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Charles D. McAllister - Pacific Northwest Soaring Pioneer

Another aviation legend has quietly slipped into the history books. Charlie McAllister died on Saturday 21st November at the age of 95 after a lifetime that encompassed the whole total experience of powered flight.

Born on August 22nd, 1903 in Yakima, the same year that the Wright Brothers made their first flights in a powered aircraft, he spent most of his life in his home town after a period in Montana and Oregon. He built his first glider at Wasco in Oregon at the age of 15 from plans published in the magazine Popular Mechanics. The wing span was 10 feet. The second glider built was a Wright Flyer type, with a wingspan of 20 feet, and this was licensed in 1927.

Charlie, and his brother Alister, learnt to fly with Tex Rankin in a Curtis JN4 Jenny at Swan Island in Portland in 1926. His pilots license was signed by Orville Wright on the 11th November 1926, as the Chairman of the National Aeronautical Association. Then, with only 15 hours flying time, he started to train students to fly, using Tex Rankins methods. At that time there was no such animal as an Instructor, and no instructional regulations. Charlie then founded McAllister Flying Service & School of Flying, and moved onto the new Yakima airport when this officially opened in 1927. In 1928 he built the first building on the airport. This building is still standing, and was placed on Washington States Heritage Registry of Historic Places in January 1998.

On the 27th March 1930 Charlie, with his brother and eight other friends, founded the Yakima Glider Club, and they purchased a new Cessna CG-2 Primary glider for $40 each. Charlie became the first person to fly a glider in Eastern Washington State on the 8th May, 1930, and the Cessna was flown around the Yakima area for the next ten years. However in 1931, after reading the now historical article about gliding in Germany that was printed in the June 1929 edition of the National Geographic, Charlie designed and built a Darmstadt type of sailplane with the assistance of N.D. Showalter . He was a Boeing engineer, and did the stress analysis. Later he was the Chief Engineer at Boeing Wichita. It was designed with quite a high reserve factor, suitable for shock-cord launching from unprepared fields for slope-soaring. The wingspan was just over 50 feet, and was found to have an L/D of around 24. Charlie quoted the wing section as National Aeronautic Association 535A, but perhaps this was the Gottingen 535 aerofoil generally used by many gliders of the period.

Construction commenced in 1931, from Sitka Spruce and plywood, and was completed in 1932 when the weight was found to be 352 lbs. He named the sailplane the Yakima Clipper, and the first flight was from a tow behind a Franklin car. This was from the Yakima Ridge area at Coyote Springs, nearly 5 miles North-east of Yakima.

In all, Charlie made about 40 flights in the Clipper up to 1941 for a total of about 100 hours of flying time. The most notable flight was the duration record attempt on the 16th June, 1933 which took place in the Badger Pocket area south-east of Ellensburg in central Washington State. Charlie hoped to beat the American record of 21 hours but unfortunate events just made this impossible. His official observer Herb Munter, a Seattle area aviation pioneer, suffered a car crash on Snoqualmie Pass in which his brother was killed. This resulted in a late start on the attempt, at 2 pm. by a 100 foot long shock cord. After dark the wind quit, and Charlie had to land in the dark after 8 hours 57 minutes. This was declared a new record for the Pacific Northwest. After he landed the wind picked up and blew solid for the next two days.

Charlie also flew the Clipper in the First Northwest Soaring meeting, held at Wenatchee in June 1936, an event organized by Cloyd Artman. The contest suffered poor weather all through the week, and Charlies log book entries for the contest were quite terse :- 6-17-36, 60 minutes, Badger Mountain. Hand launch - 8 crew. 6-18-36, 65 minutes, Badger Mountain. 10 crew. Universal Newsreel Demo Flight.

As WW2 approached McAllister School of Flying became a part of the Civil Pilot Training program from 1940 thoughout the war. Charlie went to the 29 Palms Glider Academy in 1942 to instruct for the U.S.Army Air Corps, but after the war he continued with his flying school. Altogether he soloed over 1500 students in 60 years whilst his instructors at his flying service have soloed 5-6000. He stopped counting after logging 14,000 hours - his words, and he estimated that he had 20.000 accident-free flying hours although he suffered 16 dead-stick landings during his career.

On most days Charlie was at his office, until the 3rd February 1998 when he had to be admitted into Providence Yakima Medical Center after a fall. However he was taken back to the airport for a surprise party on his 95th birthday and, in celebration, they sold fuel at 95 cents a gallon to mark the occasion. 100 pilots showed up and they sold over 3,000 gallons that day.

