Capsule Biographies

A : B : C : D : E : F : G : H : I : J : K : L : M
N : O : P : Q : R : S : T : U : V : W : Y : Z


Born in MA, November 10, 1883. Died 1964.

Studied dentistry at Columbia University and, on graduation in 1906, opened a dental office in Manhattan.

In 1908 Walden joined the Aeronautical Society of New York, at the time based at the Morris Park racetrack in the Bronx. There he became interested in designing and building his own planes, the first two of which—both biplanes—were failures. For his third, he decided to try a different tack. To avoid long trips to Morris Park, he rented a loft near his dental office and, with the help of a cousin and a mechanic, began work on a monoplane.

During a test run on Dec 9, 1909, Walden's fragile wood-and-fabric craft rose a few feet off the ground and traveled just over 10 yards before the plane's one-gallon gas tank ran dry, becoming the first American monoplane to fly. However, this flight was discounted because of its brevity. So, on Aug 3, 1910, with a 10-gallon tank installed, he tried again and became airborne for a longer, albeit still brief, flight that ended in a crash, breaking several ribs and fracturing his collarbone. This epic flight made headlines in a NYC newspaper and the record book.

In late 1910, he teamed up with English flier George Dyott to established the Walden-Dyott Aeronautic Co at Hempstead Plains field to build monoplanes, but business was slow and, early in 1911, the two disbanded their company. Dyott received two of the monoplanes, which he later sold in South America, and Walden got the hangar and the unfinished third plane. Returning to his dental practice, he would put in a whole day there, then motorcycle out to the hangar to spend most of the night working on his planes, a grueling pace at best. In following years, Walden built nine more ships, performed at air shows, and survived at least a dozen more crashes.

In 1912, a flight student crashed in one of his planes and, while injuries were relatively minor, the accident so unnerved Walden that he quit flying to concentrate on laboratory work. There, in 1915, he invented and patented the first radio-controlled missile, a model of which is in the Smithsonian Institution. When the USA entered WW1, he formed a company with a New Jersey lumber mill to make aircraft wings and tails for the military. Then, in 1929, he formed Walden Aircraft at Long Island City; however, aviation had become a big business, and it was impossible for a small company to compete. In 1932, he sold his plant and went back to dentistry.

Walden died at age 81, one week before his induction into the National Aviation Hall of Fame 1964.



Born at San Diego CA, June 16, 1894. Died December 8, 1976.

At age 14, Waldo Dean Waterman became interested in anything written about the flights of the Wright Brothers and Glenn Curtiss. His mechanical training and a 1909 Popular Mechanics article about gliders led him to construct and fly a glider down the slopes of a canyon in San Diego.

Advanced to powered aircraft, he developed an association with Glenn Curtiss in California until 1912, when he enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley to study aeronautical engineering. There he attained his degree, and as WW1 began, became head of Theory of Flight at the Signal Corps' School of Military Aeronautics there. After the war, he was associated with several aircraft manufacturing companies in engineering and management positions. Wearing many hats, he established and managed airports and airlines, continued to set flight records for altitude and speed, and became an airline pilot.

Waterman was lured back to aircraft design by the DoC's quest for a simple, easy-to-fly, low-cost airplane. His Arrowplane and Arrowmobile, convertible from road to air, were his answers.

Following his retirement, he continued to produce aircraft designs and construct early Chanute and Curtiss type gliders and aircraft, some of which he flew in airshows. He continued flying and contributing to aviation until his death, and was invested in the International Aerospace Hall of Fame in 1968. (-- from "These We Honor," The San Diego Aerospace Museum)

  -- Waldo; autobiography with Jack Carpenter (Arsdalen Bosch & Co paperback 1988)



An aeronautical engineer who has had a profound effect on light aircraft development, Fred E Weick graduated from the University of Illinois in 1922 and began an engineering career with the Air Mail Service, where led one of the survey teams that established emergency landing fields in the Midwest for their day-and-night, coast-to-coast service. In 1924 he joined the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics and became their propeller designer.

