Plains Airways WWII CPTP

Plains Airways WWII CPTP

N80201 was the first twin to land at Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Pic Walker is at left. Frances Walker stands 7th from the right between Mr. & Mrs. Al Litzenberger.

Arv Schultz – Editor’s View

Civilian Pilot Training in Rarified Air

by Arv Schultz,

In June, 2013 the QB Beam explored the origins of the World War II Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP), a government- sponsored program that exceeded all expectations by successfully training 435,165 pilots for the U.S. and our allies. Arizona was a major but not the only player in that success. A number of states were involved as well. One such FBO flight training center was Plains Airways, Inc., operated by Billy Walker’s father, W. Dillard “Pic” Walker. Unlike training facilities in the southwest deserts, Walker’s was located in the “Magic City of the Plains,” Cheyenne, Wyoming (6,062 ft. MSL).

A family affair

Plains Airways, Inc.

by Billy Walker

In 1937, Plains Airways began as a pilot training school in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Later, two World War II training bases were added at Laramie, Wyoming and Fort Morgan, Colorado. Cheyenne,

In the late 1930’s my father ran a fixed-base flight operation in Cheyenne. This began serendipitously as he and a brother had been in the produce business. My grandfather was operating a farm east of Greeley, Colorado. “Pic,” as everyone called my father, would drive a tractor-trailer to granddad’s farm and haul a load of vegetables to Cheyenne. Then he would sell them to the Army’s Fort D. A. Russell and the locals. Fort D.A. Russell later became Francis E. Warren Air Force Base, still in operation today.

My father enjoyed aviation and felt he was on the ground floor of promoting and making a business of flying. My mother never had a burning desire to learn to fly but did, however, and became the first female to learn to fly in Wyoming.

Pic once had a marketing idea involving my mother. He put up a large billboard near the city arrival points. The billboard had a photo of my mom with a statement that read “IF SHE CAN FLY – YOU CAN FLY!” I would imagine would be inflated and indignant over that simple statement.

Sometime in 1941 she became too large with me on board to continue clambering aboard the little Luscombe Model 8A. That I was the one who curtailed her aviation activity, albeit she still flew with my father a lot, troubles me. Mom was in the back of the Model 18 Twin Beech when she went into labor with me. Happily for her they made it to the hospital. Sadly for me, I wasn’t born in the airplane. Man! Now that would have given me some serious braggin’ rights!

Above – N-80201 with the Tetons as a backdrop…

Mom helped Pic grow the business. With World War II looming, Plains Airways came into being. Mom helped there as well. The CPTP, developed under the auspices of Army Gen. H. H. Here’s Mom’s story in her own words (with thanks to my sister Martha Jo for discovering it):


…from her presentation to the Arizona Wing OX5 December 4, 1994 

“I had to laugh when Billy called me after a recent Board meeting to say they had put me on the program for today. I thought it was a joke — and you may think so, too, after you hear me! 

Aviation has always been a man’s world and were it not for World War II, it would probably be right up there with pro football and military schools. However, during the war there simply were not enough men to handle all the jobs. In Russia and in Germany many women pilots were called on early to fill the gap. Britain and the United States were slower to recognize the female capabilities in aviation. In Britain, the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) formed a female division made up of women from nine countries, 900 in all, during the years 1940-45. They ferried every kind of plane from light trainers to 4-engine bombers, sometimes as many as five different kinds in one day — even planes that had been damaged in combat and were being returned to their bases for repairs. In the United States, two groups were formed: The WAFS (Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron) commanded by Nancy Harkness Love and the WFTD (Women’s Flying Training Detachment) under Jacqueline Cochran. Hap Arnold didn’t want either of them, but finally consented in 1942. A year later the two groups were combined and known as WASP (Women’s Airforce Service Pilots) with Cochran as director and Love as assistant. Their record was impressive but recognition was less so and the program disbanded in December 1944 after losing, in Congress, the attempt to militarize. The program could no longer be justified because of the return of so many male pilots from service overseas. In contrast, women aviators in Russia were recruited into the Soviet Air Force, given military rank, flew every kind of plane, and flew in combat. For this information, thanks to my daughter-in- law, Cheryl, who loaned me a paper she wrote for a college English class. 

