Lunch With Willard
How a meeting 50 years ago solved a photographic mystery.
- By Joe Pappalardo
- Air & Space magazine, May 2007
(Page 2 of 2)
D’Anna describes Custer as a smooth talking salesman with a good grasp of aeronautics, but a lousy habit of not providing data beyond small reports, photos, and brochures he used while trying to sell the designs.
“He struck me as a back-of-the-envelope type,” D’Anna recalls. “I’ve seen a lot of very good back-of-the-envelope guys before, and I was willing to give him the benefit of a doubt. But we couldn’t pin him down.”
The converted Baumann Brigadier executive aircraft that Custer was pitching to Goodyear, designated CCW-5, flew in July 1953. Custer’s test flight and results were promising, but D’Anna needed more. “I said it was a good start, and asked when I would see the meat of the test data,” D’Anna says. "What I got was a lot of beating around the bush. I said, ‘Before I can recommend that the company commit to this as a viable program, I ought to know a little more about what your airplane can do.’ ”
Custer also passed on opportunities to prove his ideas in tests designed by Goodyear. D’Anna himself sketched out some trials for channel wing aircraft, keeping in mind the limits of Custer’s company’s budget. Using space near Goodyear’s offices in Ohio, he arranged a simple test during which Custer’s airplane model, as it rose, would drop a bag of flour, a measure of how quickly the model got airborne. “I was trying to be economical for them,” says D’Anna, who sympathizes with small companies trying to do big things “because over the years I worked for some.”
One aspect of the Custer mythos—the inadequacies of his high school education—did not jibe with D’Anna’s impression. “I could tell he had been pretty well versed in the lore of aerodynamics,” notes D’Anna, who retired from the aviation industry and started donating his time to NASM in 1989. “He was a very pleasant guy to be around, a real personality sales type.”
Goodyear decided Custer’s channel wing did not represent a good business opportunity. D’Anna does not pretend to understand why the designer was so uncooperative: “Who knows? That’s Custer.”
D’Anna is searching his personal archives for notes or mementos from his meetings with Willard Custer but has not yet found any. It just goes to show: You never know where the capricious eye of history will one day linger. In a handful of decades, a business lunch can become history, and the person across the table, a legend.