In 1925 he joined NACA to helped design and construct its full-scale propeller wind tunnel and became the first head of that facility. One project was to design a low-drag, long-chord cowling for the new air-cooled radial engines, for which he won the 1929 Collier Trophy for the NACA. Weick's definitive book on propeller design was published in 1930 by McGraw-Hill. At the same time he created the concept of the "50-ft obstacle clearance" as a measure of aircraft take-off performance, which remains a standard measure today.

Sparked by a series of light aircraft design seminars, with some co-workers he designed a home-built airplane, the Weick W-1 in 1931 (qv), incorporating some of the technology gained from his research at NACA. The simple-to-fly, two-control, high-wing pusher would not stall or spin, could land on a dime, and would not nose over or ground loop. Excellent ground handling came from its tricycle landing gear, which sported the world's first steerable, stable castering nose gear. He then Henry Berliner at ERCO in 1936 to develop the W-1's concepts into a marketable lightplane, the popular Ercoupe.

When the post-war lightplane market went into a slump, Weick joined Texas A&M in 1948 as a professor and research engineer. There, he worked on the design and development of the Ag-1 crop duster, and designed the Ag-3, predecessor to Piper's PA-26 Pawnee series. He went with Piper in 1957 as director and chief engineer of their development center in Vero Beach, Florida, remaining there until his retirement in 1969 at age 70. In addition to the Pawnee, Weick co-designed Piper's Cherokee line of personal and business lightplanes with John Thorpe and Karl Bergey. He remained active in aeronautics, assisting in design studies for Beech Aircraft and undertaking private projects relating to aircraft trim and control.

From the Ground Up; autobiography (Smithsonian 1988)



Horace E Weihmiller was a professional aerospace consultant and pilot. Following graduation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (BSE 1925) he served briefly in the USAAC (1926), receiving his wings at Brooks Field TX. He worked for Travel Air Corp (chief engineer 1927-28) before becoming president and general manager of Corman Aircraft Co (1928-31). He later worked for Ford Motor Co Airplane Division as aeronautical engineer (1931-33) and Consolidated Aircraft Corp (engineer 1933-43; vice-pres 1937-43).

In 1943 he formed a scientific and aircraft consulting service in Washington, and was appointed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to survey the German aircraft industry. Weihmiller served as consultant to the Air Policy Commission under President Truman, and as administrative assistant to the Director of Science Research at Republic Aviation Corp. During the 1950s he was also an active member of the American Astronautical Society.


Born at Leutershausen, Germany, January 1, 1874. Died October 10, 1927.

Gustav Weisskopf—Americanized as "Whitehead"—son of a carpenter, became orphaned at 13 and was brought up by his grandparents in Ansbach, emigrating to Brazil in 1889. As a young mariner, he made many sea voyages for several years, became familiar with wind and weather, and was an avid observer of sea birds, which made a permanent impression upon him. Intrigued with the idea of manned flight, he returned to Germany in order to meet Otto Lilienthal, who had just published his book, "Bird Flight As Basis of Flying." With this inspiration, and study of relevant material at libraries, his new course was set.

In 1895 he emigrated to Boston, where for the Boston Aeronautical Society he built a flapping-wing plane (to imitate a bird's flight), and a glider in Lilienthal's style, but only the latter was capable of flying. In 1897, Horsman, a New York manufacturer, hired him as a specialist for hang-gliders, aircraft models, and motors for flying craft, at which time, Weisskopf occupied himself with the thought of devising a motor to power one of his gliders. Although still a groundling, on his marriage license that year he listed his occupation as "Aeronaut."