I would like to pay tribute to some of the women pilots I have known personally in OX5. When Pic and I went to our first meeting, a dinner at the old Smokehouse Restaurant on 16th Street, the opening was delayed because the secretary’s chair at the head table was vacant. Pretty soon here came Melba Beard, doing ‘this’ to her hands as she walked through the room to her place. She apologized for being late but said, “You know how it is when you are doping a wing — you can’t leave in the middle of it.” She became our president in due time. Another active member was Ruth Reinhold who had been Barry Goldwater’s pilot and who wrote “Sky Pioneering: Arizona in Aviation History” published in 1982 by the University of Arizona Press. And most of us remember Kelly Quick who learned to fly in California by being the secretary for a flying school. Kelly was an OX5 national director and it was a big thrill for Pic and me to see her name on the OX5 Hall of Fame plaque in the San Diego Air Museum. We met Edna Gardner White when we went to our first national reunion in San Antonio in 1987. She spoke to us at one of the banquets about Women in Aviation. She’s gone now, but at the time she was still an active FBO in Texas. The following year in Wichita we got to know “Babe” Ruth from Michigan, now a national director. We met Bobbie Trout in Washington D.C. in 1961 when she and Ralph Johnson were named Elder Statesmen in Aviation by the NAA. She wrote “Just Plane Crazy” about her own flying experiences and a book about Amelia Earhart called “My Courageous Sister.” She and her partner, Carol Osborn, have been interviewing and video taping aviation pioneers. The tapes are to be in the Sacramento Library and are sponsored by the Smithsonian for students’ use. Bobbie and Carol came to Scottsdale to interview Pic and Ralph just a couple of weeks before Pic died. They interviewed me too and I guess a few things came out that Billy hadn’t known about, which he thinks you and everyone should know! I have no secrets! 

My curiosity about airplanes began in the late 20’s when we lived 7 miles north of Casper, Wyoming, across the road and up the hill from the airport which was operated by a World War I Major named Wardwell. The airport was just a flat place on the prairie from which the sagebrush and most of the cactus had been removed. There was one rickety corrugated tin hangar and some planes left over from World War I AND a sleek, modern Alexander Eagle Rock powered by a 90 h.p. OX5 engine. It was in this plane that Major Wardwell and his two sightseeing passengers met their fiery deaths in August, 1929. My two brothers and a friend witnessed the crash, hailed a passing motorist who took the news to town. The airport had no radio communication, no telephone — in fact, it didn’t even have water. We had a windmill and a good well and were good neighbors which was appreciated by those pilots with their water- cooled engines. After Wardwell’s death, Dick and Joe Leferink took over the airport, improved the field, built two big hangars with sliding doors. My two brothers worked as “gofers” — swept the tumble weeds away from the hangars, washed oil and mud from airplanes and added boy power to push and shove the planes into proper parking position. They received no pay but an occasional ride in one of the planes which included the OX5 EagleRock, a Great Lakes trainer with an air-cooled engine which was installed “upside down” and a little pusher plane — like a bathtub hung under the wing with a motor on top of it. Anyone know that one? I had my first flight in a Ford Tri-Motor during a barnstorming visit by Clyde Ice. He charged by the pound and had a scales at the bottom of the steps to the plane — I think it was 5 cents a pound and I weighed a little less than 100 at the time. Clyde liked flying around the countryside, stopping at outdoor events and giving rides for $5. One couple questioned Clyde about the $5 price and the pilot finally agreed to take them at no cost, but with one condition. If they made any sound they would have to pay the $5. Once around the field and then a loop and they landed. Clyde marveled at the gentleman and said he was surprised neither one of them hollered. The man said, “well, I almost did. . . .when Martha fell out!  But, $5 dollars is $5 dollars!” In Oshkosh in 1992 during the OX5 Reunion I had another flight in a restored Ford Tri-motor — once around the field, $20, and very noisy. But I was glad they didn’t charge by the pound. 

Pic and I met in Cheyenne where he was a partner in Walker Bros. Produce and I was a secretary at a wholesale grocery. He began learning to fly in 1924.  He had his private, bought a 45 h.p. Taylorcraft side-by-side, and asked me to ‘fly away with him’. We were married in Lincoln, spent two weeks flying around Nebraska and Kansas, met a lot of great FBO operators, were entertained by the Wallaces at Cessna in Wichita who were building a 4-place plane (C-34 Airmaster) for our company, Plains Airways. It was a thrill to fly in their demonstrator and handle the controls during flight. 

After we got back to Cheyenne Pic went to Denver for his instrument and instructors’s ratings. He taught me to drive the big produce semi, double clutch and all. I would drive to Denver, meet him at the wholesale markets; he would do the buying and I would truck it home. By the next spring Plains Airways was underway — sales, service, charters and instruction. And that’s when I became a “shill.” (If any of you don’t know what a shill is, it’s a person who aids a street peddler or a gambler by enticing others to participate.”) They said, “Let’s teach HER how to fly, and if she can learn to fly, ANYONE can learn to fly!” So I did — AND I LOVED IT! 

Mom’s semi (#24 identifies the photo in a collage of many from those days 80 years ago)

Pic even had a couple of billboards erected on the highway at both ends of Cheyenne.  It had my picture on it with that slogan!  Imagine trying that in t’days environment!!

