The Liberty Gazette
February 1, 2011Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: Continuing last week’s story of Inland Aviation, financier Samuel Insull enjoyed financial success until President Roosevelt appointed Harold Ickes as Secretary of the Interior. Ickes was a foe of Insull’s, and when the Insull empire collapsed during the Great Depression, bringing about the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935, he was indicted by the Federal Government for antitrust and fraud. They charged he had monopolies because he owned several utilities companies. When his empire went down in 1932, so did Inland Aviation. Later, Samuel Insull was found not guilty, but he had already lost everything.
Dewey Bonbrake, the Inland designer, also lost everything he’d worked so hard for after the company had produced somewhere between 35 and 90 airplanes. Lance Borden, Dewey’s grandson, has a letter from Arthur Hardgrave claiming they built 90 planes, but Lance hasn’t found documentation for that many. Although concrete evidence of an exact number has not been verified, Lance thinks the number is 46. Seven are registered with the FAA, one of them is owned by Lance and is under restoration in a hangar at Ellington Field.
Following the collapse of the Inland Aviation Company Dewey came to Houston to work as a security guard for Shell on the Ship Channel. Sometime in the 1930’s a kid whose father was a service manager at Bland Cadillac in Houston bought an Inland Sportster from a couple of Houston cops for $200. He learned to fly it and made money to pay them back teaching other kids to fly. Long after the demise of Inland Aviation that kid happened to fly over Dewey Bonbrake’s house one day. When Dewey saw the Inland he followed it and met the kid, Charles Walling, who grew up to be a WWII pilot, P-51 racer, and corporate pilot in Houston.
Linda: So where are the few surviving Inlands now? Besides Lance’s in Houston, two are in Kansas, owned by Chuck Hall, retired Kansas State architect professor. He has an Inland Sport and a Sportster–the only Sport that still exists and maybe the only Sportster. Harry Stenger in Florida has two Super Sports. There are two in Delaware with two different owners, one of which may be the one that broke all those speed and altitude records.
Lance tells us that during the Depression his grandfather was still designing airplanes. One he called the Osage, but it was probably never built. He went to Los Angeles to work for Lockheed and Consolidated, where he did design work on the Connie, then worked briefly for the University of Southern California in 1944. USC sent him to Los Alamos as the Chief Engineer on the Atomic Bomb on the “Manhattan Project,” where he designed the trigger mechanism for the Atomic bomb. Lance has drawings of projectiles for the gun bomb. Dewey was radiated on his belly and got skin cancer, but he left Los Alamos after seven months because of the dry air that caused bad nose bleeds, and went to work for Vultee, Consolidated, Lockheed, and then Fairchild. He was one of the designers on the B36, and then the Electra P3, Pogo, and C130, followed by the Fairchild F27 and C119s.
Mike: Lance learned a lot from his grandfather, which will result in a bucket of stories in the coming weeks. Til then, blue skies.