There followed a troubled times for his young family. Weisskopf tried to bring his enthusiasm for flying into accord with his responsibility towards a wife and child, but in 1899 he had to accept work in a Pittsburgh coal mine to earn living expenses. In spite of obstacles, he constructed and built an aircraft with a steam engine for power. During the trials, the take-off was successful with a "boiler-man" as a passenger in a flight of unrecorded height. Distance traveled is not known, but it and altitude were sufficient enough to result in a crash landing on the roof of a four-story house in a Pittsburgh suburb. Weisskopf was uninjured, but his passenger was scalded by steam. This steam machine was so ingenious that several years later Lawrence Hargrave told of using miniature designs of "Weisskopf-style" steam machines, as well as the "Weisskopf System" for his model trials in Australia.

In Bridgeport CT, Weisskopf found employment in 1900 as a mechanic—because of his "dangerous" experiments, police had ordered him out of Pittsburgh. At his new home he had room for a small workshop, and neighbors, as well as police, showed more understanding. Scientific American of June 1901 reported of Weisskopf's newly rebuilt hang-glider (a term then used for motorized aircraft). Two months later, with hang-glider "Number 21," he reportedly completed a flying distance of about 2.5 kilometers at about 10-15 meters altitude. In so doing, he proved it was possible to start a flight without artificial aids from land and with two motor-driven propellers, and to land without damage. He had recognized the basic precept that a successful take-off requires a definite minimum speed.

News of his flight spread in the US and Europe. Octave Chanute found it hard to believe that a plain factory-worker alone could accomplish such a feat! In September, Weisskopf exhibited "Number 21" in Atlantic City, but certain that he was on the right track, he concentrated on improving his motors. Not business-oriented, he might have lived comfortably from the manufacture and sale of aircraft motors, but had no concept of profit structures. Although getting many orders for motors, as well as offers from businessmen to let them put his inventions to good use, he did not capitalize on them. He never found the time or necessary means to pay for patent protection for his inventions, and his workshop was open to everyone.

At the end of l901 Weisskopf reportedly made the world's first water landing by a motorized airplane. Next he had constructed the first diesel aircraft motor, installing this in his "Number 22," in which he made a circular flight of about 11 kilometers at a height of about 60 meters on January 17, 1902. There were press reports in the US and France, and this accomplishment appeared in a German book in 1903 as a speed record. In October l904 John J Dvorak, Professor of Physics at the University of Washington in St Louis, announced publicly that Weisskopf was advanced with the development of aircraft moreso than other persons also engaged in the work. One of his financial backers applied for him for a patent on a glider in 1905. In 1908 American aircraft manufacturer Charles Wittemann purchased a Weisskopf motor, and the following year Weisskopf's motors were exhibited, offered in catalogs, and installed in aircraft of other manufacturers. How many of his ingenious constructions, under the name of his benefactor, brought financial gain cannot be ascertained. In his time, Weisskopf sowed what other aviation pioneers were reaping in fame—which he did not strive for, but which he deserved.

In 1911 he experimented with a helicopter project. One day there appeared a customer who was also working on his own helicopter project, but was only interested only in one of Weisskopf's motors. Weisskopf accepted the order, but could not, as often was the case, have it finished by the time promised, and the customer filed suit. It was predestined that he would someday get into trouble because of his poor business skills, but he had never considered being sued. Completely inexperienced, he lost the suit, and his comlpete workshop, including construction documents and finished parts were impounded. Thus was Gustav Weisskopf economically removed from any further activity. In poor health, and blinded for years in one eye from an accident at work, he could not recover from the blow. He had never achieved American citizenship and was exposed to suspicion as a "German-American," for whom President Theodore Roosevelt sympathized, dying at 53 of a heart attack. For his family he left the self-built home and eight dollars in cash and was buried in a pauper's grave.

  -- The Lost Flights of Gustave Whitehead; Stella Randolph (Places Inc 1937)
  -- History by Contract: The Beginning of Motorized Aviation; William J O'Dwyer & Stella Randolph (1978)



A Harvard graduate and race car driver, Charles Willard was one of the first flight students of Glenn Curtiss.

