THE FIRST AVIATION MAINTENANCE TECHNICIAN: CHARLES TAYLOR

Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor has been known as the “Unsung Hero of Aviation”. He was an integral part of the first flight, he created the engine used to power the Wright Flyer. Charles Taylor also enabled completion of the first transcontinental flight and was the first airport manager. He was the first aircraft mechanic.

Early Career

Charles was born in 1868 in Illinois, but relocated to Nebraska with his family. In 1880 he began work at a bindery (at the age of 12). He displayed mechanical aptitude and transitioned to working on machines. In 1892, he met his soon to be wife Henrietta. After marriage, the couple moved to Dayton, Ohio.

Charles began work making farm equipment for Stoddard Manufacture. The company later began making bicycles, prompting Charles to hone his skills of bicycle creation and design. Charles left the company to start his own business, the Dayton Tool Shop. Henrietta’s uncle was renting a shop near the Wright Cycle Co., he introduced the Wrights to Charles. Charles began working on projects for the Wrights.

Charles closed his business and began working for Dayton Electric. He reportedly didn’t care for the work. When the Wrights offered him a job in 1901, he took it. The Wrights gave Charles a good wage. As they pursued flight experiments, Charles was appointed to run the shop.

Aviation

The Wright brothers began to include Charles in their aviation experiments. His first aircraft-related task was building a wind tunnel. The wind tunnel enabled the Wrights to make needed adjustments to the gliders.

Powering Flight

The next step was getting an engine that would enabled powered aircraft flight. The Wrights needed an engine that was strong enough to propel the aircraft, but light enough to avoid lift interference. The engine needed to weigh less than 200 pounds (91 kg) and produce at least 8 horsepower. The Wright brothers contacted multiple manufacturers to build the engine, but they all declined. It was thought that it was impossible to build an engine that met the Wrights’ specifications.

Charles Taylor decided to build the engine himself. Taylor predominantly used the tools that were available at the bike shop. He decided to make the engine block out of aluminum, to save on weight. The engine had 4 cylinders, a 4 inch stroke, and a displacement of 201 cubic inches. The crankshaft was made out of steel, holes were drilled by Taylor using a drill and lathe. Charles Taylor built the engine in 6 weeks. His engine had a final weight of 180 pounds (82 kg) and 12 horsepower. That engine was used on the first ever flight.

Aviation Advancements

As flight progressed, the Wright brothers decided that they needed space to for flying in Ohio. They found the Huffman Prairie, and decided that the location would be perfect for testing and flight practice. The owner agreed to let them use the space as long as they didn’t hard any of the farm animals on the property. This became the site of the first airport.

Charles Taylor was tasked with constructing the facilities needed for aircraft storage and maintenance. The facility began operations in 20 April 1904. Huffman Prairie became the first airport, and Taylor the first airport manager.

As flight became more accessible, contests were introduced. Prizes were awarded to pilots that broke aviation records. In 1911, William Randolph Hurst offered a prize of $50,000 to the first pilot that could fly from the east to the west coast in 30 days. Calbraith “Cal” Rodgers set his sights on the record and prize.

Cal hired Orville Wright as his flight instructor and Charles Taylor as his mechanic. The flight began on 11 September at Sheepshead, New York. Charlie set out ahead of the flight with tools and spare parts in tow. The aircraft was damaged in crashes 16 times during the journey, all repaired by Taylor. Only 2 original parts of the aircraft were left at the end of the trip, a testament to the amount and extent of repairs performed by Charles. Cal Rodgers wasn’t able to make the 30 day time limit, but he was the first person to fly an aircraft across the continent.

Charles Taylor continued on with the Wrights. Later in life he worked for North American Aviation and helped with wartime manufacturing. Charles Taylor made no effort to boast of his accomplishments, many of his co-workers never knew of his previous accomplishments. While he may not have gotten the recognition of the Wrights, his accomplishments are celebrated at aviation museums and aviation events. The Charles Taylor “Master Mechanic” Award and Charles E. Taylor Professional AMT Award are presented to aircraft maintenance technicians. Charles is honored today as the first aircraft mechanic, creator of the first aircraft engine, first airport manager, and first aircraft crash inspector.

Video: 1953 Interview with Charles TaylorEach month, we research the events and people that have shaped aviation. Explore aviation history HERE