Home / Up
Chapter: 1919-1921

The World's First Airliner

 

HOW it all began was that I was in need of a job. The Great Lakes School was closed down after the Armistice was signed; so I knew I'd be out of Navy active duty pretty quick. I had been a mechanics mate in charge of the Sixth Unit, instructing the maintenance of the Liberty engine and oddballs like the Hisso-Green and Hall-Scott six-cylinder. When I saw what was coming, I had some cards printed up saying, "Carl Schory, Aeronautical Engine Mechanic," and started passing them out to anyone who might have been in a position to give me work.    1
  One of my final duties found me assigned to the War Mothers Festival at the Coliseum in Milwaukee in the fall of 1918. We had a cutaway Liberty engine there, and I was supposed to explain it to whoever came along. While I was there, two men came up to me and quizzed me quite severely on the motor. I lit up a White Owl (not paying much mind to regulations, at that point) and tried to describe it patiently to them like I would to students.    2
  Then they showed me a sketch of a gigantic biplane, with a huge cabin section and two Libertys out on the wings. They said that the "Lawson Airplane Company" was going to build this plane and establish an airline stretching from New York to San Francisco. They were serious fellows, so I didn't immediately burst out laughing or call them fools. Instead, I looked at the sketch again, frowned, and bit down on my cigar.    3
  Then I slipped them a card and said, "Whenever you need somebody to clean your sparkplugs, give me a ring."    4
  After that, the whole incident slipped my mind. A few weeks after the Festival I was discharged. I went down to my folks' place in Ft. Wayne and settled for a few oddjobs here and there. In March of 1919, to my surprise, I got a letter signed by Al Lawson offering me a job. So I got in my Model T and drove back up to Milwaukee, where I put the letter on Lawson's desk and said, "Here I am. I'm ready to go to work."    5
  He looked at me and asked, "When can you start?"    6
  I said, "I can start tomorrow morning."    7
  The Lawson Airplane Company factory was located in a loft over the Cream City Sash and Door Co. It was there that we were to manufacture the component parts of the plane. At the time I came aboard the engines hadn't arrived yet; therefore my role was limited to being a sort of errand-boy. The factory manager, John Carisi, would come up with a list of things they needed to buy, and I'd hop in my Ford and go get them.    8
  From Carisi I learned that Al Lawson, Lee Wallace, and Vincent Burnelli had sat down and designed this plane when the War ended. Before then, they had been gearing up to sell their own self-built military planes up in Green Bay. They had got as far as flying a couple of prototypes when the Germans called it quits. They immediately made plans for a peacetime switchover to this big passenger plane; but the Green Bay financial men behind the operation backed off when they heard this idea.    9
  So Lawson and Burnelli went to New York to raise money. Lawson had published some aviation magazines there, and Burnelli had been a head of the Continental Aircraft corporation in Amityville, N.Y. Despite these connections, they didn't have any luck in New York; apparently Lawson was on the skids with the Aircraft Manufacturing Association for some reasons and so no one gave him the time of day. As a last resort they hit on John Koerner, who's a big wheel here in Milwaukee and, coincidentally, a relative of Burnelli's mother. The idea caught on, and within a few days aviation and Lawson became bigger than beer. Enough money came in to get the organization started.    10
  This was the point where I had come in. Lawson was feeling good; the day after I arrived, he afforded himself the rare luxury of going down to Chicago to romance some women of his acquaintance. Of course, I didn't know him then; I had no idea at the time that this was the only acknowledged evidence I would ever see that Lawson was capable of intimacy with another human being. When he got back to Milwaukee, the men in the factory kidded him about being a ladykiller. He was asked when he was going to get married.    11
  Lawson scoffed, "Why should I cut myself in two?" He had no use for the institution of marriage.    12
  Not that Al Lawson did not cut a fine figure to the female eye. He was fifty years old and in perfect physical condition. He stood six feet, looked tough as nails, had a jaw chiseled of rock, and a high intelligent forehead. His eyes were bright and clear, but didn't give away his inner thoughts. Short, wavy locks of hair were kept flawlessly groomed. In both his bearing and his character Lawson reminded me of a few examples of Navy top brass that I had seen: aloof, ramrod-straight, totally confident in his own reasoning, and expectant that others will jump to it when ordered. And, like a few captains and admirals I've seen, maybe Lawson was a little crazy, too.    13
  Lawson was also quite a pitchman, as I soon observed. Although we had funds to start construction of the planet by late April our credit was in a bad way. The only method of getting more money was by selling stock shares in the company. So, with my Model T, I became Lawson's driver, and took him around to homes in the Milwaukee area where he would try to sell stock door-to-door. He usually came back to the car with money in hand. After a while of this, however, I began to notice that the houses we stopped at were populated by widows and orphans.    14
  It slowly dawned on me that when Wallace and Burnelli had come up to me at the War Mothers Festival, they weren't there just to seek out my services. They had gone there to get a list of names for Lawson. Once I figured this out, I asked Lawson straight out, "How can you take money from these people?"    15
  We were in the car and Lawson gave me a hard stare. "Look, son," he said, "I've had it up to my neck with professional financiers. All they give a hoot for is the bottom line. They don't care a damn what you're doing, as long as there's a glimmer of easy money for them in the offing. They don't deserve to see any profits from our venture.    16
  "If Congress had listened to my warnings before the War, and had built an aerial fleet second to none, maybe these families would still have their husbands and their fathers. There's a fortune to be made in commercial aviation, and these folks should be in it from the start. We owe it to them. Their hopes have been shattered. I go into their homes and give them a dream that they can believe in--a dream that can be realized with their help. We're still going to need bankers, but these people are our real supporters."    17
  Lawson then told me to drive to the address of the next house. I did. Like I said, he was quite a pitchman.    18
  So I was content to do the errands and collect my $50.00 a week, which was fairly good pay. In late June, I was given the responsibility of constructing the landing gear. The designs called for two sets of tires slung underneath the wings on each side of the fuselage. For the axles, I went to the local junkyard and spotted a big, old truck with an axle about 2 1/2 to 3 inches square. I strapped it to my car, brought it back to the factory, cut it down, and put the parts on the plane.    19
  The four wheels we used were Goodyear Auto Tires. That's what I had on my Ford and I always had good luck with them. The only thing was, no one knew how much air pressure to put in them. I reasoned that once the plane was all together complete with engines, we should just pump the tires until they sat up. That suggestion prevailed, to my later regret.    20
  Then we discovered that the mud guards we had already made were the same radius as the tires. I took the guards over to Carisi and they were pounded out, but they still wouldn't fit. The plans were redrawn, the mud guards banged out again, and then fitted on. You might assume that this plane was being slapped together from scratch, but that really wasn't the case. As the summer progressed, I had to admit that it was a truly beautiful machine. There were a dozen other craftsmen in the shop, foremost among them being Thomas Hamilton who made the propeller and other pieces. These men were geniuses with their hands. I was confident that if the thing didn't fly it would be no fault of the workmanship    21
  I tried to forget that Wallace and Burnelli had used a streetcar as a model for the cabin. I pushed out of my mind the rumor that the aerodynamics had been figured from magazine articles. So what if there weren't to be any internal cross-braces? So what if, for the first time in history, a person would be able to stand up and walk erect inside an airplane? So what if the pilot would be inside as well? And so what if the monstrosity was three-no, four--times as large as a Spad or a Newport? No one mentioned these things aloud. It was enough to know that in the back of their minds each man who touched that plane knew that it was one of the most daring engineering feats in the world.    22
  Aside from pure size, it was the coach space that made the plane unique. The cabin itself, without the tailpiece, measured 25 ft. long, over 6 ft. wide, and 7 ft. high. In place of cross-braces, there were laminated wood bulkheads. This enclosed space, amazingly like a streetcar or a train, included the cockpit where the pilots would be. There was no partition or wall between the passenger space and the pilot area, so that everyone aboard would have a view of how the plane was being controlled. This little factor was also to be later regretted.    23
  Throughout the cabin, lightweight flexiglass was used in copious amounts. Those bulkheads opened up so much room that it was like what flying buttresses did for stained glass in Gothic cathedrals. When you were in the cabin, the whole thing seemed like glass. In front of the cockpit was a curved panel of flexiglass measuring 6 ft. by 6 ft., making the entire nose of the plane transparent. On either side of the cockpit were door-sized windows. The passenger section had nine windows on each side, each 2 ft. by 3 ft. Everyone who would fly in that plane would know that they were in the air; they wouldn't be able to escape the view of the sky.    24
  The tailpiece was slightly larger than the cabin, making the combined length of the fuselage 52 ft. The wings, when assembled, would span 95 ft. It was no mystery why the bankrollers in Green Bay had balked and no surprise that the New York aeronautical community had passed this project by. The damned thing was just so big!
