The Salf-Taught Pilot
Cessna was a self-taught pilot who, like the Wright brothers, had to learn the basics of piloting the hard way, often crashing until he figured out how to land safely. He first flew in 1911, and soon was thrilling audiences around Wichita with his air-circus hijinks.
But the long time Clyde had taken to learn how to fly meant more than a few cracked-up homemade planes. If there was one thing Cessna longed for, it was an airplane that was strong and durable and could withstand the early struggles of beginner pilots.
In fact, if Clyde Cessna had been a better pilot and had not subjected his planes to so much abuse, Cessna airplanes might not have become the most popular airplanes ever made.
From the time he built his beloved Silver Wings airplane in 1913, Cessna gradually developed larger and more sophisticated designs that were known for their sturdy construction.
Flight schools beat a path to Wichita after World War II to buy up scores of the all-but-indestructible little planes that Clyde made. Airplanes with pedestrian names like Model 120 and Model 140 transformed post-war America into a nation of pilots. It seemed that everybody in the country either was a pilot or had a friend who was.
The Cessna 140 was a deluxe two-seat airplane with a cruise speed of over 100 m. p.h. The first 140s were delivered in 1946, but the spunky little plane is still in huge demand by pilots who often go to compulsive efforts to restore them to their original charm.
(Photo courtesy of Cessna Aircraft Co.)