In 1910, at the Dominguez Hills Air Meet, he won the spot-landing contest, picking up $250 in prize money for this feat. He then worked on ground-to-air radio-telephones, became the chief engineer for Glenn L Martin, and designed flying boats with Glenn Curtiss. He remained active in aviation until his death at age 94.



Alford Williams enlisted in the USN at the beginning of the First World War and qualified as an aviator and an instructor. After being appointed as the Navy's chief test pilot and head of high-speed research, Lt Williams represented the Navy in Pulitzer Trophy air races. In 1923 he achieved a world speed record of 243.7 mph in a Curtiss R2C-1 at the St Louis Airport and was dubbed the "American Speed King." In October of that year he broke the world's straightaway speed record by flying 266.7 mph at Mitchel Field, New York.

For 13 years Williams specialized in developing fighter tactics and maneuvers. During his tenure, he conceived and developed the technique of vertical dive-bombing, which became a revolutionary air tactic in WW2. After resigning from the Navy in 1930, he was accepted as a captain in the USMC Reserves, promoted to major in 1935, but then forced to resign from the USMC in 1940 for publicly advocating an independent US Air Force.

Just prior to WW2 Williams volunteered his services to the USAAF. He performed thousands of precision flying and dive-bombing demonstrations for the public in his Grumman Gulfhawk series of aerobatic fighters. His Gulfhawk biplane is enshrined at the National Air and Space Museum.


Born 1921.

In the years following WW2, Dr Leo J Windecker worked for Dow Chemical Co as a dentist in one of the company's clinics. Developing an interest in aircraft structures, he began to research and design plastic aircraft forms. Eventually Dow officials saw promise in his designs and sent him to Hondo TX in the mid-1960s where he was placed in charge of an experimental research laboratory, Windecker Research Inc, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dow. There he continued his experiments, developing aircraft structures built completely from composite materials.

Among his notable accomlishments:
    - FAA Certification of the first all-composite airplane, the Windecker Eagle AC-7 in Dec 1969.
    - Development of the first military stealth airplanes, the Army CADDO (1972) and the USAF YE-5 (1973), both derivatives of the Eagle. The concept, created during a brainstorming session on generating military contracts to help the undercapitalized company, was based on the fact that RF passes through the primary structure rather than bouncing off (all nav-comm antennae were buried inside the Eagle). The USAF discounted the idea until they tested one of the planes at Holloman AFB NM.
    - Some 49 patents issued in Windecker's name covered all aspects of composite structure and manufacturing. Patents were assigned to the Dow Co, who funded his research 1960-67, and made up the stealth technology licensed by Dow to Lockheed-Martin and Northrop—Windecker received no royalties from the licensing agreements.
    - Development of the Avtek 400 composite twin-turboprop pusher prototype airplane.


Born at Byron WI, 1904. Died April 27, 1995.

Learning to fly in 1924, Steve Wittman's interest soon focused on competition. His very first air race was in 1926, in Milwaukee, in which he placed second.

Known as the "Golden age of air racing," the 1930s was a time when racing plane designers were developing aircraft that in many cases were faster and more reliable than the best military planes. It was also a time when Wittman became only a major contender in air races all around the nation, but a designer and builder of raceplanes, notably Chief Oshkosh and Bonzo, both of which were well known to both racing audiences and competitors alike. Of his many designs, perhaps most popular among home-builders was the Tailwind, and Cessna's single-strut, steel-spring landing gear was developed from Wittman's early experiments in that area.

In 1931, Wittman became operator of the Oshkosh airport and ran a flight school there where military pilots were trained during WW2. The airfield was also base for the Experimental Aircraft Association, in whose formation and activities he was deeply involved. He remained as field manager until his retirement in 1969, after which the airport was renamed in his honor: Wittman Regional Airport.

Wittman continued racing after the war and became a top competitor in the Goodyear and Formula One classifications. He was the foremost advocate for the new Formula V air racing category in the '70s, and continued his involvement in racing until 1989 when, at age 85, he flew his final pylon race at Daytona Beach, Forida.

