Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Texas' Version of the Wright Brothers

For Mason, Alec, and Dawson...I wrote this as a tribute to your great-grandfather Kenneth and your great-uncle Charles.

Texas Had Its Own Version of the Wright Brothers
Texas' Version of The Wright Brothers by Charlene Tess
Kenneth Bourland and Charles Bourland

Although thousands have developed careers and hobbies in the aviation field since Wilbur and Orville Wright made their historic flight in 1903, two brothers in the Bourland family made a name for themselves as pioneers in the aviation field that cannot be equalled.                                                  

Following Charles Lindbergh's solo transatlantic flight in 1927, an interest in home built aircraft spread across the country. Charles N. Bourland, born May 14, 1915, and Kenneth R. Bourland, born November 30, 1916, lived their whole lives in El Paso, Texas. In 1933, the teenagers studied an article in Popular Mechanics which detailed a home built monoplane, and then decided to build one of their own. Not being entirely satisfied with the design in the magazine, they re-designed the plane into a biplane. They crafted a frame of pine, attached motorcycle wheels, and installed a Model "A" Ford engine. Experts have described the plane as trim and well-built. 
Texas' Version of The Wright Brothers by Charlene Tess

The Bourland Brothers, aged 17 and 16, did not know the first thing about flying a plane, but that didn't deter them. They took their invention to a dry lake bed in Northeast El Paso and prepared for their maiden flight. They were interrupted by the sound of an airplane which circled overhead and then landed close beside them. The pilot of that plane was the late Jack Weiler, operator of the El Paso Flying Service and later one of the first chief pilots for Continental Airlines. 

Relieved to discover that he had not flown over the site of an airplane crash, he began to question the two young boys and to inspect their work. Highly impressed with their workmanship, he offered the boys jobs as airplane mechanics and offered to give them free flying lessons. The offer was eagerly accepted, and so their boyhood dreams came true as their careers in aviation began. Both boys received pilot licenses August 4, 1936.

Two years later the brothers again became part of an aviation first. They were among the nine special pilots to carry the first airmail between El Paso and neighboring cities on May 19, 1938. 
Kenneth was an aircraft mechanic in the navy from 1944 to 1946, and Charles worked as an aircraft inspector at Biggs Air Field in Texas.

After World War II,  they purchased a Vulte BT-13 which originally cost $30,000 for less than $500. They redesigned the two place plane into one that seated six, and later modified it further to be used for aerial photography, another venture in which the Bourlands were pioneers in the field.
Texas' Version of The Wright Brothers by Charlene Tess

Modified Vulte BT-13

By the 1950s, as the era of jet transport came of age, the brothers were working for the aviation division of The El Paso Natural Gas Company, Kenneth as chief of Maintenance and Charles as Master Mechanic. Both men had experience as master mechanics on planes ranging from single engine light planes to executive jets.

The Bourlands were involved in several ground breaking aspects of aviation history in the Southwest including the first fully combined aero and motor squadron search and rescue training mission by the El Paso Country Sheriff's Reserve in 1965.

In September 1984, Charles and Kenneth Bourland were inducted as charter members into the El Paso Aviation Hall of Fame. They are both gone now, Charles passed away in 2003 and Kenneth in 2008, but they will be remembered as two revered aviators. As one airport owner in the Southwest put it, "If you haven't heard of the Bourland Brothers, you're an 'upstart' around here." d

On a personal note:
I lost my dad on December 17th in 2008, and then my mother died exactly two weeks later on December 31st. This is not an easy time of year for me, but it helps me to remember the wonderful parents that they were to their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It helps even more to remember them and share their stories. They were amazing people who left their mark on this earth. I will write about my mother in a future post.

As a thank you for the wonderful year I had in 2011, all of my Simple Steps to Sentence Sense books will be on sale for 20% off the last four days of the year. (Dec 28-31). Click on the banner below to visit my store.

Simple Steps to Sentence Sense by Charlene Tess