized by a Elbridge 4 cylinders with 2 strokes of 40 hp.

After several failures, in June 1911, C. Cessna succeeded his first flight mastered on the Silverwing and in December, it completes a loop of 8 km. Strong of its success, C. Cessna is fully invested in the creation of monoplans, accomplishes numerous demonstrations of flights at air shows and even opened a school of piloting in 1916.


Another slightly younger boy born in January 1891 in Tennessee, Walter Herschel Beech, had a somewhat similar trajectory. Having stopped school early, Walter Beech compensated for his academic backwardness by an avidity of knowledge which he assimilated by a large amount of reading. He is especially passionate about mechanics, machine tools of all kinds. By the age of 14 he had begun to make a glider with a wooden structure covered with bed sheets and to make it fly from the roof of a house. It was rather laborious and unsuccessful. In 1911, he moved to Minneapolis Minnesota to work as a mechanic and a car driver. He became so successful in repairing car engines that he was in high demand as a driver by business owners and other personalities in the city.


In 1914 he switched to aeronautics when he bought a damaged Biplan Curtiss with a friend in order to repair it. For two years he taught Pilot by himself with this plane tinkered and a little versatile. This experience will serve him well afterwards. During the First World War, W. Beech joined and became chief engineer for the maintenance of engines on the Curtiss and De Havilland aircraft of U.S. Army. It was only after the war that he was able to integrate the corps of pilots in 1919.

Lloyd Carlton Stearman was born in Kansas in the town of Wellsford in 1898. He was brilliant at the school and initially directed himself in architectural studies. When the war broke out he joined the US Navy and departed for Seattle Washington and San Diego California where he received training courses on Seaplane. It was surely at that time that he was stung by the aeronautical virus. At the end of the war, he returned to Kansas and worked for a design and architecture firm. With all the excitement that existed around Wichita in the 1920s, the young Lloyd will only fall back into the cauldron ...