On a routine cross-country flight from his winter home in Florida to Oshkosh, his plane's wing fabric separated over Alabama, causing a crash that killed him and his wife, Paula.

Enshrined in National Aviation Hall of Fame 2014.



Alfred Loeb Wolf. Lawyer, pilot, one of five founding members of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assn. Attended the University of Pennsylvania at age 15 before graduating from Princeton (1923) and Oxford (1925). He joined the Pennsylvania Bar (1928) and became a partner in a law firm (1929-70) where he specialized in aviation law, representing a number of aviation interests — Airplane Mechanics Schools of America, Aero Service Corp, and American Helicopter Society.

In 1933 he led efforts to rewrite Pennsylvania's aviation laws, and later spent periods in public service for the City of Philadelphia (Director of Aviation), CAB (Legal Examiner), and FAI (US Delegate). Convinced of the need for more effective representation of private aviation interests, he joined with Lawrence P and Philip T Sharples, C Townsend Ludington, and J Story Smith to found AOPA (incorporated May 12, 1939). He served as AOPA's first Secretary, and acted as Trustee and General Counsel of the organization until his death. Following the American entry into WW2, he joined the USAAF, serving in the ATC in the South Pacific.

He was recalled to active duty during the Korean War, and later served as Deputy Commander, HQ Command (Reserve) at Andrews AFB and Bolling AFB. He also served as Deputy Commander, Augmentation Forces (Reserve) at McGuire AFB before retiring at the rank of brigadier general (1964). During his 56 years as a pilot (1929-85), Wolf flew more than 110 types of aircraft and was certified as a CFI in the USA and four other countries.

The general-aviation specific Wolf Aviation Fund was established in the wills of Alfred L and his wife, Constance E Wolf, with its activities supervised by a board of trustees, aided by a council of advisors and a team of consultants.


Orville: born at Dayton OH, Augost 19, 1871. Died May 30, 1948.
Wilbur: born near Millville IN, April 16, 1867. Died January 30, 1912.

At Kitty Hawk NC on December 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright realized one of mankind's earliest dreams—they flew! Although balloons and gliders existed, the Wrights made the world's first successful sustained and controlled flight of a man-operated, motor-driven aircraft.

Sons of a clergyman, their mechanical abilities surfaced at an early age and they shared similar interests, becoming inseparable. Neither one ever married. The brothers opened a bicycle shop in 1892 and were soon manufacturing their own wheeled creations. Even as youngsters they were fascinated with flight, playing with kites and a toy helicopter. The glider flights of Otto Lilienthal attracted their interest, as well as experiments by Octave Chanute and Samuel Langley. By observing how buzzards maintained balance while soaring, Wilbur was first to realize that an airplane had to operate on three axes to fly successfully.

In 1900 they built their first of several gliders, a biplane that soared for 300'. In 1901, using aerodynamics tables compiled by Langley and Lilienthal, they constructed new wings for a larger glider. However, its flight was marginal, so they challenged the accuracy of the tables by analyzing 200 model wings in a small, home-made wind tunnel. The tables proved to be wrong, and the Wrights painstakingly computed new ones. Using this information, their 1902 glider had almost double the efficiency of their previous ones, and at Kitty Hawk that year made more than 1,000 flights.

By the end of 1902 they were ready to begin work on a powered machine. With their mechanic, Charles Taylor, they designed and built an engine with the necessary lightness and power—12hp at 1200 rpm, weighing 170 pounds—and hand-carved two efficient propellers. In 1903, with a strong wind at Kitty Hawk, the Wrights tested Flyer I. Orville, as pilot, laid alongside the motor on the lower wing while his brother steadied the craft at one wingtip. After a 40' run the plane became airborne, and in the 12 seconds before it touched the ground it flew for 120'. Wilbur later piloted the longest flight of that day, 852' in 59 seconds.

