Biffle Researchers

Ira O. Biffle

The following excerpts are found in We by Charles A. Lindbergh (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1928), pp. 25-28.

      I arrived at Lincoln [Nebraska] on the 1st of April. On April 9, 1922, I had my first flight as a passenger in a Lincoln Standard with Otto Timm piloting.

      I received my first instruction in the same plane a few days later under I.O. Biffle, who was known at the Nebraska Aircraft Corporation as the most "hard boiled" instructor the army every had during the war [World War I].

      The next two months were spent in obtaining, in one way or another, my flying instruction, and in learning what I could around the factory, as there was no ground school in connection with the flying course at that time.

      We did most of our flying in the early morning or late evening on account of the strong Nebraska winds in midday with their corresponding rough air which makes flying so difficult for a student. I believe that I got more than my share of rough weather flying, however, because my instructor, or "Biff" as we used to call him, had certain very definite views on life, one of which was that early morning was not made as a time for instructors to arise. So, as I was the only student and Biff my only instructor, I did very little early morning flying . . .

      One morning (May/June 1922), Biff announced that I was ready to solo, but the president of the company required a bond to cover possible breakage of the plane, which I was not able to furnish. As a result, I did not take a plane up by myself until several months later.


From the New York Times, April 7, 1934.

     Chicago, April 7. Ira Biffle, one of the oldest aviation instructors in the country in point of service, and whose former pupils included Charles A. Lindbergh and other prominent fliers, died this afternoon at the Wesley Memorial Hospital. Mr. Biffle, who was 44 years old, had been suffering from a heart ailment for some time.

      Conscious to the last moment, the veteran pilot's final words were: "I'm afraid I can't make it." During the weeks he was visited by friends at the hospital, he recalled his twenty years in aviation. He flew as a pilot in the Army Air Corps in 1914 and later served as an instructor on the army field at San Diego. He was forced out of aviation by failing eye sight in 1930.

      Mr. Biffle said he first knew Lindbergh in 1922. He was a pilot for the government at Lincoln, Neb., and Colonel Lindbergh impressed him with his desire to learn to fly. Mr. Biffle said that after six hours of instruction, the future idol of the air made his first solo flight. Colonel Lindbergh contributed $50 to the fund raised to transfer his former teacher to the private hospital.


From the New York Times, April 8, 1934.

Chicago, April 7.Ira Biffle, pioneer American aviator and the birdman who taught Charles A. Lindbergh how to fly, first encountered the now famous colonel in Lincoln, Neb., in 1922. Ray Page, another aviator, introduced the two. Lindbergh had a check for $400, which he said his mother had given him for flying lessons. Biffle was to get half the $400 for lessons.

      At one time, Mr. Biffle's flying proclivities netted him a fortune of $100,000. In the days when he was Corporal Ira Biffle, he was one of only four enlisted men in the United State Army Air Corps. As early as 1915, according to David Behnke, president of the Air Pilots Association, Mr. Biffle was "a fine pilot" in the crude Wright and Martin planes of that early aviation day.

      Mr. Biffle's companion in those days was Jimmy Coyle, who was later killed while teaching an aviation pupil. Mr. Biffle also was one of the first government air mail fliers and is said to have taught more persons in the United States to fly than any other aviator. Army air service officers abound in the list of his students.

      His first flying was done in 1914, he recalled from his hospital bed. His parents had died when he was 10 years old. The World War came and Mr. Biffle became a flying instructor at the San Diego field. It was in November 1922 that Lindbergh flew his first six hours' solo flight under Mr. Biffle's direction. Later, Mr. Biffle came to Chicago and flew the air mail between this city and Omaha. Later he "barnstormed" for a year, but he never did much "stunting."

      It was in 1919 that Mr. Biffle enlisted public confidence in Uncle Sam's air mail by flying a cargo of 600 pounds of mail in a non-stop flight from Chicago to Cleveland after a fellow pilot had sacrificed his life in the attempt. In 1928 and 1929, Mr. Biffle piloted a Sikorsky amphibian plane purchased by a drug concern.


From: Chicago's Midway Airport: The First Seventh-Five Years, Chapter 3, From Onion Field to Airport ( http://www.lakeclaremont.com/midway/excerpt2.htm )

When Municipal opened, it was primarily a field for private aviators. There was some commercial airline activity, but it was relatively minor. Within a few years, however, the airport began to hum. The first commercial airplaned landed at Chicago's newly-dedicated Municipal Airport from Omaha, Nebraska, on December 1, 1927-a Boeing commercial aircraft piloted by Ira Biffle. Only six months earlier on May 30, 1927, fellow airmail pilot Charles Lindbergh had moved on from flying the mail from St. Louis and into the history books. No doubt Biffle was pleased, for not only was Lucky Lindy a member of the club, but Biffle had also taught Lindy to fly.


Region leads the way in flight: Municipal Airport laid the groundwork for air transportation
http://www.thetracon.com/Region%20leads%20the%20way%20in%20flight.htm


Arlington National Cemetery website:
http://www.arlingtoncemetery.com/iobiffle.htm


The following notes are from Chris Biffle

Jane Eads Bancroft: Interview #2 (pp. 10-43), June 3, 1988 in Naples, FL. Female reporter giving an oral history about being the first airline passenger, male or female, to fly across country ... Ira Biffle was one of three pilots involved
http://npc.press.org/wpforal/eads2.htm

Eads: That's my stepmother, Gladys, and that's my half-sister. He was so proud of me, that he wired ahead to my cousin, who lived in Iowa, the first stop. Anyway, they were there, and I'd never seen them before. I had little time to chat with anybody, you know, at the airport. But my boss took me in his own car to the airport, and he gave me a bottle of whiskey, and somebody gave me a box of chocolates. I got on the plane and I didn't know what to do with that bottle when I got to Iowa, the first stop. I asked the pilot (Ira Biffle) to take it. I said, "I can't get off with this bottle, and you have to take it." He did.

