By Melanie Yingst
After World War I, flying became a new frontier that captured the nation’s interest as planes took to the sky and brought excitement with air shows and innovation that sparked the interest of Clayton Brukner.
According to the National Aviation Hall of Fame’s biography of Brukner, he caught the flying bug at a 1912 Chicago air show which he attended with his friend and later business partner James Elwood “Sam” Junkin. They both wanted to fly and pooled their money so that one could take a four-hour flying course that cost $400.
“Each of us was making only $14 a week at the time, so we flipped a coin to see who would get to take the course,” Bruner said.
Brukner was always interested in electronics and machinery and worked as an electrical maintenance man at the Postum Company in Battle Creek. He later worked for the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company in Buffalo, New York. In 1917, he and Junkin worked together at the Aeromarine and Standard Aircraft Company in New Jersey where they first met George “Buck” Weaver.
“These boys discovered that I could make just about anything,” said Brukner, “but it welded Sam and me together for life.”
Brukner and Junkin joined Weaver at his Ohio Aviation School in Lorain, Ohio. Also involved in Waco’s history was a barnstorming pilot named Charley Meyers when they moved their plane building project to Lorain. It was there where they built the first Waco nicknamed “Cootie” or Waco 1, followed by the Waco 4 in 1921.
In the early 1920s, Brukner and Junkin formed an aircraft company in 1920 and agreed to call it the Weaver Aircraft Company or “WACO” for short. Along with George E. “Buck” Weaver, who assisted, the two young men moved their project to Weaver’s airfield in Lorain, Ohio.
In 1923 with high school friend and business partner, Junkin brought the Weaver Aircraft Company to Troy, Ohio where they formed the Advance Aircraft Company. It was the start of building the nation’s first “saleable” plane according to Terry Purke, museum director the Waco Historical Society located at 1865 S. County Road 25-A.
The first Troy factory was located on South Union Street, with some production and storage located n several other buildings around the downtown.
The company would fly out the completed aircraft using pasture space across from the Miami County court house. The air strip, known as Boak Field, is now located at the Troy High School Football Stadium and the Troy City Pool.
Another Troy landmark was initially utilized as part of the Waco plane production. Fuselages were towed or hauled from the factory to a barn, located where the Hobart Arena is now located. The same barn that Waco used as a factory, is now located at the Troy Community park that houses the “Barn in the Park” theater performances.
Purke said that the demand for the Waco aircraft was so high that Brukner soon developed the mass assembly techniques to build the planes more efficiently.The company specialized in light civil aircraft with open cockpits and open cabin designs. Waco soon became the most successful civil aircraft manufacturer of the pre-World War II era.
Waco planes were used for a variety of air shows popular in the early 1920s and 1930s. “Barnstorming shows”, which were small air shows that would include aerobatics and planes races were the popular entertainment in Troy.
In the 1920s, barnstorming was a popular form of entertainment. Stunt pilots would perform tricks with airplanes, often in groups like a flying circus. The pilots — or “barnstormers” would perform a vareity of tricks or dips and loops with their aircraft.
According to various sources, barnstorming was also the first major form of civil aviation in the history of flight and provided an exciting and invigorating way to make a living as well as an outlet for creativity and showmanship.
Along with barnstorming, in the “golden age” of avaition in the 1920s and 1930s, planes would race around the country, and in most races, Waco planes would win.
“My dad would see the Waco’s out and they would wiggle their wings and all the kids would go out to the Market Street Bridge and the planes would fly under the bridge,” Purke said.
The name of Brukner’s company was eventually changed back to Waco Aircraft Company in June 1929.
In the years of 1923 through 1928, Waco became the largest manufacture of aircraft in the nation. In 1925, Waco would build two airplanes a day, an outstanding number in the time before automation and advance machinery. Planes were assembled in what is now known as the Barn in the Park and where the Hobart Arena is located was home to the Waco airstrip.
Wacos were synomous in the aircaft industry at this time because they were affordable and easy to fly. Today, they are collected by avaition enthusists to be restored and flown around the country at the numerous “Waco Fly-ins.” The Waco Aircraft Museum hosts a Waco fly in annually.
Brukner developed all the manufacturing techniques that were considered to be crucial in the day of building aircraft at that time.
“He really was an aviation genius,” Purke said.
Purke said that in the years of 1927 and 1928, the Troy community got involved so Brukner wouldn’t move Waco to Springfield and the community raised $20,000 in 1928 and the city of Troy sold land to Brukner so the company would stay in town. Brukner later opened the factory where BF Goodrich is currently located.
Waco’s nation precense was documented in a Time magazine article dated February 24, 1930 in a article covering the St. Louis Air show, that displayed $2.5 million worth of avaition merchandise. Of the 87 planes exhibited at the St. Louis air show, the author meantioned that the “Waco Model I10, a smaller, cheaper open biplane with usual rugged Waco construction,” as one of the dozen new planes that were unveiled at the show.
According to national avaition history, with the improved Waco Model 10 that featured a larger wing area, bigger cockpit, and the first shock absorber landing grear buildt into the small aircraft. This aircraft’s performance soon made it the most popular small aircraft in the U.S. By 1927, more than 40 percent of the small aircraft sold in the country were Wacos.
The Model 10 won (with an OX-5 engine) the 1927 New York to Spokane, Washington, transcontinental Air Derby (Class B) and a Wright J-5 powered Waco 10 won the National Air Tour the following year.
The design of Waco’s changed with more cabin room for passengers and other accessories on an annual basis, but retained the basic configuration to maintain quality and avoid the high cots of wholesale redesign
During World War II, WACO designed and built primary trainers and troop and cargo carrying gliders for the Army Air Forces. WACO built 1,607 CG-3, CG-4, CG-13 and CG-15 gliders.
During World War II, Waco biplanes were powered with a racial engine with a round engine with a cylinder but didn’t have the power and speed. The Waco made a tubular steel frame and fabric covered planed and designed a glider that was designed in Troy. Eventually Troy’s Waco Company built 1,074 planes. At the time, it was the second most manufactured plane in the nation, only to the B52 bomber.
Waco was also the largest employer in Troy, employing 2,200 full-time workers at the height of World War II. Lovers of historical aviation and restoration enthusiasts around the nation now collect Waco planes.
Purke recalls that four women who visited the Waco museum recently who worked in the Waco factory during the war. The woman came from West Virginia because “they need all the work they could get.”
“Waco instilled a lot of pride in the community and is part of the fabric of Troy and it impacted a lot of lives,” Purke said.
After the war, Brukner and his company concentrated on building airplane parts and small machinery due to lower demand but the company continued to make parts for the planes.
Brukner invented and held many patents throughout his lifetime. The Waco Company made items like the “Lickity Log Splitter” and the “Orbit Tan” which was a sun lamp that would travel around and for an even tan.
In 1963, Brukner sold his company to Allied Aero Industries Inc. of Syracuse, N.Y. The Troy plant was closed soon after. He sold the factory to BF Goodrich Company in Archer Industrial Park.
Brukner went on to contribute to the Troy community in many ways after the closing of the Waco Company.
Brukner served on the board of Stouder Memorial Hospital from 1945-1950. A wing of the Stouder Hospital was named from him in 1972 due to Brukner’s financial contribution.
Brukner was an avid lover of nature, and bought land in 1934 that was later turned into the Brukner Nature Center and has been educating children and the community since 1974.
For more information about the Waco Company and its historical impact that Brukner and his open cockpit planes had on the Troy community, visit www.wacoairmuseum.org.
Melanie Yingst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (937) 44-5254 or on Twitter at @TroyDailyNews.