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Steven Hensley

Steve Hensley went to college to study biology, served in the U.S. Air Force, and had a career as a field biologist while a commercial pilot, certified flight instructor (airplane and glider), and aircraft mechanic and inspector. His biological efforts resulted in the discovery of a species of freshwater mollusk now named Escambiana hensleyorum. Steve brought aviation basics to many in the East Tennessee area.

At age fifteen, Steve discovered letters in a barn that his grandmother had asked him to clean out. There were letters from Octave Chanute and Samuel Langley along with personal and business letters written around the turn of the last century. The property was owned by a mathemetics and physics student, Edward Chalmers Huffaker of Chuckey City, TN. Huffaker later became a civil engineer and surveyor, laying out several towns and railroad routes in Southern Appalachia.

Steve became an accomplished storyteller as he always enjoyed entertaining friends with stories about family life, aviation, and local history. Steve and his wife, Julia, submitted in 1997 a thesis for a Master of Arts in Reading and Story Arts from East Tennessee State University (ETSU) entitled "Edward Chalmers Huffaker: Aviation Pioneer." Steve contributed to numerous books on the beginings of flight in this country at the turn of the century including stories about the Wright Brothers, and has written numerous articles in magazines and newspapers about Huffaker's participation in early aviation. Steve believed that many of the accounts of the early days of flying in the U.S. have wrongfully portrayed Huffaker, a responsible individualist raised in the hills of Appalachia.

In 1985 Steve built a Huffaker glider model and reenacted with a colleague the flights of Huffaker's glider models when Octave Chanute visited Chuckey in 1900. A Tennessee Historical Marker to Huffaker was erected at Chuckey in 1997 through Steve's efforts.

The Hensleys' last article was co-authored with a fellow student at ETSU's graduate program in storytelling, Jim Kevin. "A Forgotten Pioneer" appeared in the Winter 1998 edition (Volume 15, No. 3, pp. 6-12) of [Now and Then, The Appalachian Magazine] published by the Center for Appalachian Studies and Services, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN.

The original letters have been placed in the care of the Archives of Appalachia of ETSU in Johnson City, TN, not far from Bristol, TN, where Huffaker lived when he wrote his first papers on flight. When August Raspet was the technical editor of [Soaring] (1942), Huffaker's article "Soaring Flight" was reprinted from the Smithsonian Report for 1897 with this note: "The comments we have received have been enthusiastic and reverent and may be summed up in this statement: 'Our soaring technique would be tremendously advanced if this treatise by E. C. Huffaker had been brought to the attention of our glider pilots when they first began to stumble upon these truths through the past ten years."

Steve was a member of Trinity United Methodist Church of nearby Greeneville, TN. The family said Steve was a larger-than-life individual with a generous heart and a great spirit, who was filled with stories and laughter. Those close to Steve knew him as a man whose love for childern was strong and encouraging children was a mission he made his own. He was a 'hit' with even the smallest of children, often assisting in the church nursery when no one else could be found.

Bob Davis, SSA State Governor for Tennessee

Posted: 9/1/2000

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