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Sunday, 2.6.05: WACO Wacky

I don't know if my brother Tom will make a dime from the items he sent me to sell on ebay, but they are providing me with hours of obsessive research. Is that good? It is if you can find yourself absorbed in a satisfying hunt.

As you recall, last Saturday night I was obsessed over my discovery of Kaiser Wilhelm II on one of my own postcards and worked till midnight to get an auction up for it. I was prepared to be disappointed when the price was stuck all week at $0.99. But last night another bidder got into the act and shot the price up to $11. Just when I was grumbling to myself that I was spending too much time on crap, my enthusiasm got a shot in the arm.

I poured myself a glass of Chianti and glanced around for another gem. My eyes landed on Tom's zip-lock bag of treasures. This old Christmas card with a photo of an airplane on it intrigued me. "It's in the air! Merry Christmas! The Embry-Riddle Co., Lunken Airport, Cincinnati's Municipal Airport." (Click on the thumbnail above for an enlargement.)

First search: Lunken Airport. Paydirt. Lunken is clearly proud of its place in aviation history and had a page on its website devoted to it. And right there in the 1920s was a reference to Embry-Riddle Co.* Another web site from a Cincinnati Air Show (long gone, but cached in Google) provided a bit more To summarize:

In 1925, T. Embry and J. Paul Riddle founded the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Company at Lunken Airfield. In 1927 (the same year Lindbergh stopped there on his flights between St. Louis and New York), Embry Riddle Co. was awarded one of the earliest U.S. Air Mail contracts. It was inaugurated on 17 Dec 1927 between Cincinnati and Chicago with 6 WACO 10s carrying passengers, and mail (Contract Air Mail Route 24). They were distributors of Weaver Aircraft Company (WACO) of Troy, Ohio, Monocoupe and Fairchild airplanes. They represented Fairchild Aerial Surveys, Inc. as well as the Embry-Riddle Flying School, Air Taxi Service and local passenger flights. In 1928, Embry-Riddle became a subsidiary of AVCO, a parent of American Airlines.

WACO Nine in flightNow to identify the airplane. "Biplane" is the extent of my airplane identification knowledge -- or at least it was when I started out at 11 P.M. last night.

I have to tell you that while I am puzzling over this single gem of a photo, Jim points out his entire shelf of notebooks packed with historical aviation postcards and first-day-covers (stamped envelopes to us laypeople), including envelopes stamped as being in the first bag of airmail on a number of different routes. I was overwhelmed, did not find my biplane, and begged him to put the notebooks away so I didn't have to think about what we might eventually do with his trove, which really should be compiled into a book or something.

Back to my singular mission. I enlarged and enhanced the teensy airplane picture till I could get a good look at it.

I followed up on the clue that Embry-Riddle started their mail route with WACO Model 10s. I finally found a website with pictures, printed out both my picture and the web pages and showed them to Jim. Jim is one with the systematic eye (veteran birdwatcher). He instantly honed in on the observation that our photo was not a WACO 10, but a WACO 9. From the Pilot's Friend site:

Powered by a Curtiss OX-5 or Wright Hispano engine, the WACO Nine delivered better performance than the readily available war surplus Curtiss Jennys at a affordable price. The design of the Nine was state-of-the-art for its time—a fabric-covered wooden wing structure strengthened with welded steel tubing. The front cockpit was equipped with a bench seat that accommodated two passengers with a single cockpit for the pilot in the rear of the aircraft. An engine radiator mounted under the forward edge of the upper wing became a distinguishing WACO trait.

The stylish WACO Nine made a good showing during the 1925 Ford Air Tour. The accompanying publicity quickly translated into increased aircraft sales and 276 Nines were sold between 1925 and 1927. An outstanding barnstormer, more than 14 Nines competed in the 1926 National Air Races with several finishing first in their events. WACO Nines also saw duty as crop-dusters—the airplane could be outfitted with floats for water landing—and were also used as an early commuter aircraft.

I think I have a good story to tell on this morning's auction page!



WACO Aircraft Corporation

Lunken Airport History

Embry and Riddle apparently became very rich men. If you do a Google search, you find Embry-Riddle University in Florida and a whole host of other modern projects or buildings that bear the partners' name. Maybe if I knew anything about aviation history I would have recognized their names.