 
   25
  When it came time to assemble all the separate parts of the plane, Lawson arranged a minor coup by having the Governor of Wisconsin loan us the use of a huge building out at the State Fair grounds. Since our loft was on the second storey, we had to tear up the flooring to get the cabin out and down. At the Fair grounds we put together the pieces. The engines had arrived, so I finally had a chance to put my expertise to work. They were two 400hp Libertys, rigged as tractors to pull the plane through the air. The gasoline and oil tanks were situated out on the wings with the engines.    26
  The fuselage was painted forest green, while the wings were a bright red. Along the-tailpiece in 4 ft. tall white letters, the words "Lawson Air Line" had been painted. Inside the cabin we placed eighteen wicker seats backed with leather cushions. Wicker was the most light-weight material we could think of for seats. Each seat was next to a window, with an aisle dividing the rows on either side.
 
   27
  Despite the fact that there were eighteen seats, Old Man Lawson persisted in telling the newspapers that the thing could carry twenty-six passengers. Burnelli, who confided to me that he never wanted to see more than fourteen people aboard (including crew), tried to muzzle Lawson on this point. Lawson wouldn't listen; he claimed that we could put a plank over the aisle and seat people on it. Lawson threw these numbers around to impress the public with the idea that he was going to make buses and trains obsolete virtually overnight. He even told one reporter that sixty "straphangers" could fit inside. As for me, I had my doubts that the plane, magnificent as it was, would fly at all.    28
  As the airliner neared completion Lawson began interviewing pilots. Burnelli convinced him to call in Bert Acosta, acknowledged asone of the most courageous fliers in the world. Acosta came up to Milwaukee to check out the offer. Lawson, Burnelli, and I escorted him around the machine for nearly an hour.
 
   29
  When we got to the cockpit, Acosta took one look and said, "What's with the two seats? I've never seen that before. Is someone gonna sit by my side and keep me company?"    30
  Acosta had brought up a point that I had wondered about myself. I had supposed that if anything, the purpose of the two seats was for one pilot to spell another on long flights. I was taken aback when Lawson looked Acosta in the eye and told him, "On the Lawson Air Liner I will be the captain and navigator. You will be the co-pilot."    31
  Acosta was stunned. "What the Hell is a 'co-pilot?'"    32
  Lawson appeared equally surprised that Acosta would ask such a question. He explained, "I will operate the throttles. You will take off, land, and do most of the steering under my personal direction."    33
  Bert's eyes widened in disbelief. He looked to Burnelli and I, hoping we would tell him it was just a joke. Instead we stared at the ground and shuffled our feet. Finally, Acosta turned back to Lawson. "Mister," he said, "You're out of your fucking mind! If anyone dared to mess with me while I'm at the controls I'd kick the living shit out of them!"    34
  Acosta then stomped past us, muttering more profanities. He never looked back at us.    35
  Following the misadventure with Acosta, Lawson had a succession of pilots come up from McCook Field in Dayton, site of the Army's Experimental Flight Test Field. These were men who were just as cocky as Acosta, with nerves of steel. However, Lawson didn't even have a chance to enlighten them to his piloting method. They all took one look at the plane and said we had built ourselves a "house on wings" which meant sure death for any fool who attempted to fly it. This was the opinion of men who daily flew untried aircraft.    36
  This turn of events made me more than a little nervous. I still had quite a few payments to make on my car, and in the past weeks Lawson had taken to paying part of our wages in company shares. If the plane was not going to fly, my financial condition would be pretty bleak. I also didn't want to see anyone, even Lawson, risk injury or death.    37
  Sometime in mid-July, the boys in the factory were passing around one of the Milwaukee newspapers. I didn't know about the others, but when I read the paper I had one eye on the aviation news and the other open for job advertisements. In the aviation notes, we spotted an item from Denver hailing the homecoming of a local hero, Captain Charles L. Cox. Cox had been an ace in the RAF with nine German planes to his credit. He had also flown missions in heavy bombers like the Handley-Page.    38
  A few days later, who should walk into our shop but Captain Charles Cox himself, or "Louis Charles Cox" as he announced himself. I have to say that he didn't match my ideal image of an ace. He was only about 5'6" tall, and couldn't have weighed over 110 pounds. He was nattily outfitted and wore kid gloves turned partly-back over his wrists. He shook hands with feminine delicacy.    39
  Burnelli came out and asked him in for an interview with Lawson. Minutes later, I was invited into the office to test his knowledge of mechanics. From what I could see, Cox wasn't acting like a man who had come all the way from Denver to get this job. He seemed distracted, ill-at-ease, and wouldn't look any of us in the eye. Lawson asked him what he did before joining the RAF. Cox mentioned something about having been a professional ballroom dancer.    40
  Burnelli inquired as to whether he had flown the large Handley-Page Model 0400. Cox hesitated slightly, and then jauntily replied, "Oh, yes." We shot questions about that plane at him, such as where the instruments were located and how the engine handled. He responded with a tone of bored disinterest; some answers were right and some were wrong. Cox was confirming everything I had heard about the glamour boys of the RAF and their snooty arrogance when it came to mechanical details. I half expected him to say that all he need to fly was a wink and a joystick.    41
  Lawson chose this time to divulge his "co-pilot" notion on Cox. To everyone's surprise, Cox, after some initial confusion over the idea, seemed to take it in stride. I formed a mental picture of the strapping-big Lawson leaning over and whacking the tiny Cox in the head if he didn't do what Lawson ordered. A moment later, Cox was separately ushered outside to look over the plane. Lawson stood up and looked at Burnelli and me.    42
  "I'm willing to give him a chance," Lawson grinned. "I'm not sure he's tall enough to reach the controls, though."    43
  Cox studied the plane for well over two hours--what for, I don't know. We walked over to him, and Lawson inquired, "Well, Charlie, what do you think?"    44
  Cox puffed up to his full height and stared up at Lawson. "Mr. Lawson," he said, "I will go anywhere in that airliner with you and do anything you order me to do."    45
  Lawson was a sucker for earnest gumption like that. We had our co-pilot.    46
  The day came when we were to move the assembled plane from the Fair grounds to a vacant field in New Butler, about five miles away. The Milwaukee politicos lent us the services of the city's maintenance force in order to clear the field of brush and smooth it over. The next problem was the road leading to the field--it wasn't very wide, and was lined with overhanging shrubs.    47
  We removed the outer wing sections and did our best to cut the bushes back. A big crowd turned out to escort the machine along the path. However, going around some tight curves, the truck hauling the plane proved to be underpowered. An emergency call was sent out to a nearby brewery, and soon a team of Clydesdale horses came out to help us. It took two whole days, but with the help of horse and manpower we finally reached the field.    48
  Old Man Lawson called a press conference and announced the time of the first test run of the engines. Due to the publicity, a large crowd turned out to witness that event. Paul Gauer, secretary to Mayor Hoan, explained to the assemblage that we would run the airliner on the ground across the field once or twice. Lawson made a speech and then Mrs. John Pfingsten, a stockholder, christened the plane with a bottle of champagne. The Lawson Air Liner stood out in the field, shimmering in the bright sunlight.    49
  I mingled among the throng and overheard more than one wager as to whether or not our machine would fly. Apparently the sporting men, who seemed to make up a large percentage of the crowd, weren't convinced that we were only out to test the motors. I sought out Vince Burnelli and dragged him aside.    50
  "Listen," I told him. "These people have the impression that the plane might go up today."    51
  Burnelli paused before whispering, "Keep it under your hat, but I heard Lawson tell Cox that if the engines were running alright, he would throw the throttles open and take it up."    52
  "Damn!" I declared with disgust. I was thinking of my car payments. "Look, exactly how much flying time does the Old Man have under his belt?"    53