Charlie died at the medical center on the 21st November, 1998, and the funeral was on the 27th November. He out-lived two wives, Roberta and Georgia, but did not have any children. He is survived by his companion and nurse for many years, Susan Rogers, who continues to run the company as Operations Manager.

On the 21st May, 1996 the Yakima City Council & Yakima County Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution to name the airport Yakima International Airport at McAllister Field. There are hopes that a museum can be created in Charlies buildings .

Two of Charlies gliders survive, and are now in the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field in Seattle. The Cessna Primary was restored by museum volunteers in 1997, and it now hangs next to the Yakima Clipper at the front of the Great Gallery. The Clipper had been donated originally to the Pacific Northwest Aircraft Historical Foundation at the Seattle Center, and was moved to the Museum of Flight when the Great Galley opened in 1988.

It is hoped to have a Marker Plinth erected to commemorate Charlies historic 1933 flight attempt. This will be another one of the sites in the National Landmark of Soaring Program established by the National Soaring Museum in 1980. This has yet to be negotiated locally but the favored site is at the Manastash Ridge View Point on the Ellensburg to Yakima road. The southbound parking area overlooks the Badger Pocket and the Boylston Mountains, and is at 46 degrees 53.342 minutes North and 120 degrees 25.988 minutes West at 2,800 feet.

The author thanks Peder Graven, of the Museum of Flight, and Lea Welch for assistance with this article, as well as noting that other items are from articles written by Peter M. Bowers and Mark Loebner in SOARING magazine, and extracts from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Yakima Herald-Republic and the Western Flyer.

Norman H. Ellison
Washington State SSA Governor
30th November, 1998

Charlie McAllister- A Farewell

It was a cold night and the thought of leaving the warm cockpit of the big Chinook as it wound down was not very appealing. Off in the distance the landing lights illuminated a familiar sight, Charlie in his white overalls and watch cap cranking up the vintage fuel truck. Like so many times before, we had dropped in for fuel at Yakima Muni, and some of Georgia's famous Rice Crispie and marshmallow squares. Charlie's wife always had a plate of them under a plastic cake cover for hungry flight crews. An old overstuffed sofa was just the place to sit and soak in the history of Charlie McAllister Flying Service, and munch on a few more of Georgia's Rice Crispy marshmallow squares.

I read with great sadness the news of Charlie's passing a few minutes ago this Christmas Eve, in the Final Glide. For 24 years I flew in the Army Reserves out of Paine Field, Everett Washington and spent many happy hours in Charlie's office while our aircraft were being refueled. Walking into this place was like stepping back in time. Plaques, old photos of long forgotten pilots and their planes completely cover the walls. On a post at the counter hundreds of pilot's business cards and crew were haphazardly tacked up. You'll find mine there too. Dozens of plastic model aircraft hung from the ceiling. The place was a museum, photo gallery, and Mecca for pilots. It was here you came to take a ride with Charlie in one of his Aeronica's just so you had his name in your log book. Not too many of us have some dual signed off by a pilot whose license was signed by Wilber Wright! What a sight to see veteran pilots with thousands of hours in jets climb in with ole' Charlie for a 30 minute hop. It was here you came to be a part of aviation history. The place reeked of it.

One day I asked Charlie if I could see his pilot's license. He had a bronzed copy hanging on the wall, but I wanted to see the real thing. He trotted off to the office safe and soon returned carefully holding his license. I touched it, feeling honored to stand in the owner's presence. In my collection of "things precious" are two pictures he allowed me to take that day, one of him holding his license, sporting a big toothy grin and a close-up of his ticket clearly showing Wilber's signature.

Charlie will be remembered for many things, but I knew him best as one of the kindest, gentlest, and most giving men I have ever known. Even on cold snowy nights when we'd blow in with three or four Chinooks to refuel ( a long, cold ordeal) he never complained. He was always there to take care of us. I'm sure many of us who were honored to call Charlie our friend, feel very sad that we were not in Yakima this past November as he took his last glide. His memory will live on in the thousands of pilots he shared the sky with.

– Submitted by Michael Jones
CW4 Michael Jones USAR (Ret) now resides in Honolulu after flying helicopters for 28 years in the Pacific Northwest. He moved from piloting Chinooks to piloting tour submarines off Waikiki. He currently works on a NASA project at Bishop Museum Planetarium in Honolulu.
415 South Street Suite 1202
Honolulu, HI 96813
(808) 524-8964

Posted: 12/1/1998

Final Glide 

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