Clyde Cessna was a farmer and car salesman in Enid, Oklahoma when he was inspired to dedicate his life to aviation. It was in 1910 when Clyde witnessed a traveling airshow and had the direction of his life forever changed. Born in Iowa in 1879, Cessna’s childhood was filled with self-taught innovation and mechanical skills focused on improving farm machinery and developing new farming methods. It was after the inspiring aerial exhibition at age 31 that Cessna left Oklahoma and moved to New York and started working for the Queen Aeroplane Company. It was there where he first learned about aircraft engineering.  

First Flight

In 1911, Clyde set out to build his first airplane. He named his airplane “Silverwing.” His first design was a simple monoplane, constructed of spruce and linen. The engine was a 2-stroke, 4-cylinder engine that maxed out at 40 hp and 1,050 RPMs. His first attempt to fly the airplane ended in a ground loop and cost him $100 to repair.

After making the repairs, Cessna tried flying it 13 more times, with it ending in failure each time. Finally, on the 14th attempt, Cessna’s aircraft bounced into the air for a short time before crashing into the trees. After the crash Cessna exclaimed, “I’m going to fly this thing, then I’m going to set it afire and never have another thing to do with aeroplanes!”

Later that year he did fly it, and all of his doubters nicknamed him “Birdman of Enid.” However, he didn’t get out of aviation – he pursued it even harder than before.

A New Career in Aviation

After his success with the Silverwing, Cessna quit his work with the automobile industry and committed himself fulltime to aviation. Between 1912 and 1915, Cessna developed several new monoplanes. He would fly his new aircraft at holiday events and county fairs, and made a decent amount of money doing it.

In 1916 Clyde bought a vacant building to start building new airplanes for the 1917 aviation exhibition season. He also opened a flight school and took in five student pilots. However, in 1917 the war started, and his income dried up, so he returned to farming.

Travel Air Manufacturing

After the war ended public interest in private flying returned which lead Cessna to found the Travel Air Manufacturing Company in Wichita, Kansas. As Cessna as president, the company soon became one of the leading US aircraft manufacturers. The success is attributed to Cessna’s advanced design concepts. His airplanes established numerous speed and distance records. After two years Cessna left the company to start his own independent firm after disputes with his partners over designs.

Cessna Aircraft Corporation

In 1927, Cessna joined with Victor Roos and formed Cessna-Roos Aircraft. Roos resigned one month into the partnership, selling his share back to Cessna, and the company became Cessna Aircraft Corporation. The company designed a number of new planes that did well. Despite the success of the new models, the Great Depression led to a catastrophic decline in airplane sales and a bankruptcy filing for the corporation.

In 1936 Cessna retired from aviation and went back to farming. But with help from his nephew, Dwane Wallace, Cessna’s company went on to become the most productive airplane manufacturer in history.

Are You Passionate about Aviation?

If you have a love for aviation like Cessna the barriers for life in aviation are much less than they were in Cessna’s time – thankfully. Whether you want to get a private pilot’s license or take advantage of the high demand for commercial pilots it all starts with choosing the right flight school. Explore your options and schedule a discovery flight with CTI and join the rewarding world of aviation.

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