Wichita’s rich aviation history has its share of myths and controversies that have been perpetuated for decades by so-called “hearsay historians.” Among these is the question of who designed the Cessna Model C-34. In the author’s opinion, there is no doubt that the concept originated with Dwane Wallace, Clyde Cessna’s nephew, but Clyde’s son, Eldon Cessna, later boldly claimed credit for the airplane’s design.
In a series of interviews with the author in 1984, however, Wallace made it clear that the airplane’s origin rested solely with him. He explained that in 1934-1935 Eldon had remained on the company payroll at the request of his father (and Dwane’s uncle) Clyde Cessna, but that Eldon’s involvement with the project was limited to the drafting and layout of certain sub-assemblies. By contrast, Wallace was quick to credit engineers Tom Salter and Jerry Gerteis for a majority of the airplane’s basic design and engineering, which eventually led to the monoplane’s certification in July 1935.
Fifty years later the author attended a history lecture in Wichita given by Eldon. During the presentation he laid claim to the C-34’s design as his own. He was aware that Dwane and Velma Wallace also were in attendance. As Eldon continued, it became obvious that Mr. Wallace was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with what his cousin was claiming. A few minutes later, the couple quietly rose from their seats and walked out.
To conclude, certain facts are irrefutable: the C-34 was Wallace’s design, not Eldon’s. Wallace, Gerteis and Salter engineered the airplane, not Cessna. Eldon played only a minor role in its genesis.