Cessna Aircraft Co. is commemorating the 100th anniversary of its company founder learning to fly and building his first airplane.
“It’s a source of pride for all Cessnans to know we are carrying the torch for a company started by a man with such a pioneering and tenacious spirit. One hundred years ago, Clyde Cessna taught himself to fly just eight years after the Wright brothers flew. That’s historically significant, and that ‘can do’ spirit defines this company and is something all of us at Cessna intend to carry on,” said Dave Brant, senior vice president, Product Engineering.
According to company archives, 31-year-old Clyde Vernon Cessna spent much of 1911 teaching himself to fly while attempting to get his first plane in the air. Born in Iowa in 1879, Cessna’s family moved in 1881 to Rago, Kan., about 30 miles west of Wichita. Headlines highlighting the Wright brothers’ accomplishment with powered flight and Louis Blériot successfully flying his monoplane across the English Channel got Cessna’s attention, but his passion for aviation ignited when he witnessed flight for the first time in January 1911 at a traveling air demonstration in Oklahoma City. By then Cessna and his wife had relocated to Enid, Okla., to run an Overland Farm car dealership.
Just weeks after watching the demonstrations, the farmer-turned-auto salesman with a mechanical mind used his life’s savings to purchase a copy of the Blériot XI fuselage from the Queen Aeroplane Company of New York City. Cessna and his brother Roy added an engine and propeller, and they came to understand every detail of the airplane during numerous rebuilds after technical failures and accidents on the Salt Plains in northern Oklahoma.
Archives show that Clyde Cessna’s first attempt to fly Silver Wings was May 11 and his first flight without a crash landing occurred in June. He endured 12 crashes at an average of $100 per fix and considerable time spent in repairing the aircraft to try again.
In fall 1911 the Cessnas moved back to Kansas and in 1916 Clyde Cessna became the first to manufacture powered aircraft in Wichita. He collaborated with Walter Beech (Beechcraft) and Lloyd Stearman (Boeing), among others, before setting out to form the Cessna Roos Aircraft Co. in September 1927, which became known as the Cessna Aircraft Co. by Dec. 22, 1927. During the past 84 years, the company has designed, produced and delivered more than 192,500 airplanes around the globe.
Clyde Cessna retired from the company, turning leadership over to his nephew Dwane Wallace, on Oct. 28, 1936. He then returned to farming in Rago, where he died on Nov. 20, 1954. He has received many honors and awards through the years for his contributions to aviation, including induction into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1978.
A publication providing more information on the life and accomplishments of Clyde Cessna is available here.