Currie: He had taught [Charles] Lindbergh, the pilot?

Eads: Yes.

Currie: How did Ira Biffle get involved with this flight?

Eads: He was hired. He was one of their pilots.

Currie: I see. So he was chosen. [Reading telegram.] "Hurray for our Lady Lindbergh!"

Eads: That was my night city editor. . .Yes. My trip marks an epoch in transportation. [Reading.] "We are exceedingly glad to welcome you after your flight of 2,000 miles across the continent." Can you imagine anything so silly? I mean, now when you think of all these planes flying around.

Currie: But at the time, it wasn't silly. This is funny.

Eads: Every stop. We changed planes and pilots three times, which was kind of interesting. I think that was probably part of the publicity. I don't know.


Enlisted Pilots Soaring High from the Lower Ranks
http://www.af.mil/news/airman/1296/fly.htm

And then there are the men who taught Charles Lindbergh to fly. Ira Biffle, an enlisted pilot during World War I, taught Lindbergh the basics, while Master Sgt. Bill Winston helped hone the flying skills Lindbergh needed to complete his historic solo flight across the Atlantic.
Enlisted Pilots, Tech Sgt. Annie Proctor


Walgreens High Flying Promotional Ideas
http://www.walgreens.com/hist/plane/plane.html

"Early on in his career, Walgreen realized the positive effect advertising had on sales, and it wasn't long before he initiated some innovative promotional campaigns to help his stores rise above the competition. "

"In the early 1920s, he used traditional methods of advertising, including the distribution of circulars that featured photos of the stores along with popular products. Around this time, Walgreen also ran his first full-page newspaper ad, and soon became a firm believer in the power of print advertising. By 1931, with newspaper ads running frequently, Walgreen turned to radio, marking the first time a drug store chain in the country used this medium for advertising. Walgreen also attracted and retained customers with special sales and promotions that became annual favorites. One of the most popular was the "Goldfish Sale," where patrons received a free water-filled cardboard carton containing two goldfish when they purchased an item for a dollar or more. Of course, customers could also purchase glass bowls and other fish supplies at Walgreens! The "One Cent Sale" and "Surprise Package Sale" also proved profitable.

In 1929, looking for ways to take his company's promotions to new heights, Walgreen decided to purchase a Sikorsky amphibian plane. Dubbed the "Wet-n-Dry" by Walgreen because of its ability to land on the water or the ground, this seven-passenger, twin-motored plane was used to help promote store openings. Pilot Ira O. Biffle transported Walgreen, along with his beloved dog, Peau Doux, and other company executives to airfields near the new stores where they were greeted by local news reporters and photographers.

To generate excitement prior to the opening, Walgreen ran special pre-opening "Airplane Sales." Filling the store's front windows with photos of planes, including the Sikorsky amphibian, interested passersby could enter their names in a special drawing to win a free 20-minute plane ride. Names were chosen the Saturday before the plane arrived and lucky winners were treated to an aerial view of their hometown on the big day. Other times, customers were asked to write a single sentence answering why they would like a ride in the aircraft. The store manager and an assistant then selected the best 50 answers. Knowing it made good business sense and generated more free newspaper publicity, Walgreen also treated city officials, civic leaders and prominent business figures to free rides in the Sikorsky.

Walgreen wanted his employees to benefit from the plan as well, and he began using it as a reward for a job well done. After passing the "mystery shopper" (store checkers posing as fussy customers) test, deserving employees were treated to a ride above the city and surrounding area -- and, usually a story in the local newspaper. Walgreen purchased another Sikorsky in 1931. Carl Vickery, a World War I aviator took over the controls when Biffle retired. The free rides, courtesy of Walgreen, continued until 1933, when the plane was sold to an airplane-riding concession at the "Century of Progress Exposition" in Chicago. On a sightseeing trip over the Chicago area a few weeks later, the plane crashed, killing Vickery, his mechanic and seven passengers. When the company purchased another plane in 1937 -- this time, a six-passenger Lockheed Skydart -- Walgreen resumed rewarding executives and worthy employees with rides in what was considered one of the fastest twin-motored planes of its time.


Daredevil Lindbergh and His Barnstorming Days
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/amex/lindbergh/sfeature/daredevil.html

"Midway through his second year as an engineering student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Charles Lindbergh decided to indulge a long-held curiosity. He was determined to learn how to fly a plane. His quest led him, on April 1, 1922, to Lincoln, Nebraska, the site of Ray Page's Flying School. Before so much as sitting in the cockpit, Lindbergh learned all he could about the mechanics of the plane he would be flying. Finally, on April 9, Lindbergh took to the sky for the first time. His first flight proved to be a transcendent experience: "...Trees become bushes; barns, toys; cows turn into rabbits as we climb. I lose all connection with the past. I live only in the moment in this strange, unmortal space, crowded with beauty, pierced with danger," he later recounted in "The Spirit of St. Louis."

Unfortunately, Lindbergh's new-found enthusiasm for flight was not shared by his flight instructor, Ira Biffle. "Biff," as he was called, had been so shaken by the flying death of a good friend that he began to dislike flying. More and more frequently he concocted some excuse for not taking to the skies. Lindbergh grew frustrated; a flight instructor who doesn't like to fly was not the best teacher. Moreover, Biff Biffle was the only flight instructor at Ray Page's School. To make matters worse, the school's only training plane was being sold."


Additional information on the family of Ira Biffle.


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