  Burnelli clicked his tongue. "Well, the first time he flew was with Bud Mars back in 1911, if you can believe it. Lawson sat out there on Mars' wing. Then he took lessons from a couple of flying schools in 1913 in exchange for advertisements in his magazines. He learned on a Sloan-Deperdussin and a Moisant-Bleriot. That same year he bought his own Thomas Flying Boat and used it to commute a couple of times from Keyport, N.J. to Manhattan. Since then, he made one of the test flights of the Lawson military plane up in Green Bay. He didn't impress anyone with the skill he showed there."    54
  "That's it?" I said.    55
  "I've been concerned about it myself," Burnelli confided. "Wallace and I would put papers on Lawson's desk, and he would pick them up and move them back and forth in front of his eyes like a trombone. He doesn't want to admit that he needs glasses, I guess. Wallace and I insisted that a good pilot like Cox should be at his side. I'll be honest with you: I wouldn't set a foot on that plane if Charlie Cox had less than five German planes to his credit."    56
  When the ceremonies were over, Lawson, Cox, and Burnelli (a brave man) got in and took their places. The plane was positioned on the makeshift runway. A 20 m.p.h. tailwind blew from behind it, so that on the ground the airliner should have been able to speed up to 50 m.p.h. I stepped up and spun the props to start the engines. Lawson was waving out his window at the cameras. I tried to quickly melt into the crowd.    57
  Before I had taken five steps, I heard Lawson bellow, "Where's the Engine Man?"    58
  Someone pushed me forward and the Old Man ordered me aboard. People around me were hooting in derision. I found myself climbing in the cabin door, near the cockpit. Inside I prayed to myself, "Please, let's just taxi along the ground a few times."    59
  Lawson gave a last wave and shoved the throttles all the way forward. "God almighty!" I thought, "He hasn't even warmed up the engines!"    60
  The airliner moved forward, gathering speed. A solid bank of trees loomed ahead of us at the end of the field.    61
  My hopes were daunted as I heard Lawson command Cox, "Steer for those trees and clear them by 50 ft."    62
  Cox swallowed hard and nodded. He pulled back on the controls with all the strength in his puny arms. We became airborne. We reached the end of the field, clearing the treetops by a considerable margin. Cox and Lawson were glued to the controls. Moments passed, and we were still in a full power climb with the throttles on full. Burnelli leaned forward and hinted to Lawson that he ought to cut back. Lawson snapped out of whatever reverie he was in and did as Vince had suggested.    63
  "Level off and turn left," he ordered Cox.    64
  The engines, which had been sounding like they were on the verge of overheating, cooled down a bit. "Burnelli's a cool cucumber," I thought. He said he was pleased that the aerleons were functioning easily. We cruised along smoothly. I glanced at the gauges, out at the engines, at our pilots, and then the view.    65
  "You know," I said aloud. "This is only my second airplane flight." No one was listening.    66
  Then I stole another look at the oil pressure gauge for our left engine. It was plummeting. "Oh, Christ!" I cried. "Let's get the Hell down there!"    67
  When they discovered what I was babbling about, Lawson told Cox to return to the field. Cox leaned forward to look out the window. His jaw dropped. "Where is it?" He asked.    68
  We all stared downward. None of us had any idea what Milwaukee looked like from the air. I decided to let them figure it out; I was busy watching the damn gauge go down. Lawson spotted a cow pasture. He pointed it out to Cox.    69
  "Land there!"    70
  We descended into a terrific crosswind. The plane hit the ground in a series of hops. I heard the tires explode (we had filled them with 65 pounds of pressure). I saw two of the wheels careen away from us, like runaways in a child's game of stick and hoop. Mercifully, we finally ground to a halt.    71
  Everyone aboard sighed. "So," Burnelli grinned. "It flies."    72
  We tumbled out onto solid ground, which I blessed. I saw that the other two tires had blown out, too, but were still attached to the airliner. Suddenly automobiles full of enthusiastic wellwishers zoomed into the cow pasture. We had landed only minutes away from our original field.    73
  Over the next couple of days, we made our repairs there in the cow pasture. New tires were fitted on and spares were loaded aboard as a precaution. We topped off the gas tanks. I discovered that our scare had been caused by the oil pressure gauge itself. The metal high pressure lines that ran from the engine to the gauges were joined by a flimsy rubber coupling. This joint had torn off during our flight.    74
  On August 27th, 1919, I drove a few of the boys out to the pasture where the airliner rested. Lawson and company were already there, making preparations for some taxiing runs. This time Lawson saw fit to give us advance notice that we might take the plane up and fly it over to our original field. I threw my coat and hat into my Ford and braced myself to the prospect of being invited to take part in another trial flight.    75
  Lawson, Cox, Burnelli, myself, and another mechanic named Andy Surini climbed into the airliner. We took off without incident, ascended to several thousand feet and headed north. We knew it was north because Lake Michigan was on our right. About ten miles out, Lawson had Cox turn us around, and we headed back towards Milwaukee. By any measure, it was a successful run.    76
  As we neared the city, though, we were shocked to hear Lawson command Cox to follow the shoreline south.    77
  "Where are we going?" Surini asked, wiping his sweating palms on his overalls.    78
  "Chicago!" Lawson declared with high drama.    79
  Surini's hands froze in mid-wipe. Burnelli and I looked heavenwards. I reflected that my car was sitting back there in the pasture with all my gear in it. I consoled myself with the knowledge that my rent was paid up. Lawson turned around and asked me to run up and down the cabin aisle. He wanted to see if it would disturb the balance of the airliner. For lack of anything else, I did as he instructed. I marched back and forth through the cabin, all the time thinking that I had probably done nothing sillier all my life. Surini was directed to join me in this workout. We took turns jogging the length of the aisle.    80
  Lawson had been watching us with a benign smile. Suddenly, he couldn't tolerate being a mere spectator. "Boys," he said, "You are the first men to stand up and run inside an airplane. Now step aside and let me try it." Lawson got up, entrusting the controls to Cox.    81
  Surini, for his part, was as goggle-eyed as a fish. He was breathing heavily not from running the aisle, but from hyperventilation. We stood aside as Lawson clomped by us. "Smooth as ice!" Lawson shouted gleefully, as he executed a perfect baseball slide down the aisle. Then, I swear, he got up and skipped down the passageway like a little girl.    82
  Our amazement had only begun. Lawson frolicked up to Surini and I and dug his hands deep down into his pockets. He withdrew a clutch of glass spheres. Marbles. "Let's really test this things boys," he exhorted. And so, with our individual allotment of aggies and catseyes, we fell to the floor and added a new first to aviation history. The Old Man had a dead aim. Surini was trembling so much that he could hardly hold his shooter. Before my turn came, the floor dipped and the marbles went scattering. "Lawson's lost his marbless" I thought dully.    83
  We turned to Cox, who looked like a little child at the controls, with Burnelli leaning over his shoulder. Charlie stated that he was having trouble keeping the plane on an even keel. That wasn't difficult to understand, seeing as he had only the horizon to judge by. Lawson returned to Charlie's side.    84
  It was getting near to 7:00 PM. The sun was still bright up at our height, but it soon became difficult to make out the lake. We were just about over Waukegan, I guessed. We passed over the drainage canal and then headed southeast until we were over the Chicago Clearing Railroad yards. From there the hangers of Ashburn Field were visible.    85
  To help Cox with the airliner's angle of descent, Burnelli monitored the roll of the wings while Cox concentrated on the fore and aft pitch. We approached the field prettily. There weren't any head or crosswinds to deal with this time.    86
  Charlie landed us perfectly. I was especially satisfied to see that the wheels didn't explode or pop off. Surini scrambled out, crossed himself, and kissed the soil.    87
  There was only a handful of people there when we touched down, but within an hour several hundred people gathered round the plane. I passed out cigars until I ran out of them. Hordes of newspapermen surrounded us. "Where's your next destination?" one of them shouted. Surini and I were at that moment posing in front of the airliner for a photograph.    88
  "On to New York!" Lawson declared. The flashbulb went off. The next morning the picture showed up in the Tribune. Surini looked like he had just seen a ghost. I had a smug smile on my face; I had learned what to expect from Lawson.    89
