Monthly Archives: November 2011

Museum Acquires Tern As Second Sailplane Exhibit

The Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum has acquired a home-built Tern sailplane from the Prairie Aviation Museum in Bloomington, IL for display in historic Curtiss-Wright Hangar 2 at St. Louis Downtown Airport.  The aircraft was built by Steve Steckler of Evansville, Indiana in 1981, and later donated to the Prairie Aviation Museum.  The aircraft will soon take roost beside the other sailplane on display in Hangar 2, a  Standard Austria Sailplane, manufactured in 1963 by Schempp-Hirth.  That sailplane represents one of the earliest extensive uses of fiberglass construction, and was donated to the museum by the family of the late Robert Fenton, the famous St. Louis region sailplane pilot.  More information on the Tern will be provided when the aircraft display is dedicated in the near future.  Here are some photos of the aircraft on its transport trailer in Bloomington:

Museum Offers Signed Art Prints by Artist and Test Pilot Joe Dobronski in Web Store

The Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum is proud to announce limited edition signed art prints by artist and test pilot Joe Dobronski.  Joe began his aviation career in the U.S. Navy and later joined McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Company in St. Louis where he flew jet aircraft from the Banshee through the Hornet.  The art prints include “Victorious Old Crow” signed by Dobronski and legendary pilot Bud Anderson.  The P-51 “Old Crow” was the airplane flown by C.E. “Bud” Anderson.  Bud is a friend of Dobronski, and worked for McDonnell at Edwards during the testing of the F-15.   At one time, we had a few copies of Bud’s book, To Fly and Fight, for sale in the bookstore.  Jack

 Also available is “VFR On Top” depicting a Beech Staggerwing above the clouds. 

Support the museum by going to the web store on this site to purchase a print for your home or office!

Museum Curator and Aviation Historian Solves Photo ID Mystery


by Jack M. Abercrombie

                                                                                                                                                                                                                   The dust jacket for James J. Horgan’s 1984 City of Flight—The History of Aviation in St. Louis features a colorized version of an old photograph taken at the St. Louis riverfront.  The photograph from which the color version was made is arguably the greatest portrayal of early St. Louis commerce and transportation ever made.  In the background, the bridge (designed and built by James Eads–completed in 1874) connecting the mid-west to the eastern part of the country represents surface travel—the lower deck for a railroad and the upper deck for pedestrians and both horse drawn and motorized vehicular highway travel.  The foreground shows a steamship, “St. Louis,” representing a major segment of the trade and travel between north and south.  And overhead is an early biplane heading towards the St. Louis shoreline.

Unfortunately, the smaller, black and white copy of the actual photograph within the book carries a caption identifying the aeroplane as the “Red Devil” with Tom Baldwin as pilot during the September 1910 exhibition in which Baldwin flew under the Eads Bridge.  Although Baldwin did, indeed, perform the described feat (as well as flying under the nearby McKinley Bridge), the photograph and the caption do not match up.

Noted aviation historians have observed ever since the book was published that the pictured aeroplane is not the “Red Devil.”  Some historians have suggested that the aeroplane configuration more nearly resembles one of the “Little Looper” airframes flown by Lincoln Beachey.  But there the matter lay dormant for nearly three decades.

 But recently a break-through of sorts occurred.  The Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum received a donation of a large, 20 x 24 inch, photograph identical to that shown in City of Flight….  Dr. William R. Green, MD, a professional photographer as well as former physician for McDonnell Aircraft Co., was the donor of the photograph which he acquired during the 1960s from a long closed camera shop in the St. Louis area.  Dr. Green, of course, recognized the significance of the image after having observed the glass plate negative from which the enlarged print was made.

The photograph is sufficiently large to show details not heretofore available–details which lead to identification of both the time period as well as the pilot and aeroplane.

The first clue as to the date of the photograph was a sign on the side of the ship which identified the owners of “St. Louis”—the St. Louis & Tennessee River Packet Co.  Since there have been at least a half dozen steamers named “St. Louis,” this total identification was important because this specific boat was not built until 1912—two years after the “Red Devil” flew under the bridge.  (The steamer sank in 1918 after being wrecked by a snag a few miles south of St. Louis).

Further research revealed that the glass plate image had been in the archives of the long-defunct (1986) St. Louis Globe-Democrat newspaper.  Consequently, a search of Globe-Democrat news articles was warranted, with the focus being on Lincoln Beachey.  Knowing that Beachey had toured some 126 cities between May and the end of December 1914, the search was narrowed to that time period.

Thanks to the micro-film newspaper collections of the St. Louis County (MO) Library, it was learned that Lincoln Beachey had, indeed, visited St. Louis during the 1914 tour.  On 20 September, he performed at the old Maxwelton Racetrack in St. Louis County, where in addition to performing several aerial stunts, he “raced” against an automobile driven by Barney Oldfield in one of 35 or so staged events in which the team participated around the country.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        As As previously mentioned, the aeroplane aerodynamic configuration is one of several that Beachey flew during his exhibition days.  This particular one is that on display as the original aeroplane in the Hiller Aviation Museum in California.  It is the same configuration that a week after his St. Louis visit, Beachey flew over the U.S. Capitol building and the Whitehouse on 28 September 1914 (following an intermediate show in Springfield, Illinois).

But there is more to the story—a comparison of the aeroplane in the “over-the-riverfront” image to the “Oldfield Leads” image in the next morning’s newspaper shows that the two aeroplane images are identical!   There are several indications that the Globe-Democrat  superimposed the aeroplane image from the over-the-riverfront photograph onto the racetrack photo for some unknown reason.  You may also notice that the sun is shining from the left of the aircraft and from the right of the car.   As a result, the riverfront photographer got no credit for one of the greatest St. Louis aviation historic photographs of all time.


Research on this subject continues.  At some point, an article is planned for the “Publications” section of this web site.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum and Prairie Aviation Museum Discuss Strategies for Growth

Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum President Mark Nankivil and Vice Presidents Rick Rehg and Carmelo Turdo met recently with representatives of the Bloomington, IL-based Prairie Aviation Museum to discuss common issues and strategies for growth.  The conference took place at Frasca Field, in Urbana, the home of the Frasca International simulator plant and the Frasca Air Museum.  Along with open and frank discussion regarding the challenges faced by the museums, attendees shared their success stories and best practices that have sustained each organization.  Strategies for growth include conventional practices in the areas of marketing, fund-raising and financial accountability, but also involve personal investments by members and volunteers in dedication to mission, teamwork and the development of key relationships within each respective community.  Both museums renewed their commitment to become key resources for historic preservation of aerospace artifacts and aircraft as well as centers of education and community involvement.  Attendees from both museums wish to thank Mr. Rudy Frasca, founder of Frasca International and the Frasca Air Museum for hosting the conference and providing a personal tour of his museum.

Museum Receives Donation of Numerous Large Model Aircraft for Gallery Display

The Greater St. Louis Air & Space Museum, located in historic Curtiss-Wright Hangar 2 at St. Louis Downtown Airport, has received 18 large models from the estate of Mr. Harry Lee, adding to the 4 already displayed in the museum’s historic gallery.  Mr. Lee’s son, Doug Lee, visited the museum November 4 and delivered the expertly constructed models representing World War I, World War II and modern era civilian and military aircraft.  The museum is privileged to have been  the home of a Curtiss Jenny model constructed in 1918 by Harry Lee’s Father, Ashly Lee, for a number of years.  The models will soon be on display throughout the galleries of the museum, and are a “must-see” on your next visit.  Here are a few examples of the newly donated models: