formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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January 25, 2011 Lawrence Dewey Bonbrake, Airplane Designer and Builder part 2

The Liberty Gazette
January 25, 2011
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Last week we started our story on Dewey Bonbrake, airplane builder. If you haven’t read part one yet, don’t miss the adventure; grab a copy of last week’s paper.

By the time Dewey built the prototype for his new airplane design, one that improved upon the Bahl Lark, he was married and had a daughter. Using the 40-horsepower French Anzani engine off the Lark, Dewey began looking for financiers to put his Bonbrake Parasol into production. Utilities mogul, Samuel Insull, invested in Dewey’s dream, and the airplane became known as an Inland. Insull, an English immigrant, resided mostly in Chicago, but his holding company had interests in many states. He was one of the most powerful merchants in U.S. history, a tycoon who once served as the personal secretary to Thomas Edison and founded Edison General Electric. Insull had interests in other electric, coal and gas companies, railroads, Chicago radio, and was instrumental in building the Chicago Civic Opera House. Many of his businesses were named Inland.

Dewey’s friend, Tom “Gene” Gabbert, an engineer and test pilot for Unit Motors & Airplane Co. of Kansas City, Missouri, took the prototype to Los Angeles for the 1928 National Air Races, and brought Arthur Hardgrave along.

Hardgrave, who was also a pilot and wealthy businessman in his own right, worked for Insull as President of City Ice, and was president of the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, and the Rancho De La Osa Guest Ranch outside of Tucson. On the way from Kansas City to Los Angeles they landed at Davis-Monthan (in Tucson), the first municipal aviation field in the U.S. Davis-Monthan’s historic register records airplanes that have landed there, their pilots and passengers, between 1925-1936. That register has the signatures of Gabbert and Hardgrave, who signed it on the morning of September 5, 1928. According to, the register records seven landings by six different Inlands. The website offers a good narrative on each of the Inlands listed. Their next stop was the Guest Ranch.

Linda: With Insull’s backing, Inland Aviation Co. began producing airplanes at Fairfax Airport in Kansas City. The Inland Sport was built in the same building as the Rearwin; American Eagle, and others were built at Fairfax as well.

Opening for business in 1928, Inland Aviation announced its first commercial airplane in September, 1929 in Aviation Magazine and other publications. In 1929 and 1930 the Inland held several altitude and speed records, one with a 110 HP engine up to 19,000 feet, breaking the 18,000’ record; and a 125+ mph closed course speed record.

Inland Aviation placed well in several air races including the 1930 National Air Races in Chicago where female pilots Mae Haizlip, Vera Dawn Walker, and Marty Bowman flew Inland Sports, and Arthur Hardgrave captured first place in the Sportsman class followed by Inlands in second and third place. These finishes gave the company a boost. By now they had three models: the Sport, a 70HP LaBlonde, a five cylinder radial which sold for $3,500, the Sportster, a 90HP five cylinder Warner Scarab Jr. offered for $3,700, and the Super Sport, a 125HP Warner Scarab, seven cylinder radial with a price tag of $4,500.

We’ll have more on the fascinating Bonbrake-Inland story next week.

Photo 1: Inland Sport Prototype, Photo 2: Lawrence Dewey Bonbrake with Inland, 1929. Photos courtesy Lance Borden, from family photo albums

1 comment:

  1. Love the article. I became licensed at the downtown KC airport. Prior to 1972, it was a common mistake for the commercial airlines to confuse Fairfax Airport with the KC airport. The airports were only seperated by the Missouri river. Flying in the Midwest was alot of fun.