  It must have been 9:30 PM before we left the field and checked into a hotel. Only then did I remember my car sitting in the pasture back in Milwaukee. I got on the telephone and made a call up to the crew there. They were hysterical; my call was the first news they'd heard of our fate since we'd left sight of the pasture. They'd thought we must have crashed somewhere. When I told them we had made it down to Chicago, they thought I was pulling their leg.    90
  The next morning, the Tribune and the Herald-Examiner ran front page stories on our flight. From the dining room of the Blackstone Hotel Lawson had a brunch session with representatives of the afternoon papers: the American; the News; the Journal; and the Post. I overheard Lawson describe to them his plans for the future:    91
  "I expect to have 100 ships in operation between New York and San Francisco by next spring. The flying schedule will call for thirty-six air hours from coast-to-coast. Our sleeping-compartment plane will leave New York in the evening, and on arrival in Chicago in the morning, the passengers will be transferred to a chair ship, which will carry them to Salt Lake City. In the evening at Salt Lake City, they will be transferred back to a sleeping plane and will land in Frisco the next morning. The chair ships used on this route will be just like the one I came in yesterday. The sleeping-compartment ships are almost finished now up at the Lawson Airplane Company's shops in Milwaukee.    92
  "Chicago will be the center not only of the transcontinental lines but also of feeder lines running north and south. One branch will run from Chicago to St. Paul, and eventually to Seattle. Another will reach from Chicago to Milwaukee, then on to Duluth, terminating in Winnipeg. A third will stretch from here to St. Louis, New Orleans, and Atlanta. There will also be a line from Chicago that will hit Detroit, Toronto, and Quebec. Finally, we'll have a route from Chicago to Pittsburgh and on to Washington."    93
  I was hard pressed to figure how a dozen employees were going to build 100 copies of the "World's Largest Airplane" (as one of the Chicago rags hailed it; actually, Burnelli told me that the French had a bomber somewhere that was slightly larger) over the winter. I also wondered where the sleeping-berth model was hidden. I was further puzzled at where we were going to find 100 old truck axles for landing gear. Finally, I had a fleeting doubt that there were 100 former RAF aces walking around in need of a job. Lawson, I concluded, did not dream small.    94
  After a few days in Chicago, our impromptu itinerary called for a flight to Toledo, Ohio, 250 miles away. Besides Lawson, Cox, Burnelli, Surini, and myself we took along Mr. Krum of the Chicago Tribune, Sam Blair of the Herald Examiner, Edgar Croft of the American, and the noted Chicago aviator Ralph Diggins. Both Blair and Krum had been in the U.S. Air Service in France. Lawson, as navigator, used Diggins to help him spot the Wabash rail lines leading out of the city.    95
  Edgar Croft was a real strange bird. Besides being a reporter, he subscribed to some strange Christian sect that firmly believed the Earth was flat. He told me that there was a whole community of people like him living in Zion City, Wisconsin, under the direction of Reverend Wilbur Glenn Voliva. Croft maintained that flying in an airplane in no way effected his faith. I sort of shied away from Croft after he had told me all this. He and Lawson got along tremendously.    96
  Blair fell asleep as soon as we passed Gary, Indiana. Croft banged away on a typewriter he had brought. I spent most of my time hopping around looking at the engines. The weather had started out fine, but before long we headed into punk visibility-fog, rain, and heavy clouds. To dodge the clouds we flew down low, at one point buzzing over a church. I saw the preacher and his congregation pile out of the building and point up in the air at us. I wondered if they were praising our glory or damning us as an infernal machine.    97
  Lawson had been told that Maumee Park in Toledo was suitable for a landing. It was easy to find--we just followed the railroad tracks until we spotted the Maumee River, and there it was. It looked a little short, but Lawson instructed Cox to try it anyway. As we descended toward the field, we noticed that there seemed to be some sort of debris strewn over the field. The airliner lowered to within ten feet of the ground.    98
  Burnelli shouted, "Stop! The place is covered with lumber! We can't land here!"    99
  Cox instantly pulled the nose up. We just missed a line of trees on the rights but then a bridge span materialized ahead of us. Cox banked to the right. Our lower wing barely cleared the bridge. By instinct, Charlie shoved the throttles open to get more power. Lawson barked at him to keep his hands off the throttles.    100
  When we were out of danger, Blair stumbled forward. He yelled over the engine noise, "They just had the Dempsey-Willard prizefight here! I guess they dismantled the stands, but didn't clear out the wood!"    101
  Diggins then crowded around and offered a more practical suggestion. "I know a field nearby," he said. "I once landed there myself."    102
  We headed for Diggins' field, which turned out to be a farm about ten miles outside Toledo. Cox guided the plane down, but Lawson abruptly cut the throttles. We dropped like a stone and hit the ground, The tail skid caught in some brush along a harrow and I thought the whole back end would shear off. But it broke free and Charlie made the ground loop. Two tires popped off.    103
  Diggins' farmer friend and his wife treated us to a delicious dinner.    104
  The next day we headed into town and were given a luncheon by the Toledo Chamber of Commerce. Over a toast, Lawson announced his familiar offer to sell stock in the company to all citizens of the cities on the proposed routes. This suddenly included Toledo. Moreover, Lawson shrewdly advocated that landing fields and facilities should be financed through the sale of municipal bonds. I suppose the previous days' adventure had brought home the importance of this to Lawson's plans. At any rate, he was heartily cheered.    105
  That afternoon at 5:30 PM, we set out for Cleveland. Since it was Labor Day, there was a large crowd in Toledo to see us away. A bunch of young girls swarmed over Lawson, pleading with him to take them along. Lawson was immensely pleased. Diggins, our savior, stayed behind, but the Chicago journalists decided to continue onwards. To their number were added reporters from the Toledo Bee and the Blade.    106
  Blair and Krum both fell asleep within five minutes. Croft pecked away at his "Ship's Log." Lake Erie, to the north, glistened from the rays of the setting sun. Below us, farms, lakes, and rivers stretched as far as the eye could see. It was so peaceful that I almost forgot that sooner or later we would have to land.    107
  Nonetheless, we came down uneventfully an hour and twenty minutes later, alighting on Glenn Martin's field in Cleveland. Martin's aircraft plant was right next to the field. Martin had sent a letter to Lawson with directions to the field; he personally came out to greet us. Alongside him were Lawrence Bell, his manager, and Donald Douglas, his engineer. We parked the airliner next to Martin's "Round the Rim" ship. Martin had an impressive shop there, in which all the Martin bombers had been built. We stayed two days to check over our plane.    108
  On September 3rds we took off for Buffalo, N.Y. The two Toledo reporters were replaced with three from Cleveland, but we retained our entourage of Chicago newshounds. None of the reporters we carried ever paid for their passage, since Lawson figured that the publicity more than compensated for their passage. Besides, Lawson had remained silent whenever he was asked what the fares were going to be for the regular airline service.    109
  Again, the trip turned out to be a smooth one. Sam Blair claimed it was damned boring. "Hey, Lawson," he complained. "Can't you enliven matters a bit? I can't get a story out of this."    110
  "What do you want me to do, Sam?," Lawson replied.    111
  Blair pondered, "Say, you're Captain, aren't you? Don't it work out that you have the same powers as a captain of a ship at sea? You could perform a wedding ceremony, or something."    112
  Lawson peered around the cabin. There were no women aboard. Blair continued, "Or say there was an unruly passenger or an attempt at mutiny. You have the power of life or death. You could order someone thrown off if you liked."    113
  The other reporters guffawed. The rest of us chuckled. Surini sweated. Lawson was in a contemplative mood for the rest of the flight.    114
  Cox put us gently down on Curtis Flying Field near Buffalo. Once more, we were surrounded by a throng and posed for pictures. Lawson made a short announcement that we would be leaving for Syracuse the next day at 7:OO AM. By this time, we had left quite a trail of newsprint and headlines. It occurred to me all of a sudden that Charlie Cox had always been strangely absent from the photographs. My first thought was that Lawson was pushing him out of the limelight, but this was a discredit to the Old Man, who always sang the praises of his team, and made a special point to mention Charlie's ace status and his years of service in the RAF. I finally figured out that Cox must have been self-conscious about his size, making him camera shy. I shook my head at this insight. Cox was a pip, a real pip.    115
