In the wake of E.M. Laird’s sudden departure from Wichita in October 1923, Jacob M. Moellendick swiftly took the reins of the Wichita Laird Airplane Corporation and renamed it the Swallow Airplane Manufacturing Company. Next, he promoted Lloyd C. Stearman to chief engineer and elevated Walter H. Beech to chief pilot and general manager of the factory.

The Swallow Airplane Manufacturing Company facilities north of downtown Wichita as they appeared circa 1927-1928. Although the location is an important historic site in American aviation history, none of the buildings were preserved for future generations. (Wichita Chamber of Commerce)


Stearman soon produced the “New Swallow” that debuted in 1924 and was a major improvement of the original “Swallow” designed by Laird. Late that year, however, Beech and Stearman resigned from the company and joined forces with Clyde V. Cessna and a few Wichita businessmen including Walter J. Innes, Jr., to found the Travel Air Manufacturing Company.

Moellendick chose Charles Laird, E.M. Laird’s brother, to replace Stearman as chief engineer and in 1926 Lloyd’s brother Waverly Stearman replaced Laird. Although the New Swallow was a successful design, the competition was becoming increasingly stiff as 1927 approached. Jake was able to keep the company books in the black, and by 1927 a new factory building had been built to increase production of the New Swallow. That summer, however, Moellendick committed a monumental error in judgment that would lead to the company’s demise.

He halted production of the New Swallow to build a monoplane to compete in the Dole Race from California to the Territory of Hawaii. Created by. pineapple king James Dole, the event was to occur in August and would earn the first-place winner the tidy sum of $25,000. Named the “Dallas Spirit,” the big ship was designed by Waverly Stearman and would be flown by Captain William Erwin, a friend of Jake and his family.

The “Dallas Spirit” proved to be the Swallow company’s Achilles heel when the big monoplane disappeared beneath the waves in August 1927. (Edward H. Phillips Collection)


Lured by the promise of big money, Jake ordered all hands on deck to complete the monoplane. Distributors of the New Swallow and their impatient customers howled over delayed delivery of their biplanes, but Jake turned a deaf ear to their pleas. Unfortunately, The “Dallas Spirit” and its valiant crew of two were lost at sea during the race while searching the ocean for other aircraft that had gone down to the depths. Jake’s hopes of keeping the company alive died with Erwin and navigator A.H. Eichwaldt.

The Swallow Airplane Manufacturing Company soon went into receivership and Moellendick went into a depression. He died penniless in 1940. His funeral expenses were paid for by a group of his aviation associates including Walter Beech. Today he rests in peace at the Wichita Park Cemetery across the street from the old Laird and Swallow factories at 29th Street and Hillside Avenue.