Charles E. Taylor: An Aviation Maintenance Hero
It’s taken over 100 years for Taylor to gain widespread recognition for his contribution to aviation maintenance, but on May 22, 2014, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, unveiled a bronze bust of Charles E. Taylor to honor the first aviation mechanic.
Taylor Was A True Pioneer
But back in the days of the Wright Brothers, there were no instruction booklets, manuals or handbooks, and they were flying by the seat of their pants, quite literally.
To many, Taylor is a pioneering icon, right up there with Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, and indeed he has inspired people way beyond his own field.
To most, Charles E. Taylor is a complete unknown. Even though the Wright Brothers would never have succeeded without his input and expertise, and he was practically the third Wright brother, his contribution to modern aviation maintenance is largely overlooked by the layman.
Taylor shunned the limelight, but when it came to celebrating the 50th anniversary of the airplane, the media interviewed him, and it was only then that his genius came to light.
In fact, Taylor has been credited with many firsts related to aviation, including:
- Being instrumental in the first powered flight
- Becoming the first airport manager
- Helping to build the first military plane
- Engineering the first transcontinental flight
- Getting inducted into the USAF Museum as the first airplane mechanic
The Early Years In Illinois
Born on a farm in Illinois on May 24, 1868, Charles E. Taylor didn’t know he was destined for greatness, but he knew he liked to tinker. He married in his 20s and had a son before moving the family to Dayton, Ohio, where he had relatives and prospects for work.
Taylor found a good job making farm machinery and bicycles for the Stoddard Manufacturing Company in Dayton, and he was destined to meet Wilbur and Orville shortly afterward; Taylor’s in-laws owned a building there, and guess who rented the place for their bicycle shop?
Taylor Meets The Wright Brothers
By 1901 Taylor was working at the Wright Cycle Company, repairing bikes, minding the store and – of course – tinkering. When the Wright Brothers started working on a flying machine, they needed a powerful but lightweight engine. Taylor said he was up to the task, and he was.
It took just six weeks for Taylor to create an engine that met their specifications, and he did it with just the tools in the Wright Brothers’ bicycle shop: a 26-inch band saw, 20-inch drill press, 14-inch lathe, 6-inch bench grinder and a primitive wind tunnel. On Dec. 17, 1903, the Wright Brothers made history with their first flight – with much help from Charles E. Taylor.
Taylor’s work was just beginning. He spent the next decade working for the Wright Brothers, upgrading engines and repairing the airplanes. When the brothers established the world’s first airport in nearby Huffman Prairie, Taylor was appointed as the first airport manager, and he became the father of aviation maintenance.
Soon after in 1907, the Wrights won a contract with the U.S. Army to develop the first military plane, it was Taylor who designed and developed the engine.
The First Transcontinental Flight
The story of Charles E. Taylor and the first transcontinental flight is fascinating, as it was prompted by a contest sponsored by publisher William Randolph Hearst: A prize of $50,000 was offered to the first pilot who could fly across the entire country in 30 days or less.
An adventurous lad named Cal Rodgers took the challenge, but had the good sense to hire Orville Wright as his flight instructor and Charles E. Taylor as his chief mechanic. After taking off from Sheepshead Bay, NY on Sept. 11, 1911, Rodgers made his shaky way across the United States, with Taylor following close behind in a car.
After landing over 70 times and crashing about 15 times, the plane limped across the finish line in Pasadena, CA on Nov. 5. The flight set new records and took aviation to the next level, but it took too long to win the prize.
Once again, Taylor avoided the limelight and received little credit for keeping Rodgers’ plane afloat for this groundbreaking voyage.
That was just fine for Taylor. He preferred to stand in the wings as he ushered in greatness, allowing the Wright Brothers to become household names and the inspiration for millions of dreamers who came after them.
But who inspired the Wright Brothers?
Charles E. Taylor.
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