  Our lone new passenger for the trip to Syracuse was a representative of the Buffalo Morning Courier--a female representative. Lawson was a little upset when she showed up; he wasn't sure whether he would be criticized or not for "risking the life" of a member of the fairer sex. However, Lawson knew that he’d want women aboard sooner or later, to prove the safety of the airliner. Also, he didn't want to miss out on any headlines in the Morning Courier. So she came with us.    116
  Nothing noteworthy occurred during the takeoff. We ascended and began to follow the New York Central tracks. The airliner passed over Batavia and Rochester at 4000 ft. Down below, we glimpsed sight of an express train. Cox swooped down low and matched its speed at 50 m.p.h. We could make out the figures of the engineer and the fireman. After spotting us, they began to shovel coal furiously. Lawson throttled back even more, allowing the train to nose ahead of us. Then he opened the throttles wide, shooting us forward at 100 m.p.h. Lawson laughed heartily; he hated trains.    117
  Lawson found Bethka Field using a letter from the Aero Club of Syracuse as his guide. It was four miles east of the city and one mile north of the New York Central line. We encountered a stiff wind gusting near the ground. As Cox banked into the approach turn, Lawson again cut the throttles at the wrong moment. Charlie couldn't get the plane over fast enough; the wheels hit a cabbage patch, and the left wing tip dipped low shredded the heads off the vegetables. We swung around in a circle and came to an abrupt stop. The nose dove down into the earth and our tailpiece stuck up in the air at a 45-degree angle.    118
  Everyone appeared to be unhurt. Our lady friend from Buffalo had a show of fainting away in Sam Blair's arms, but within a minute she was up powdering her nose. "Is this the manner in which the Lawson Air Liner usually lands?" she asked Lawson. The Old Man snorted and threw his shoulder against the cabin door. It didn't budge; our only means of exit was jammed shut.    119
  Outside, we saw photographers arrive, setting up their cameras to document the crash of the Lawson Air Liner. Lawson was apoplectic. "They can't take pictures! We've got to get outside and pull the tail down so it looks right-""    120
  A few floorboards in the cockpit had loosened on impact. Lawson began stamping his feet on them, busting the wood until there was a hole large enough for a man to crawl outside. He scrambled out, with me right behind him. A couple of the others began squeezing out, but Lawson shoved their feet back inside. "Get back," he ordered. "I want them to see our passengers come out through the door!"    121
  He and I hurried over to the door and ripped it open. Someone lent us a rope, and Surini and I had the plane righted within a matter of minutes. Even so, we were too late to stop the photographers; to Lawson's wrath, the next day's papers were plastered with the illustrated story of our wreck.    122
  All in all, the cockpit floor had taken the worst of the damage. Lawson sent a wire to our woodworkers in Milwaukee to pack their bags and come to Syracuse. The airliner was laid up for an entire week. Lawson spent the time trying to get the publicity back on track. He told the crew that our next stop would be Albany, where he would deliver a letter from Gov. Phillip of Wisconsin to Gov. Al Smith. Then we'd take Gov. Smith to New York City.    123
  As we prepared for the next flight, we had to say goodbye to our Chicago reporters. They were going no further. Our new co-travelers were to be Anna Towse of the Syracuse Post-Standard (the hullabaloo about taking women along never materialized), John Cullen of the Syracuse Journal, and Mr. and Mrs. Walter Carrier, of air-conditioning fame.    124
  We stood ready to leave Syracuse at 7:30 AM on September 13, 1919. I spun the props and the engines sputtered to life. The Carriers, pulling up late in their car, brought with them a telegram for Lawson. It was from Gov. Smith, who sent his regrets that he wouldn't be able to make the flight down to New York City. Lawson crumpled up the telegram and told Cox that we were eliminating Albany as the next stop. We were to proceed directly to New York City.    125
  Lawson and Charlie had takeoffs down pat. Within twenty minutes we climbed to 10,000 ft. Mr. Carrier looked a little green around the gills, and complained that the cabin was intolerably hot, but his wife was a real trouper. A table was set up in the aisle, and soon our four passengers were playing a game of bridge. Later, Mrs. Carrier brought out a small gas heater and brewed a pot of tea. Then she passed around a tray of bonbons.    126
  We climbed to 12,000 ft. over the Catskills, and by 10:00 A.M. we had reached New York City. We flew over Manhattan at several thousand feet, then circled the Statue of Liberty. Lawson had scheduled our landing for Roosevelt Field, but over Mineola he changed his mind when he saw Mitchel Field. Cox set us down perfectly.    127
  The New York Sunday papers trumpeted our praise. Lawson was being called things like the "Air King", the "Columbus of the Skies", and "Genius of the Air." The airliner was viewed as America's answer to recent European aeronautical advances. People said that we were ushering in a new era, that we were changing the course of human affairs. Our mishap in Syracuse was forgotten. We bathed in the glory.    128
  The exhilaration was short-lived. On Monday, September 15, we went aloft with our largest load yet, sixteen people. There were six reporters, two photographers, one motion picture operator, Henry Woodhouse and Augustus Post of the Aero Club of America, and our five-man crew. We sped here and there over Long Island, over Jamaica, up the border of the Sounds and back to Mineola. Our passengers were delighted, not once noticing anything amiss. However, up in the cockpit, we were deeply concerned.    129
  We couldn't coax the speed past 90 m.p.h. Nor could we climb higher than 5000 ft. Lawson, Wallace, and Burnelli had been sure that even with a full load we could reach 115 m.p.h. and 15,000 ft. And we weren't bucking any headwinds or experiencing any unusual atmospheric conditions. It was obvious that we were woefully underpowered; transcontinental flights would be impossible with this many people aboard. I had my first inkling that this was a doomed enterprise.    130
  Although a new tide of rave reviews washed over us, we left for Washington, D.C. on the following Friday in a somber mood. Lawson was less disturbed than the rest of us; he saw several ways around the problem: another engine; or stronger engines; or perhaps a whole new plane designed with more power. At any rate he maintained that this tour had become more important than ever, because we need money more than anything else. Good publicity equaled money, as did the prospect of an Air Mail contract with the Federal government.    131
  Since we weren't crossing over any mountain ranges, we judged it safe to take fourteen people down to Washington.    132
  They were: Fred Steele of the Herald and his wife; Felicity Burnelli, Vince's stunning sister; Evan David, editor of Fly; Katherine Brody of the Evening Globe; Mr. and Mrs. Richard Wightman, from the Aerial Touring Association; major Tracy Lewis of the Morning Telegraph; Mr. Frank Shober; Cox;    133
  Burnelli; Surini; Lawson; and myself.    134
  We gave our passengers a few thrills by dodging the clouds between Baltimore and Washington. Lunch was served shortly before we reached the Capitol. We circled the city and headed for Bolling Field. Before arriving there a squadron of scout and battle planes came up to act as an escort. Compared to the mammoth airliner, they looked like sparrows compared to an eagle.    135
  Mrs. Steele tore up the will she had written as soon as the wheels touched down. Lawson posed for a few photographs and then rushed off to the Willard Hotel. He wanted to get in touch right away with his two government contacts, Sen. Warren G. Harding and Joe Cannon, Speaker of the House. From the hotels Lawson proceeded to the Senate chamber at the invitation of Sen. Kirby. There he invited some of the statesmen to take a flight over the city on Sunday. On Lawson's next day, Saturday, he had an appointment with Postmaster-General Burleson. Then we conferred with Generals Monocher and Billy Mitchell of the Army Air Service. Mitchell asked Lawson if the airliner could be converted into a bomber. Mitchell had a fixation about wanting to see an airplane blow a Navy destroyer out of the water.    136
  On Sunday afternoon Cox, Burnelli, Surini and I found ourselves at Bolling Field preparing the plane. A motorcade of six automobiles pulled onto the fields with Lawson at the forefront. They stopped alongside the airliner, and Lawson ushered the gaggle of dignitaries around the outside of the craft. Surini and I started up the engines in preparation for the later flight. Once that was done, Lawson ordered Cox and I to get inside to show our visitors the cabin. Through the door came Secretary of War Newton Baker; his wife; their daughter, Betty; Baker's cousin, Elizabeth Freas; Sen. Henderson of Nevada; Sen. McCumber of North Dakota; Sen. Stanley of Kentucky; Sen. Hoke Smith of Georgia; Sen. McNary of Oregon; Sen. Johnson of South Dakota; Johnson's two daughters; Lt. Scott, Liason Officer of Bolling Field; and the Rev. John Cavanaugh, president of Notre Dame University.    137
