The Kinsley Graphic on April 3, 1930 announced that the first Edwards County owned airplane arrived in Kinsley that week. It was a Swallow TP owned by Joe Watson, an established Kinsley business man and oil speculator, and Roy Grybowski, who had a pilot’s license (pictured below – 1927 KHS graduate) . It had been manufactured by the Swallow Airplane Company in Wichita.
The plane had dual controls and was yellow and black. Plans were for it to take passengers and distribute advertising material. Grybowski flew it from Wichita to Kinsley in one hour and a half. He landed in the field one-half mile south of town on highway No. 1 (today, Hwy 183). That same day, Grybowski successfully passed a new test to renew his pilot’s license as his was due to expire in two weeks. The new license had more stringent restrictions including “an absolute prohibition of any stunting with passengers.”
An advertisement in the July 26, 1930 Graphic, indicated that Grybowski was a Swallow sales representative and it encouraged airplane ownership.
A side note: by the time of the 1940 census, Roy Grybowski was married, living in California and working in the oil fields. He would lead a long life, dying in Santa Barbara, California in 1996.
In November, 1944, the interest in flying had caught on in Edwards County, and a Flying Club was formed. There were 15 aviation enthusiasts as members including Rhinehart and Pearl Mehl, Clara and Clarence “Shorty” Michaelis, Bill Weyrich, Huston Sterritt, Herbert Wetzel and Chester Bidleman, names gleaned from articles written in several papers. Chester’s son, Bill John, thought his father joined the club “because he knew how much of an airplane nut I was. With him in the club, I had my foot in the door.” Other early members were Dr. Schnoebelen, Myron Burr, Ross Strate, and Gordon Coats.
On December 31, 1944 the Hutchinson News reported that Huston Sterrett, owner of the Palace Theatre used a plane in an emergency. “The film failed to arrive for the Wednesday evening show. It had been missent. Telephoning around, he located it at Kiowa. There was only a little time before the show would start. He obtained a plane at Larned, flew to Kiowa and back, and had the film on hand on time.”
At that time, Michaelis reported that the club bought a Taylorcraft two-place fabric covered plane with a 65 horse engine from Lefty (Elmer) Fatzer. They used that plane for a year or two, and then bought a new plane from Taylorcraft in Pennsylvania for $2,200.
The club set up a frame and corrugated metal T-hanger west across the highway and a little south of where the airport is today. The late Gordan Coats said. “You had to watch when you came in to land because Howard Bentley had alfalfa there and you had to land between hay bales sometimes.”
A one-half mile long and 495’ wide runway ran north and south with a short east-west runway (1/4 mile by 300’) on the south end.
In 1947, the Flying Club moved their location across the highway to approximately where the current airport is located. In the same article, Bill John Bidleman said, “We (Bill John and Michaelis) put the hangar on timbers and with two tractors pulled it across the road and down the field. Don Alt and I, who were the youngest members of the club, looked around and saw the plane sitting in the field where the hangar had been and decided we were going to fly it over to the new location. I think there were a few hearts in peoples’ throats when they saw what we were doing. But the conditions were right for a soft field landing and we got the plane to the new location without any trouble.” According to Bill John, Ott cranked the propeller and he piloted the plane.
A dirt runway was created by the Flying Club using a tractor with a roller. This location became the Kinsley Municipal Airport in October, 1947
(To be continued next week)