Returning to Ohio, the brothers began experimenting with new planes and motors and flew an improved Flyer II at Huffman Prairie near Dayton in 1904. In 1905 Flyer III became the world's first practical airplane, one that could turn, bank, fly figure-eights, and remain airborne for more than half an hour. Yet they attracted little attention. After more than 200 flights in 1904 and 1905, a patent was granted for the airplane on May 22, 1906, but it was not until 1908 that they began to receive credit and attention for their invention. Submitting a bid to the Army for a military flying machine, Orville brought a Flyer to Fort Myers VA in 1908, passed the trials and won a contract for the world's first military airplane. Later that year, his plane crashed after a propeller failure, seriously injuring him and killing his passenger, Lt Thomas Selfridge.

Wilbur died of typhoid fever in 1912. Orville continued flying actively until 1915, when he sold his interest in the Wright Company, then retired to serve on the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, and for years argued with officials of the Smithsonian Institution over whether the Wrights or Langley had built the first successful plane. Angered by their championing Langley's "swan dive" as an actual first flight, he loaned Flyer I to London's Kensington Museum in 1928 [SEE Why the Wright Flyer Went To England]. In 1942 Smithsonian officials made a public apology, but it wasn't until after Orville died that Flyer I was finally returned for permanent display at what is now NASM. (— K O Eckland)

Orville enshrined in National Aviation Hall of Fame 1962.

Wilbur enshrined in National Aviation Hall of Fame 1962.
  -- Airborne at Kitty Hawk; Michael Harrison (Cassell 1953)
  -- Conquest of the Air: The Story of the Wright Brothers; Patrick Moore (Lutterworth 1961)
  -- First in Flight: The Wright Brothers in North Carolina; Stephen Kirk (Blair 1995)
  -- First Men to Fly: The Wright Brothers; Laurence Meynell (Werner Laurie 1955)
  -- Flight Into History: The Wright Brothers and the Air Age; Elsbeth E Freudenthal (U of OK 1949)
  -- The Flight of Adventure; Louis Sabin (? 1983, paperback 1990)
  -- How We Invented the Airplane; Orville Wright (Dover reprint 1988)
  -- Kill Devil Hill: Discovering The Secrets of the Wright Brothers; Harry Combs (Houghton Mifflin 1979)
  -- Miracle at Kitty Hawk; The Letters of Wilbur & Orville Wright (1972, 1996)
  -- No Longer an Island: Britain and the Wright Brothers 1902-1909; Alfred Gollin (Heinemann 1984)
  -- One Day At Kitty Hawk: The Untold Story of the Wright Brothers; John E Walsh (Crowell 1975)
  -- Twelve Seconds to the Moon; Rosamonde Young (USAF Museum 1983)
  -- Visions of a Flying Machine: The Wright Brothers and the Process of Invention; Peter L Jakab (Airlife 1990)
  -- Wilbur and Orville: A Biography of the Wright Brothers; Fred Howard (Knopf 1987, Ballantine 1988)
  -- Wind and Sand: The Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk; Lynanne Wescott & Paula Degen (Abrams 1983)
  -- The Wright Brothers: A Brief Account of Their Work, 1899-1911; Charles Harvard Gibbs-Smith (HMSO London 1978)
  -- The Wright Brothers: The Authorized Biography; Fred C Kelly (Ballantine 1969)
  -- The Wright Brothers: First To Fly; Madge Haines and Leslie Morrill (Abingdon Press 1955)
  -- The Wright Brothers: How they Invented the Airplane; Russell Freedman (Holiday House 1991, Scholastic 1991)
  -- The Wright Brothers: Pioneers of American aviation; Quentin Reynolds (Random House 1950)
  -- The Wright Brothers: They Gave Us Wings; Charles Ludwig (Milford 1985)
  -- The Wright Brothers and Their Development of the Airplane; Barbara Craig (NC State Dept of Archives 1967)
  -- The Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk; Donald Sobol (Scholastic 1961)
  -- The Wright Brothers' Engines and Their Design; Leonard S Hobbs (Smithsonian 1971)