  Outside, awaiting their turn at a look inside, stood Sen. Warren G. Harding, General Billy Mitchell, a young pilot named Hap Arnold, and a host of others. Lawson climbed in behind Rev. Cavanaugh. "Will everyone take a seat, please?" Lawson requested.    138
  At that point I knew Lawson was going to take the plane up; I was less sure that all these people realized that. I made a head count of the now apprehensive tourists. Including Lawson, Cox, and myself, there were seventeen bodies. I was just about to tell Lawson that we should let a few people out when he sat down and shoved the throttles forward.    139
  The airliner rolled ahead down the field. I caught a look at Hap Arnold outside, his mouth agape. I guess he couldn't believe we would take off without warming the engines longer. Inside, Secretary Baker finally woke up to what was going on. "Stop! Stop!" he shouted. "Mrs. Baker and I have promised never to risk our lives together! Neither of us has ever flown before."    140
  Their daughter Betty, piped up, "Oh, Daddy! Don't be a bore! After all, you are Secretary of War."    141
  Lawson squinted at the field in front of us. Cox was battling with all his weight to keep the overburdened plane steady as we gathered ground speed. Amazingly, we arose with little effort. We climbed to 3000 ft., tried to go higher but couldn’t, and headed down the Potomac. We hit a patch of rough air so the ride was a little bumpy. Still, everyone aboard remained calm; even Baker had regained enough of his composure to engage Lawson in some banter.    142
  "What would happen if one of the two engines failed?" Baker inquired, leaning forward in his seat.    143
  Lawson turned backwards in his pilots' seat (remember, there wasn't any partition between the cockpit and the passenger area). He stared at Baker and answered honestly, "If that happened, we'd crash.    144
  "Lawsonian science," the Old Man continued over the roar of the motors, "Will eventually be able to overcome weight altogether. A gas will be discovered that is 800 times lighter than air. Far lighter than hydrogen, even. It will be approximately in the same ratio that air is to water, and thus man will be able to lift ships as heavy as our present marine vessels up into the atmosphere. Ships of the sea will dive upwards as well as downwards. There will be ‘supermarines' as well as submarines."    145
  Baker, on hearing this, collapsed back into his chair, a look of abject horror covering his face. I pondered what Lawson had said; somehow, the physics didn't sound quite right. I also wondered what "Lawsonian science" was all about. Meanwhile, I couldn't help but to notice the 300-pound Sen. Smith wedged in one of the rear seats looking dangerously ill. Lt. Scott came forward and politely mentioned to Lawson that Smith was feeling uncomfortable.    146
  Lawson ignored this news. We flew on. A moment later, Rev. Cavanaugh walked up to Lawson and reiterated Smith's predicament. On his own initiative, Cox turned the plane around. Lawson started to protest, but thought better of it. Instead he excitedly pointed out the Capitol building as we passed over it. Because of the turbulence I didn't see anyone aboard get awe-inspired by the sight. I think they were all wishing we were back on the ground.    147
  As we came in for our approach Lawson closed down the throttles. He couldn't have timed it worse. The overloaded airliner went into an extended glide. It looked as though we were going to overshoot the fields so Cox tried to bring the nose up, thinking it'd be better to make another pass. Charlie wasn't the one with the throttles in his hands, though. Lawson refused to open them. We stalled and drifted downward like a falling loaf. The wheels bounced against the earth.    148
  "Thank God, we're down!" Baker yelled.    149
  The airliner rolled down the field, only we all saw that there wasn't much of the field left to roll down. We were heading straight for a ditch filled with tree stumps. Lawson finally saw the danger and poured on the power. Cox urged the plane back into the air in the nick of time.    150
  Then the engines started to whine. Normally, gas was fed into the carburetors with air pressure, but the gauge indicating the pressure wasn't registering anything. Cox or Lawson must have released the safety valve during the glide--which was our standard landing procedure--only we hadn't landed. So there we were, a hundred feet above the Potomac River with a pair of dying engines.    151
  I grabbed the hand pump that lay on the floor between Lawson and Cox. After cutting the safety valves I began pumping for my dear life. Slowly the sputtering motors purred back to life. Lawson mopped his brow. Charlie's knees were shaking uncontrollably. Our frantic efforts were obesrved by everyone on board. Baker wasn't the only one who looked horrified.    152
  Cox circled the airliner around and landed it in the center of the field. There was a general rush for the door. Several of us had to pry Sen. Smith out of his chair. What happened next was the most astounding point of the whole episode--something that demonstrated to me that politicians were different from the average person. As soon as we opened the door to let people out, we saw that some photographers were already there to capture the moment. At that point, as they emerged onto the field, all our passengers were smiling like they had just been on a carnival ride! They never let on for a minute that the flight was less than wonderful. And Lawson got out there and lifted little children into his arms and kissed them for the cameras! It beat all.    153
  That was Sunday, On Monday, Surini, Burnelli, Cox, and I lounged in our quarters reading the glowing accounts of our latest success. To my delight, I noted that one of the shutterbugs had finally caught Charlie in an unguarded moment, and now his picture was all over Washington. Once we had finished poring over the papers, though, Charlie dropped a bomb on us. He announced that he was taking the next train up to Montreal to get married. His fiancee had come over from England and cabled him to come claim her. He promised us he’d be back with his new wife by Thursday when we were due to leave for Dayton.    154
  Surini immediately scrounged up some champagne. After several toasts, we trundled the tipsy Cox into a taxi and sent him to the train station. Then the three of us had a few more drinks before being interrupted by the clang of the telephone. The call was for Lawson, but Burnelli agreed to take the message.    155
  It was a long call. Burnelli stood there with the receiver in his ear, occasionally answering, "Yes" to some unheard question. Then his face went pale.    156
  "Good God!" he muttered, dropping his glass to the floor. A minute later, he quietly ended the call.    157
  Vince was still dazed. "That was Air Commodore Charlton, the air attache of the British Embassy," he said.    158
  Surini was in the good cheer of the booze. "Don't tell us! Lawson's promised that we'd hop the airliner over the Atlantic to London, right?" Surini and I both laughed.    159
  Burnelli mumbled. "It's about Charlie Cox. It seems that there are two Charlie Coxes"    160
  "What do you mean?," Surini scoffed.    161
  Burnelli sat down and took a swig from the bottle. "Well, there's Captain Charles Cox, the war ace, with three years of service and nine Germans to his credit…"    162
  "That's our Charlie!" Surini asserted.    163
  "…and he's been living in Australia for the past year," Vince finished.    164
  Surini yelped, "Who the Hell is our Charlie, then? Wasn't he in the RAF?"    165
  Burnelli nodded. "He was in the RAF alright, but he wasn't exactly an ace. He wasn’t a Captain, either; he was a lowly Second Lieutenant. His total flying experience amounted to eight hours--in a single engine trainer--after the Armistice."    166
  Surini fainted. I lit a cigar and paced the room. Whacking my foreheads I exclaimed, "So that's why he didn't want his picture taken!"    167
  Burnelli concurred. "He probably finished with the RAF and went back to Denver, where through a misunderstanding he was hailed as a conquering hero. That's why he hightailed it out of there and came to Milwaukee."    168
  I picked up the chain of events, "Then he saw his mug in the papers today, realized the game was up, and lit out. Maybe to Canada."    169
  "I wouldn't be surprised," Burnelli agreed. "If, by chance, Charlie does come back then I'll have to tell Lawson what we know. The Old Man will hit the ceiling, but if he gives Charlie the boot, it'd be real bad publicity."    170
  I digested this. "You mean you'd still fly with Charlie?"    171
  Vince shrugged, "At this point, I'm not sure I'd want to fly with anyone else." I admitted the same. "In the meanwhile," he continued, "I'll try to drum up a reserve pilot. We'll tell Lawson that Charlie eloped and is woman-happy."    172
