A Major Aviation Entrepreneur Reaches the End of His Life’s Journey

November 20, 1954

Clyde Cessna died in Wichita, Kansas, at the age of 74. By the time of his passing, he had left a large and longtime imprint on the transportation world as an aircraft designer and aviation entrepreneur.

Cessna was born in 1879 in Hawthorne, Iowa. When he was only two years old, he and his family moved to Rago, Kansas. Throughout much of his youth, Cessna taught himself mechanical skills. He later undertook his first major transportation-oriented endeavor as an automobile dealer in Enid, Oklahoma.

Cessna’s enthusiasm for airborne transportation first took shape in 1910 when he saw a flight exhibition in the skies above Kansas. He subsequently moved to New York and found work there at the Queen Aeroplane Company. It was during his brief time with the company that he first learned about constructing aircraft.

In 1911, Cessna built a plane of his own. His first 14 attempts to fly this plane, which he named “Silverwing,” were miserable failures. After crashing into some trees in the last of those attempts, Cessna vented his frustration in a decidedly dramatic manner. “I’m going to fly this thing,” he exclaimed. “then I’m going to set it afire and never have another thing to do with aeroplanes!” Cessa went on make his first successful flight in Silverwing, however, and his aviation career – far from being abandoned — continued to reach even greater heights.  

Cessna developed new planes and found time to fly those creations at various holiday events and country fairs. He also gave flight lessons. In 1925, Cessna joined Walter Beech and Lloyd Stearman in founding the Travel Air Manufacturing Company in Wichita. With Cessna as its president, the company quickly became one of the leading aircraft manufacturers in the United States. This success was due in large part to Cessna’s innovative aircraft designs and the record-setting performances of those planes.

After two years, Cessna left the Travel Air Manufacturing Company to launch a similar type of enterprise. He partnered with Victor Roos to establish Cessna-Roos Aircraft. Roos left this new company only a month after it had begun operations, though. Cessna then renamed the company Cessna Aircraft Corporation. Over the next few years, this company proved to be a profitable venture. The economic ravages of the Great Depression eventually caused a sharp decline in aircraft sales nationwide, however, and Cessna shut down his company in 1931.

Three years later, Cessna reopened the company’s Wichita plant and sold it to his nephews Dwane and Dwight Wallace. The Wallace brothers ultimately resurrected Cessna Aircraft Corporation and helped make it a global success for several decades.  

In the time since his death, Clyde Cessna has been honored in several notable ways for his contributions to aviation. He was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1978. Cessna became a member of the International Air & Space Hall of Fame in 1983. In 2013, he was ranked 27th on Flying magazine’s list of 51 heroes of aviation.

For more information on Clyde Cessna, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clyde_Cessna

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