I knew at the time that I was the first woman in Wyoming to fly an all- metal plane, a Luscombe, and I understand that an aviation historian in Wyoming has determined that I was the first woman in Wyoming to learn to fly. I questioned it because we had a flight instructor at Plains Airways, Louise Miller, but I guess she learned someplace else.
I remember my solo — my parents hadn’t known I was doing this, but were invited to watch. When I came down, there they were against the chain link fence, like the Garfields we see plastered on automobile back windows. I remember my cross-country, a triangle trip to Scottsbluff and North Platte. A young man named Jimmy Milstead had his the same day — we were supposed to keep each other from getting lost. You know, we navigated by roads, railroads and water towers, and knew which way the wind was blowing by the washing on the clotheslines. I earned what was known as the solo license — could fly anywhere, anytime, but couldn’t take a passenger — and all was well on my way to a private when pregnancy called a halt. I think prenatal influence was responsible for Billy’s career in aviation. Other than that, I didn’t contribute much to aviation. But flying did a lot for me — it gave me self-confidence and understanding and made me a good passenger. Today when I look at a beautiful blue sky with a small plane flying overhead, I know what that pilot is feeling and experiencing and I’m transported back in time to 1939, 40, 41.Plains Airways grew during the war years with a Civilian Pilot Training Program in Cheyenne, a glider training school in Fort Morgan, Colorado, a college program for the University of Wyoming at Laramie, and a contract to train students from Central and South America. We had to provide a barracks and mess hall for them and Pic taught their ground school in Spanish. Pic did a lot of charter work, sometimes called in the middle of the night. I always had his suitcase packed and ready to go. He sprayed grasshoppers the same time Ralph did, and later in Saratoga sprayed the mosquitoes. 

When we moved to Arizona in 1958, we counted 16 in our family who were or had been pilots — brothers, in-laws, nephews. But no girls until granddaughter Kelly came along. Soloed at 16, earned her private. Grandson Preston joined the Walker family flying tradition with both balloon and fixed-wing, and a grandson in Colorado has completed ground school. Pic was SO proud of them, and of our daughter, Mary Margaret, a licensed balloonist. 

And I am proud to have been Pic’s wife and helpmate for 54 1/2 years. How wonderful that during his last years his achievements were recognized by the Civil Air Patrol and by the NAA Elder Statesman Award. Billy did the paper work and documentation and I am grateful to him, and even forgive him for getting me up here today. He blamed Bill Laycock, but I know! Hopefully, some of you will share your experiences and your memories with us. 

I had not planned to include the story of our wedding trip, which some of you have heard more than once. However, Billy has just shared a letter he received from Bob Lane of Aurora, Colorado, who wrote at length about OX5 Hall of Famer, Ev Hogan, and about his own flying father in Scottsbluff. And this is a direct quote from his letter: “Ev told me the story of flying your parents to their honeymoon destination. It had to have been in the early 30’s. He told me this story more than once — he had a lot of great aviation stories.” Maybe he did, but this one was sure WRONG! 

We left Cheyenne early in the morning of October 14, 1938. What with two passengers, two big suitcases behind the seat, high elevation (6135′ above sea level) and thin air, the little Taylorcraft refused to leave Mother Earth. So Pic taxied all the way back to the starting point and tried again. Success — a little wobbly, but airborne and were headed east to Lincoln which we expected to reach that afternoon before the marriage license bureau closed. There was such a strong headwind that we just churned, and at one point we sat over a lake for the longest time. Dark caught up with us at Grand Island. We couldn’t find the airport, so Pic put us down in a farmer’s corn field. The corn had been harvested and we went bump, bump, bump across the furrows. The farmer and his family came rushing out, so excited to see an airplane and in their very own cornfield. Two of the boys volunteered to sit in the plane all night to “guard” it and the farmer took us and our cases into town in his pick-up truck. Pic registered us in TWO rooms (bet that wouldn’t happen today!) Next morning Pic flew the plane to the airport which hadn’t turned on the lights the night before because they didn’t know anyone was coming. Before we left for Lincoln, Pic took every member of the farmer’s family for an airplane ride over the town and over the farm. It was a big thrill for them, and I wonder what kind of stories they tell about that. We reached Lincoln just before the license bureau closed, got to the hotel, had lunch, registered in ONE room. While I changed clothes, Pic went out to buy me a corsage, and soon we were ready to go to Rev. George’s house on Walker Avenue. We had trouble getting a cab because there was a football game that day and everyone wanted to go the opposite direction. We finally made it and were married at two o’clock by the preacher who had married my parents in 1911. We spent a few days in Lincoln and in Omaha where Pic rented motor scooters so we could go to the field to wash the plane. On the way to Wichita we had an unscheduled stop at an army field where everyone came rushing out to see this little bitty plane — a novelty compared to the big army planes. There was no gas gauge, but the tank was right in front of the wind screen and we knew we were getting low when the wire stuck in a cork began to disappear. “

Note: I found this among some clippings that mom had sent me in 1994. The 9×12 mailer had been mailed for 75 cents! Had I discovered this program before now I most certainly would have told you about it.. 

