Clarence E. Clark was born and raised in Garnett, Kansas, a quiet, rural town not far from the bustling city of Wichita. He learned to fly in 1923 under the capable tutelage of Harry Kruetzer – a former pilot and flight instructor in the United States Army Air Service during World War I. Clark earned his wings in a Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” but also learned how to repair and rebuild aging aircraft such as the Laird “Swallow” and other biplanes, adding to his knowledge and competence as a pilot and mechanic.
In 1925 he traveled to Wichita for an interview with Walter H. Beech, a member of senior management at the Travel Air Manufacturing Company. Beech, Lloyd Stearman and Clyde Cessna, along with a few air-minded businessmen in the city, had formed the company late in 1924 and one year later had built 19 of the Model “A” biplanes powered by the ubiquitous Curtiss OX-5 or OXX-6 engine.
Beech hired Clarence as the company’s chief production test pilot, and he was soon working side-by-side with employees in the cramped facility at 471 West First Street. During his five years with Travel Air, Clark personally tested more than 600 biplanes and cabin monoplanes, including four of the five Type “R” racers that brought additional fame to Travel Air from 1929 through 1931.
Clarence was well liked by everyone in the company, thanks to his easy-going and mild-mannered personality. By 1931 the ravages of the Great Depression had strangled the market for new aircraft and Clark resigned from Travel Air and eventually went to work flying for the Phillips Petroleum Company based in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. He died in 1988 at age 84.
C.E. Clark amassed thousands of hours in the air during his aviation career, and must be numbered among those important aviators who played a critical role in building up Wichita into the “Air Capital of the World.”