  By late Wednesday night, Cox hadn't shown. Lawson was miffed, but jocularly chided the absent Charlie for having fallen prey to female wiles. Lt. Joseph Boudwin of the Army Air Service was engaged as our new steersman. On Thursday morning, we went to Bolling and prepared to depart. I was already feeling that there was a jinx on the flight and the weather conditions didn't help. The sky was overcast and the wind gusted so hard that it kicked up dust. All the military planes were grounded.    173
  Lawson surveyed the heavens. "The Lawson Air Liner will operate on schedule regardless of weather," he declared. Of course.    174
  Since we'd be crossing the Alleghenies Lawson had the sense not to overburden the plane. After I warmed the engines, Lawson and Boudwin got in, followed by Surini, Burnelli, myself, William O'Neal of the Washington Post, and a young woman who introduced herself to me as Grace Anderson. As we made our final check, all of a sudden a car raced across the grounds and screeched to a halt next to the airliner. Out jumped little Charlie Cox, with his new bride in tow! Burnelli and I stared at each other. I shook my head. What a pip! This was not the moment to inform Lawson of Charlie's past.    175
  I say that because Lawson whooped with delight at the sight of Cox. Charlie carried his wife onto the planes and Boudwin was hastily shunted to the rear of the cabin. Cox assumed his rightful place at Lawson's side. The Old Man rammed the throttles forward. Within seconds, we were thundering towards Dayton, Ohio.    176
  As we leveled off at 10,000 ft., Lawson thumped Charlie on the back and boisterously admonished him for not properly presenting his new bride. They both turned around and Cox performed the introductions. They had been hitched the day before, Charlie explained.    177
  Lawson was confused. He pointed a finger at Grace Anderson and demanded, "Who the Hell is she?"    178
  Nobody answered at first, least of all the terrified Grace. "We thought you had invited her," Burnelli defended to Lawson. The Old Man had a fit.    179
  "Please, Mr. Lawson, I promise not to be any trouble," Miss Anderson pleaded. "I'll pay my fare right now, if you like. My father is a very important man in Cincinnati."    180
  "I have half a mind to toss you overboard, young lady," Lawson scolded. I remembered how Sam Blair must have put that notion in Lawson's mind. Before he could vent any more of his ire, the airliner bumped upwards. We were heading into some storm clouds. Cox tried to climb above them, but found the turbulence to be as bad at 17,000 ft. as it was lower. Our only consolation was that we had the altitude to make it over the mountains.    181
  However, headwinds of up to 80 m.p.h. were blowing us all over the sky. By the time we reached the Alleghenies, we realized that we had consumed so much fuel that it would be impossible to reach Dayton. We'd have to land short. Lawson spotted a river down below us. "There's the Ohio," he declared. "Follow it, Charlie."    182
  Cox threaded his way through the hilly countryside, desperately searching for an open field. Winds were coming at us from every direction and the ship was bucking like a mad bull. I experienced true fear for the first time in my life. We hit one air pocket with a thump. I feared that the damn wings were going to snap off.    183
  Reporter O’Neal, who hadn't uttered a word in the 3 1/2 hours we had been airborne, came up behind me and grabbed my shoulders. He reeled me around, yelling hysterically, "What's the matter? Is everything alright?"    184
  Seeing this man's sheer panic eased my own fears. I assumed a confident manner and replied, "We're just getting ready for the big smash-up." O'Neal whimpered and collapsed back into a chair.    185
  Cox finally spotted some open land and headed for it. We glided downwards, coming in over an adjoining cornfield. Suddenly a tremendous downdraft hammered us. The fuselage whacked the ground. I heard the tires explode and assumed that two of them had busted loose, too. The wings ripped through the cornstalks. The nose plowed into the earth, forcing our tail end to go straight up in the air. Everyone aboard was tossed by gravity into the cockpit. We landed there in a pile as the airliner settled to a halt.    186
  Even before we had recovered our senses, we heard voices outside. Someone roped the tail and pulled the plane horizontal. The door was opened and all aboard poured out. Once again, providence had shined on us; no one was seriously injured. Newsman O'Neal, after checking his bones, started to run away. He lit out cross-country and was still running when we lost sight of him.    187
  "Where are we?" Grace Anderson gasped.    188
  One of the locals answered, "On the Monongahela, near Connelsville, Pennsylvania." Navigator Lawson was silent.    189
  That wasn't the end of the Lawson Air Liner, but it did put the kibosh on our hopes for the trip. Lawson did his best to salvage the effort; the plane was disassembled where it had crashed and loaded onto a train for Dayton. A month was spent there making repairs. On October 24th we departed for Indianapolis, where we landed at the Speedway. We were grounded there by ten straight days of rain. Then it was on to Chicago, where we received another fine welcome. On November 14, 1919, we completed the last leg of the tour back up to Milwaukee.    190
  At that point, Lawson sat down and figured the expenses of our 2,000 mile journey. He discovered what I suspected from the start--there was no way that we could compete with train fares, even without crashes and delays. It was obvious that the plane couldn't handle long runs, and there just wasn't a market for limited-passenger short runs.    191
  To meet Lawson's goals, we definitely needed a new ship. What was required was more space and more power. Space was needed for more passengers, for freight, and for Air Mail; power was needed to accommodate this space, in a greater proportion than we had in the first Lawson Air Liner. Experience had also shown us that we needed more ground support in the form of landing fields, hangers, terminal facilities, and directional beacons.    192
  Our tour had very nearly expended as much money as it brought in. The stockholders were impressed with our success, but were anxious for a return on their investment. Lawson had a real time of it explaining to them that a new plane was needed. He also guaranteed that we would get a federal Air Mail contract, which was stretching the truth; Congress was still considering the legislation that would open up the Air Mail to private airlines. As for ground support, Lawson was pinning his hopes on the willingness of the local communities on the proposed routes to provide these. The Old Man was really rolling the dice.    193
  On top of these obstacles, Lawson lost a lot of key men. The worst setback was when he hastily fired Thomas Hamilton because Tom was caught working on a friend's car on company time. Vince Burnelli left for greener pastures. What hurt me most was when Charlie Cox and his wife just disappeared one day. I had come to look upon Charlie as our good luck charm.    194
  Lawson made a real go of it. With money he had coaxed out of the stockholders, we purchased the vacant Fisk Rubber Company building and three acres of land located at 9th and Menomenee Ave. in South Milwaukee. The early months of 1920 were spent installing machinery in the new shop. Additional craftsmen were signed up. We banged together a genuine hanger next to the shop. The blueprints of the new plane were ten times more professional than the first; I saw that I wouldn't be called upon to innovate in any way, like I had in the first plane.    195
  Lawson called the new aircraft the "Midnight Airliner." Monoplanes were as yet unproved, so this was to be another biplane, even larger than the first airliner. The wingspan was 120 ft., nearly 25 ft. wider than the first plane. The fuselage, at 65 ft., was 15 ft. longer. Since more powerful motors were unavailable, we dismantled the two Libertys from the first plane, put them on the Midnight Airliner, and added a third Liberty to the nose of the new ship.    196
  Of course, Lawson had already conceded his promise of 100 copies of the original airliner by the Spring of 1920. However, his loud mouth had also promised 10 Midnight Airliners by August of 1920. Soon he was down to one lone Midnight Airliner by mid-July, 1920. Constructing that plane was much more complex than he realized. Then he promised that the new plane would be in the air by October of 1920.    198
  Despite this, our investors were getting edgy and refused to put any more money into our efforts. Moreover, by the Fall of 1920 it was clear that the entire nation was in an economic slump. Lawson saturated the Milwaukee area with pleas for new investors, and by December was placing full-page ads in papers throughout the state in an effort to sell more stock. But the financial climate made it difficult to find funding for any project, much less a giant airplane.    199
