Monday, December 10, 2012

AERO Corp of California

A 1926 photo of the Aero Corporation. (L-R) Sheriff Traecer, Jack Frye,
Richmond Edwards, Walt Hamilton, Lee Willey, Paul Richter and Sherriff Biscailuz.
William John (Jack) Frye was born on March 18, 1904 and was raised on the family ranch near Wheeler Texas. The 15,000 acre cattle ranch was a family affair and Jack, along with his brother Don and sister Opal, each owned a small portion of the herd. Jack's first exposure to aviation was almost his last one. He was age 14 at the time when three Army planes made an emergency landing near Wheeler due to weather and mechanical problems. They were stuck there three days waiting for good weather, during which time young Jack ran many errands for them. He did'nt get to watch their departure as he was bedridden with a severe case of pneumonia. In 1921-1922 he served a year with the Army Engineers. After some time working on the ranch, Jack sold his share of the herd and bought a car. Along with Don and two friends they set out for Southern California where the "good paying jobs" were supposedly available.
Well it turned out to be washing dishes, selling newspapers and "soda jerking" at a drugstore. Jack met a veteran pilot and barnstormer named Burdett Fuller, at the drugstore who operated a flying school and had a few WW1 surplus Jennies for local and charter flights. He flew out of a field located on "Barnstormers Row", a group of airdromes located on the outskirts south of downtown Los Angeles on 104th street and Western Avenue. For the price of $5, Jack took his first ride in an airplane. It only lasted 15 minutes, but this was enough to convince him he wanted to be a pilot. Jack rented the plane for $20 a week on his meager $25 a week pay, so it took several months before he had enough experience (7-1/2 flying hours) to solo. On the same day as he made his solo flight he took his first paying passenger for a ride. Within a short time Jack owned his own Jenny (it cost $350).

Frye soon established a reputation as an excellent pilot and instructor. The new Long Beach airport hosted a Memorial Day Air Meet (May 30, 1925) where 25,000 fans witnessed 50 pilots and their planes compete in 10 events for cups and cash prizes. Jack won the "Dead Stick Landing" contest.

Among the students at the Burdett School who also became an important part of TWA's roots in later years were Paul Richter and Walt Hamilton. The trio of "Jack, Paul and Ham" became very close friends and in early 1926 they pooled their resources ($5000) and bought Fuller's interests. This included the goodwill of the business, 14 planes, the repair shop and equipment, a well established flying school and air taxi service.

Burdett Airport, 1925

On February 3, 1926, the Aero Corporation of California was formed with a total investment of $50,000.In 1927, the corporation was reorganized and Frye was elected President; Richmond Edwards and Hamilton VP's; Charles Cradick, Secretary; Paul Richter, Treasurer. Lee Willey was appointed Chief Instructor. Lee Flanagin, in exchange for his work as a "grease monkey," learned to fly and became an instructor.

Aero Corp obtained the Regional Distributorship for the American-built Fokker aircraft. At the time, this included the single-motor six-place high wing monoplane called the Universal. Aero Corp established branch offices in Phoenix and Tucson for the sale and maintenance of the Alexander and Fokker aircraft.


Jennys circa 1925. Note the "Blck Cats" aerial team logo on the tail fin.

On November 26, 1927, Standard Airlines, a subsidiary of Aero Corp, inaugurated a three-times-a-week schedule between Los Angeles and Phoenix-Tucson, the first This is a good example of Jack Frye's firm belief there was a bright future flying passengers on a regular schedule as the company did not have an airmail contract. Under Jack's leadership, business was great and, at one time, as many as 86 men were employed in the shops. Aero Corp's maintenance and engineering were considered among the best in the country. The flying school was among the first to be accredited by the Department of Commerce and also ranked among the best.

Ultimately, these operations led by Jack Frye, Paul Richter and Walter Hamilton merged becoming Transcontinental & Western Air (TWA) by 1930.



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