Our Historical Markers across Nebraska highlight fascinating moments and places in our state’s past. Today we focus on Lincoln’s time as a hub of plane manufacturing and pilot training, one that attracted a young Charles Lindbergh to Nebraska’s capital.
2400 W Adams St, Lincoln Municipal Airport (LNK), Lincoln, Lancaster County, Nebraska
From the heroics of stunt fliers at pre-World War I state fairs through the experimentation of the 1920s, Lincoln held a unique position in aviation manufacturing and pilot training. After WWI, Ray Page and his wife Ethel purchased surplus Army planes and rebuilt them at their Lincoln Standard Aircraft Company, 2409 “O” Street. Some models manufactured were the Lincoln-Standard and Lincoln-Page (both 3-place), Lincoln-Page LS5 (5-place), and one model for assembling at home. Page’s “Link-up-with-Lincoln” civic boosters, flying Standards, in 1925 carried greetings to Oklahoma, Texas, and California. Daredevil fliers of the Page Aerial Pageant advertised Lincoln across Mid-America. Johnny Moore’s highly successful Arrow Sport was built at 27th and N and later at Havelock by Pace Woods. The Harding, Zook and Bahl Corporation produced the Lark Monoplane at 107 North 9th. During this period Lincoln for a time was third-ranked in America in plane manufacturing. Such an environment appealed to young Charles Lindbergh of Minnesota, destined to become aviation’s preeminent figure. He learned flying fundamentals at Page’s school, served a barnstorming apprenticeship, and was graduated from the Air Reserve Corps as a 2nd lieutenant. In 1927 following service as an airmail pilot, Lindbergh flew his “Spirit of St. Louis” from New York to Paris.
Lincoln was the home to several prominent aircraft manufacturers and pilots in the early days of aviation.
The Lincoln Standard Aircraft Company
In the 1910s, the Nebraska Aircraft Corporation emerged as a top aircraft company in Nebraska. In 1921, the company fell behind on its loans. Rumors swirled that the owner had absconded with the company’s funds to Mexico. Ray Page, manager of Nebraska Buick in Lincoln, bought the company in 1922 and changed its name to the Lincoln Standard Aircraft Company. He hired Otto Timm to be the company’s chief engineer.
Page also ran Page Aerial Pageants, a company that organized air shows. Participants in the pageants included Eyer Sloniger, Encil Chambers, Earl Barnes, Charles and Kathryn Hardin, B.H. Griffin, Harlan “Bud” Gurney, Milo Siel, Dick Hazelrig and Pete Hill.
Page retired from the business in 1929 due to his health and sold the company to some Omaha investors. With the onset of the Great Depression, sales dropped and the company merged with American Eagle of Kansas City in 1931. The Lincoln factory was closed.
Charles Lindbergh in Lincoln
Lincoln became such a prominent aviation center that future aviation hero Charles Lindbergh came here to first learn to fly. He arrived in Lincoln by motorcycle on April 1, 1922, to attend the Lincoln Standard Aircraft Company’s flight school. His flight instructor was I. O. Biffle. Discouraged by the recent death of a friend, Biffle often showed up to lessons late or canceled them due to wind. Still, Lindbergh received his first flight training from Biffle while in Lincoln. After a month of training, Biffle decided Lindbergh could fly on his own. Lindbergh didn’t yet have to money to fly solo, so he stayed in Lincoln for a year working for Lincoln Standard Aircraft as a crew member and performer. He left Lincoln in 1923 to fly solo and gained fame in 1927 for completing the first trans-Atlantic flight.
Harding, Zook, and Bahl
Another big Lincoln-based aviation company was Harding, Zook, and Bahl. Errold Bahl began his career as a barnstormer in 1919. He flew around the state with Brooks Harding and Abe Zook. That same year, the three men established a plane repair shop in Lincoln. Bahl designed his own plane, the Lark. Unique for its day, it had only one wing. It was billed as “the lightest plane in the world.” The three men created a company, called Harding, Zook, and Bahl, to sell their planes. The Lark sold for only $2,000, which is about $24,000 in today’s money. Unfortunately, their business was eclipsed by Ray Page’s Lincoln Standard Aircraft.
The Great Depression and new government regulations about flight ended the glory days of Lincoln’s prominence in aviation. Businesses like Page’s began to disappear. During World War II, however, Lincoln saw a burst of aviation activity when an Army Air Base was located in the city. After the war, the Lincoln Army Airfield became the Lincoln Air Force Base and was used by the military until 1966. It is now used as a commercial airport.