A hub of creativity for early airplane builders: North Carolina? Ohio? Nope—Oregon. And these Oregonians had an independent streak.
- By Ken Scott
- Air & Space magazine, May 2007
Oregon Aviation Historical Society
(Page 3 of 4)
The Outlaws also faced threats from within their own state. In October 1939, Republican governor Charles Sprague fired Greenwood for the sin of serving as president of the state’s Young Democrats. When the state aeronautics board adopted a resolution praising Greenwood’s service and granting him another month’s salary, the governor sacked the board members too. “The attitude…of the Board shows a lack of cooperation I will not tolerate,” Sprague snarled in a press release. “I shall ask the reorganized Board to make a fresh study to determine how much need there is for a State Inspector or Director of Aeronautics.”
One of those appointed to the new board was Salem businessman and aviator Lee Eyerly. Eyerly was starting a company to produce a small airplane based on a Les Long design, so he was vitally interested in the question of how aircraft were to be licensed within the state. Early in his tenure he met with federal officials. In February 1940, he sent a letter to Sprague, describing a meeting with a Mr. Walker and E.B. Cole, CAA authorities from Washington, D.C. “[They] accompanied us to the Beaverton airport,” wrote Eyerly. “[T]hey let it be known that it was their wish that we fall in line with their regulations; but after showing them our side of the picture, Mr. Cole seemed somewhat perplexed…an alternative suggested by both Mr. Cole and the Board was for the CAA to cite some individual for a violation and make a test case of it to determine whether the CAA or the State holds jurisdiction over intra-state flying.”
A month later, Harold Wagner and Donald Wray, both licensed by the state of Oregon, became Eyerly’s case. They took off from Bernard’s, which was one end of the shortest airmail route in the country—the 15-mile Portland-to-Beaverton trip—and thus part of an air lane. Both were promptly issued citations and fined $100.
Late in 1940 the case went to court. But before it could be resolved, Pearl Harbor was attacked.
After the United States entered World War II, the federal government decided that small aircraft flying in U.S. airspace without radios posed a threat, since they could not always be readily identified as friend or foe. Civilian aircraft were tucked away in hangars, barns, and garages. The test case trickled through the court system until 1942, when it was quietly dismissed.
After the war, the Outlaws made one last attempt to regain their early freedoms. In 1946, George Bogardus, who had flown from Bernard’s before the war, resurrected a small single-seat airplane that Lee Eyerly had commissioned as a prototype. Bogardus brought it back to flying condition and dubbed it Little GeeBee, perhaps after his initials (see “Barnstorming the Beltway,” Restoration, Apr./May 2006). In 1947, supported by coins, crumpled dollars, and lodging donated by fellow Oregonian pilots, Bogardus flew Little GeeBee across the country to take the case for amateur-built aircraft to Washington, D.C. There he lobbied the CAA on the importance of protecting the category of homebuilt aircraft from being regulated out of existence. Four years later, he made another such trip, and finally, the CAA wrote a regulation that permitted Americans to build their own airplanes and, after an inspection, license them in an “experimental” category—a plan very much like Oregon’s system. (For his efforts, Bogardus later became one of the first three people inducted into the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Homebuilders Hall of Fame. His Little GeeBee is now owned by the National Air and Space Museum, and it will be displayed later this year at the Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in north-ern Virginia.)
Les Long’s airfield eventually reverted to farmland, although the current owner still works in the Outlaw-era buildings there and flies his Piper PA-11 from a short grass strip on the edge of the property. Ed Ball and Swede Ralston developed Hillsboro into a major regional airport, where Ralston, now 90, still comes to work every weekday—his office overlooks a large ramp filled with his charter company’s multi-million-dollar jets.
Charlie Bernard’s airport succumbed to economic necessity in 1969. Surrounded by residential and commercial development, the property became so valuable that hangar rents could no longer pay the taxes and expenses. Bernard sold the land to shopping mall developers, and drove his own bulldozer to knock down the hangars he’d built board by board almost 40 years earlier. Walt Rupert, who had flown and had operated a flying service at Bernard’s from the first day to the last, couldn’t bear to watch.