  The strange thing is that we had completed the new plane by late November of 1920. Despite the third engine on the nose, the weight distribution was more evenly balanced. We didn't think that the Midnight Airliner would make the nose-first landings that the first plane had. However, the engine sticking out in front did tend to obstruct the pilot’s view, which would be crucial when landing. So what we did was to put a trap door in the roof of the cockpit. Then we put in pilots seats that adjusted in height. When making a landing approach, the idea was that the pilots would crank their seats up, slide the trap door open, and peer out over the engine. Guess whose idea this was?    200
  The dashboard was made out of mahogany and consisted of three sets of Delco boosters, tachometer, oil pressure gauges, water and oil thermometers, a clock, a barometer, an air-speed indicator, a vertimeter, and lateral and longitudinal inclinometers. Then there were the dual dep controls, and, of course, the throttle levers, which lay between the pilots' seats. A small hand wheel over the throttles operated the trimming plane. On a separate dash overhead the pilots, near the trap doors, were the switches. Next to the pilots' seats were fire extinguishers. The cockpit was partitioned off from the passenger section by a pair of hinged doors with windows in them. Inside the passenger section, the foremost seat on the right was reserved for the Engine Mechanic. The mechanic had his own dashboard containing air pressure gauges, an air distributor tank, and ignition control handles. It was a wonder.    201
  Aside from seating for a four-man crew, there were two rows of twenty-four other seats. The seats could fold away, either to permit more room for baggage or to allow two tiers of built-in sleeping berths to be lowered. There was a toilet room with running water and a shower. In the rear of the cabin, there was another trap door through which we could parachute-drop mail without having to land. The windows throughout the cabin were smaller than those in the first airliner, to provide for better insulation. Smaller portals dotted the tail section.    202
  On the outsides the fuselage was again painted green. The white letters of "Lawson Air Line" were as big as ever. The elevators and trimmings were left in a natural wood varnish finish, and the nose engine was encased by a polished steel sheet. Instead of Goodyears there were Palmer Cord Aero Tyres. In my opinion it was a genuine wonder of the modern world.    203
  In reply to our advertisement for new pilot, this fellow walked into the shop one day. I shook his hand and asked, "What’s your name?"    204
  He smiled, "Charlie Wilcox."    205
  I nearly hit my foot with a dropped wrench. "You weren't by any chance an ace in the RAF, were you?"    206
  "Nope," he answered. "I flew for awhile with the Postal Service out of Chicago." I sent him in to Lawson.    207
  With the plane ready and the crew set, you'd think we were sitting pretty. Then came the devastating winter of 1920-1921. The weather made it impossible to move the Midnight Airliner starting in the first week of December. Our stockholders were growing extremely fidgety by this time. Lawson met with them in mid-January of 1921 and tried to placate them. Meanwhile, the operation was in debt and eating money everyday while we sat and waited for a thaw in the weather. The Old Man promised to start building eight more Midnight Airliners by February 1st; since the stockholders weren't about to come up with any more money, Lawson advertised in the Sunday papers for loans on which he would pay ten percent interest. There were few takers; the other planes weren't started.    208
  The whole operation was coming apart at the seams. Half the workers were released. By April, the ground still hadn't thawed. Our Air Mail contracts were canceled for non-compliance. The investors met behind Lawson's back and came up with an ultimatum that he must get the plane in the air or resign. I ordered a new supply of my business cards.    209
  Lawson assembled the remaining workers and informed us of the ultimatum. "Men," he announced,, "We've been told to fish or cut bait. As you know, there's no way we can move the plane out to Hamilton Field." We lowed our heads in resignation.    210
  "Therefore," he said, his voice rising, "We must build an airstrip right here!" Lawson shot his arm out and pointed at the three acre lot next to the factory.    211
  We were agog with disbelief. Surini summoned up the courage to suggest the obvious. "Sir," he said. "That land over there is no bigger than a football field. Not even the smallest plane in the world could takeoff there."    212
  "I know that!" Lawson snapped. "I've asked Mr. Hughes, who owns the farm next door, if we couldn't take down the stone fence dividing the property. We'll open up a hole large enough for the Midnight Airliner to pass through."    213
  It was a long shot, but we went for it. The yard was graded, leveled, and cindered. We pulled the stones out of the fence line. Farmer Hughes watched our efforts with bemusement. He was out in his field, sitting on his tractor, plowing furrows in the half-thawed earth from east to west: perpendicular to the direction of the airstrip. We began running the engines every day.    214
  In the first week of May, we heard a rumor that the investors were trying to call in the law to get Lawson forcibly expelled from the premises. On May 8th, the northeasterly winds that had plagued us shifted around. The Old Man ordered the engines roared up. He, Wilcox, Surini, and I climbed aboard. Surini and I took our places in the first seats of the cabin. Lawson and Wilcox went through the doors into the cockpit. Outside, the chocks were withdrawn. Lawson pushed the throttles forward and we began to move.    215
  We rolled halfway down our acreage, and at that instant, I sensed something was wrong. Lawson wasn't giving the plane enough power. We passed through the opening in the stone fence and hit the furrows in Hughes' field, slowing us down even more. Luckily, the ground sloped downwards, and so Wilcox was able to edge the nose up in spite of our speed, but we had taxied along the ground longer than anticipated.    216
  We climbed ten feet into the air and passed over a railroad crossing. The Hughes' house was dead ahead. Wilcox swung to the left. The wings dragged through the branches of an elm tree. The Midnight Airliner was out of control. The next thing I knew, our right wing hit a telephone pole. The pole broke off and stuck in the wing. We hit the ground a hundred feet beyond this collision. Two wheels popped off. The right wings dug into the earth and dragged the plane in a semicircle. The left wings collapsed and the engines tore out of their mountings as we ground to a stop.    217
  Surini and I leapt outside. I fell down. Sparks lit up back inside the cabin. Surini grabbed some dirt and went in to smother them. Lawson and Wilcox squirmed out of the cockpit. They hadn't suffered a scratch. The four of us stood in the field watching one of the propellers spin sickly. It was the last dying gasp of the Midnight Airliner.    218
  "Well, boys," Lawson noted, clearing the oil smudges from his face, "I reckon it will take about $8,000.00 for repairs." Wilcox threw up.    219
  I glanced over at the Hughes' house and saw a curtain quickly being replaced over a window. "Let's go round up some coffee and doughnuts," Lawson suggested. He began to stride in the direction of the Hughes, residence.    220
  That was the end of the Lawson Aircraft Company. The Old Man met with the stockholders and returned to tell us he had resigned as manager. He told them he would return as soon as they could provide proper financing. I never heard their side of the story. I was paid through for the two weeks it took to pick up the remains of the Midnight Airliner.    221
  I needed a job. I got in my Ford and headed down to Dayton, showing up uninvited at McCook Field. They were developing the Turbo-Supercharger there and I desperately wanted to get onto the flight line. More by mistake than by intent, they took me on. In 1922 I made a trip back up to Milwaukee to visit some friends. By coincidence, the Lawson Aircraft Company had been declared bankrupt a few weeks earlier. So I found myself in the city the very weekend that the remaining assets were to be auctioned. After hesitating, I decided to drive over to see what happened.    222
  By the time I got to the sale there was only one item left on the block: the cabin of the first Lawson Air Liner. There was a lone bidder; it sold for $200.00. After the gavel came down, I wandered over to the buyer and presented myself.    223
  "Mister," I said to the fat, short, and bald character who had bought the cabin. "I was aboard that plane on every flight. I wonder if you'd mind telling me what you plan to do with it."    224
  He gave me an ugly look and then shrugged. "I own a few eating establishments down South," he explained. "I just bought land for a new one smack dab beside a busy road. I remembered seeing pictures of this plane and thought to myself, 'Here's a ready-made building!' So I intend to take that cabin, truck it down to my land, and open it up as a roadside diner."    225
  That was the sorry fate of the World’s First Airliner, and the end of my story.
 
   226

 


"When I look into the vastness of space and see the marvelous
workings of its contents... I sometimes think I was born
ten or twenty thousand years ahead of time."

 

Jerry Kuntz © 1997-2006 | All Rights Reserved | Contact