Capsule Biographies

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Born 1896. Died March 1971.

Sherman Mills Fairchild's outstanding contributions to aviation began during World War I when he developed an improved aerial camera with a between-the-lens shutter, forming the Fairchild Aerial Camera Corporation in 1920. It later became the standard aerial camera of the US military services. He took it aloft to take 100 photographs that were pieced together to produce an aerial map of Manhattan, marking the true beginning of the aerial mapping industry with his Fairchild Aerial Surveys.

Fairchild soon realized that the biplanes he used were inadequate for accurate aerial photography, and formed Fairchild Airplane Manufacturing Company in 1926 to develop a plane specifically for mapping flights—an advanced monoplane as a stable camera platform having excellent visibility and a heated cabin for high-altitude work. Concurrently, he was also one of the founders of Pan American Airways and American Airlines.

The success of his camera planes, modified as well for passenger and cargo roles, led to Fairchild Co becoming the world's largest manufacturer of cabin monoplanes. In 1936, his Ranger Engineering Corporation engine company developed the inline engine that also received wide acceptance from other airplane manufacturers.

For World War II, his company produced both engines and planes, notably the PT-19 and its PT-23 and -26 variants, the Duramold-construction AT-21, and C-82 Packet. After the war, the Fairchild C-119 Flying Boxcar made its appearance, followed in 1953 by the larger and more powerful C-123 Provider.

The Fairchild-Stratos Corporation, formed in 1961, built meteroid detection satellites for NASA and, soon after, Fairchild cameras were used in the Apollo missions to provide the first precise photography of the moon's surface. In later years, Fairchild programs specialized in solar cells for satellites, in modifying and repairing aircraft damaged in Vietnam and converting Flying Boxcars into gunships, and producing components for 747 airliners and F-14 fighters. Acquisitions in the 1960s of Hiller Aircraft and Republic Aviation produced jet-powered helicopters the F-105.

The diversity of Sherman Fairchild's interests is reflected by some the professional groups of which he was a member—American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics, Royal Aeronautical Society, Institute of Aerospace Sciences, Institute of Electrical & Electronic Engineers, Photographic Society of America, Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers, and Society of Photo Scientists & Engineers, and the Audio Engineering Society.

Shortly before his death, the Smithsonian Institution honored him on his 50th anniversary as a leader in the aviation industry.

Enshrined in National Aviation Hall of Fame 1979. (— Jean Lail NAHM)


Born at Montesano WA, March 6, 1887. Died October 29, 1975.

The son of a timber buyer, Reuben Hollis Fleet entered Culver Military Academy in Indiana after finishing grade school, and graduated in 1906. Thereafter he was for a while a teacher, a timber appraiser, and a realtor in his Washington home town, and joined the state's National Guard.

His interest in aviation was set after his first flight in a seaplane from Lake Washington in 1914 and, as a junior member of the state legislature, he introduced a bill to appropriate $250,000 to train Guardsmen in aviation. He was, appropriately enough, one of 11 chosen for pilot training in the new program, and learned to fly at North Island, San Diego, becoming Military Aviator #74, and soon executive officer for flight training for the Signal Corps, stationed in Washington DC.

In May 1918 Col Henry H Arnold put Fleet in charge of the new Air Mail Service of the Post Office Department. After service overseas, in Jan 1919 he was assigned to McCook Field's Engineering Division, where he remained until he resigned from the military in Nov 1922 to accept a position of general manager of Gallaudet Aircraft Co. Intrigued with Dayton-Wright's TA-3 and TW-3 designs, and hearing of General Motors'—their parent corporation—desire to close the subsidiary, he tried to interest Gallaudet officers in acquiring Dayton-Wright. Failing to do so, he simply started his own company, Consolidated Aircraft Corp on May 29, 1923, leasing some idle Gallaudet facilities and manpower at Greenwich RI.

His ability to simplify designs transformed the TW-3 into his company's first aircraft, the PT-1, which attracted an order for 50 from the Air Service in 1924. Needing more room, Consolidated moved to Buffalo NY into a former Curtiss plant. The new trainer also received a US Navy contract, as well as additional Army orders, until more than 800 had been built by 1928.

Flying boats soon followed, with the first Model 16 Commodore flying in 1929—a novel design that would eventually evolve into the famous PBY Catalina series. In secrecy in a locked room at the Buffalo Athletic club, Fleet, with design engineers Joe Gwinn, George Newman, and Leigh Wade, created the civil Model 14 "Husky" trainer in two-and-one-half days, which led also to the creation of an independent company, Fleet Aircraft Inc, on Feb 22, 1929, with Lawrence D Bell named as president. The Fleet trainer became an immediate best-seller, along with Fleet's attendant National Flying Schools Inc, and the company joined Consolidated as a division the following August.

Tiring of the harsh winters, Fleet leased 157 railroad cars for the 1935 Labor Day weekend to move Consolidated's inventory, plant machinery, and worker's household goods across the nation to San Diego, where production resumed on Monday. Not only the PBY, but the equally-famous B-24 (the most-produced Amnerican aircraft of WW2) and B-36 brought enormous success to the company. Yet, in 1941 at age 54, faced with tax burdens, labor strife, and the government's increasing innvolvement, Fleet elected to sell his stock to AVCO, but remained as president and chairman of the board of Consolidated-Vultee (Convair).

He resigned after the war to focus on other business activities and civic work, and was enshrined in the International Aerospace Hall of Fame at the institution named in his honor at San Diego's Balboa Park. He died at age 88.

Enshrined in National Aviation Hall of Fame 1975. (— K O Eckland)