Sis (Martha Jo Tisdale)
March 14, 2020″ 

Plains Airways Link Trainer

“Hap” Arnold, proved a boon to Pic’s fledgling aviation enterprise.

Pic also became interested in the idea of the Civil Air Patrol concept being developed by Gill Robb Wilson and New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. Prior to his death in 1993, Pic remained the sole surviving CAP founding member. He was honored by the national commander, Gen. Berry, at a special CAP gathering in Jackson Hole, Wyoming on the 50th anniversary of the CAP’s birth.

Plains Airways training was growing exponentially with more and more cadets and maintenance prospects assigned to the three schools. The Plains Airways fleet grew to include 33 Luscombe 8As, a Fairchild 24W, a Cessna C-34 Airmaster, 14 Waco UPF-7s, a Cessna UC-78 “Bobcat” (Bamboo Bomber,) two Beech Model 18 twins, a Beech Model 17 “Staggerwing,” and a Waco YKS cabin biplane. The old Alexander Eaglerock and a Travelaire 4000 were still on limited status as well.

The Plains Airways glider school at Fort Morgan utilized 40 hp. Taylorcraft and Piper Cubs. The student and instructor would go aloft and, once sufficient altitude had been gained, the instructor would cut the engine and the student would glide down to a bladed strip in the sagebrush. The instructor would get out and spin the airplane’s prop, since there was no electrical system; the student would again climb to altitude where the process would be repeated until the student achieved proficiency. Many of these cadets went on to fly the ubiquitous Waco CG-3 gliders in the perilous Normandy Invasion on June 6, 1944.

Everett Aden became one of the early chief pilots. Ev was from Chugwater, Wyoming, just north of Cheyenne. He received much of his early training with Plains Airways. Warren Heckman, another Plains Airways cadet, learned to fly at the Laramie base as did Fred Hart. Fred was awarded the DFC flying a C-47 with two Waco CG-3 gliders in tow when he lost an engine on takeoff. Army SOP

Two ladies on their first flight pose with Cessna C-37 “Airmaster”

The lady at left came west in a covered wagon train as a youngster. Seven members of her company were killed by Indians. She wanted to see the still-remaining ruts made by wagons on the Oregon Trail. She witnessed amazing technology development, from covered wagons to the airplane.

Pic Walker flying the Cessna UC-78.

Frances and Pic Walker leave for their wedding trip in a 40 hp. Cub – October 1938.

required the tow aircraft pilot to cut loose the gliders, as it was believed impossible to bring the ol’ Gooney Bird around and land with the big Waco gliders attached.

Fred refused to cut them loose,
as the glider pilots and on-board troops would have certainly been killed. He gingerly brought the C-47, gliders in tow, around
to a safe landing. The military considered putting Fred through a court-martial, but decided he deserved the Distinguished Flying Cross instead.

The most amazing thing, considering the areas of Plains Airways operations, was their safety record. The only Plains- connected loss of life occurred when instructor pilot Johnny Hart was killed driving my dad’s Ford “Woody” station wagon across the treacherous pass between Laramie and Cheyenne on a cold snowy night.

Charlie Hirsig with Pic’s Ford “Woody station wagon in which Johnnie Hart died.

One cadet crashed a Luscombe 8A when making a forced landing in a hayfield near Cheyenne. The cadet had the misfortune of hitting a dust devil during his landing in a hayfield.

The wreckage looked like it was non-survivable, but the young pilot climbed out of the front of the crumpled fuselage with just a small cut on his nose that a Band-Aid patched.

Plains Airways Civilian Pilot Training wings

Near war’s end, one of Pic’s close friends and business partner, Charlie Hirsig, was killed in a Luscombe when he lost control near Laramie. Charlie was killed on the lake at Farthing Ranch at Iron mountain Wyoming the lake was frozen over as it was December. He was looking for some steers that were missed when they gathered them for shipping.His fatal accident was not related to Plains as Charlie was in the process of starting Summit Airlines, which later became Challenger Airways and eventually merged with Monarch and Arizona Airways to become Frontier Airlines, the wonderful regional airline for which I was so fortunate to have flown with a couple of decades. Frontier pilot Dave “Boom- Boom” Cannon had been the Army Air Corps liaison with Plains Airways and became a close friend to my parents. Later, Dave would have some fun at my expense, telling the stewardesses and passengers that he used to change my diapers. True…and funny to everyone but me!

Captain Dave “Boom Boom” Cannon with US Senator Ed Johnson (Colo)

A substantial number of fellow QBs learned to fly in government- sponsored CPTP programs during World War II. Any information regarding that training which QBs might possess or of someone who does will be welcome and appreciated.