Way back in 1925, a young man named Truman Wadlow was working part-time for the Travel Air Manufacturing Company. He wanted desperately to become an aviator like his idol and mentor, Walter H. Beech, the company’s ace salesman.
As Truman recalled to the author in 1981, Mr. Beech agreed to trade Truman’s work at the factory downtown and help on weekends selling tickets for airplane rides, for free flying lessons. Of course, young Wadlow jumped at the opportunity.
His instructor was Clarence Clark, who had recently signed on as the company’s chief pilot. After receiving only three hours of dual instruction in a Travel Air Model “A” biplane, Wadlow was allowed to give passengers rides at the flying field located on East Central Avenue. Truman, however, had not yet been taught about the dreaded tailspin and how to avoid it.
One beautiful, balmy Sunday afternoon, Truman strapped a willing passenger into the front cockpit of the Travel Air. Less than a minute after takeoff, the engine quit. Frightened, Truman tried to turn back to the field. Suddenly and without warning, the wings stalled. The “A” entered a spin to the left that ended only seconds later, nose down and with a heavy crunch, in a thick hedgerow. Truman remembered that the post-impact silence was deafening. He quickly jumped out of the cockpit and hauled the unconscious passenger over the side and laid him on the ground. Then, he ran for home where he hid from Walter Beech for three days.
Finally, he gathered enough courage to appear before Beech and confess his sin. Fortunately, the passenger was only slightly injured, but the poor Travel Air was a total loss. Although Walter was furious, he soon forgave Wadlow and kept his promise of free flying lessons.
During the next few years Truman, along with his identical twin brother Newman, both went on to become respected local aviators and employees at Travel Air. In 1930, Walter and Olive Ann Beech bankrolled the two boys, so they could open their own Air College east of the Travel Air factory on East Central Avenue.