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Leonard Rhiner, Seattle Daily Times, October 25, 1937 (Source: Seattle Times via Woodling)



Leonard Rhiner landed once at Tucson, Saturday, June 27, 1931. He carried six passengers in the Bellanca CH-300 he identified as NC195N owned by the Bruce Dodson Insurance Company, Kansas City, MO. His passengers were Mrs. Vertna Berry (nee Vertna Gill, married to John T. Doran in 1935), J.T. Doran assistant manager of the Bruce Dodson Insurance Company (1979-1939), E.J. Rhiner (Elwin John, pilot Rhiner's brother), Mrs. L.H. Rhiner and Mrs. E.J. Rhiner. Based at Kansas City, MO, they arrived at Tucson from Los Angeles, CA eastbound to El Paso, TX. They gave no reason for their trip to the west coast.

Rhiner was a barnstormer and early corporate pilot for Dodson's insurance company. Although he landed once at Tucson, he landed 15 times at the Parks Airport between 1929 and 1934. Please direct your browser to the link for details about those landings at East St. Louis, IL.

Rhiner was based mostly at Kansas City, MO during that time, and he flew several airplanes belonging to his employers, including the Bellanca NC195N (six landings at Parks plus his single landing at Tucson), the Stinson NC442H (five landings), the Bach NC809M and a couple of others.

He endured a couple of accidents during his years of flying, which are documented at his link at the Parks Airport, above. His final accident, suffered while on a passenger ride in a trimotor Stinson, claimed his life and three of his passengers'. Details are at the link, above.

An article published by Rhiner's brother in the Humboldt (Iowa) Republican of February 5, 1975 summarized Rhiner's career, below.



Experiences of Pioneer Pilot from Hardy Recalled

John M. Rhiner of Cody, WY, has recalled the early flying career of his brother, Leonard H. Rhiner, the Hardy, Iowa born pilot who was killed in an airplane accident on Oct. 23, 1937. His recollections were written in a letter to John Fitzpatrick of Goldfield, manager of the Eagle Grove airport, and are as follows:

Leonard was born at Hardy, Iowa, on 7/18/03. He became interested in flying while working as shop foreman at the Higley Motor Company, a Chevrolet dealership in Kansas City, Kansas. He acquired an exhibition parachute and on weekends and during his spare time he'd take part in air shows, doing wing walking, parachute jumping and what he called "the leap of death." The latter stunt was jumping from the end of a wing with a steel wire attached and catching a rope ladder hanging from the landing gear.

During these junkets to and from air shows Leonard would "take the stick" as often as he had the chance and thereby learned the fundamentals of flying "by the seat of the pants."

Before he had soloed he had a chance to buy a surplus World War I OX-5 [sic], with motor, fuselage, the works; except that the wings had to be covered with linen and treated with banana oil, which I helped him do in the back yard of his girl friend's home in Kansas City, Kansas. This girl friend later became his wife and was probably the first woman to make a parachute jump, which was done under Leonard's tutorage in 1928 [several women had made earlier jumps; see Phoebe Omlie].

While Leonard was in the process of assembling the OX-5 [sic], he took a few landing and take off lessons and completed one solo flight. After assembling and rigging the OX-5, he had a pilot by the name of Proach, who also worked at the Higely Motor Company as a mechanic, check out the rigging, and, after a few minor adjustments, Leonard made his second solo flight on the maiden trip of the plane which he himself assembled and rigged. This would have been about 1926.

From this airplane I made a parachute jump on my first trip up in 1927. Leonard visited Hardy several times in this old War I relic and many local residents were introduced to their first ride, sometimes with some wing dipping and dives for added thrills, in this open cockpit biplane.

Harold Saxton of Hardy wanted to make a parachute jump. Leonard folded the chute, briefed him on walking out onto the wing, sitting, fastening the chute to the life belt, hanging below and then manually unlacing the parachute bag to release the parachute; then took him up for the jump. Harold landed safely in one of the Clancey's pastures. One day Leonard had to make an emergency landing in a corn field. His barnstorming passenger happened to be Earl Saxton's wife. Explanations only proved more embarrassing.

During the early 30's he flew a mail plane from Omaha to Sioux Falls and the Twin Cities. I do not know the type of plane or the employer. For several years he flew for the Bruce Dodson Insurance Company of Kansas City, Mo. I think the first plane he flew for Dodson was a Bellanca [it was a Stinson]. The Bellanca was replaced with a tri-motor Ford [it was actually a Bach Air Yacht] in which Leonard's German Police dog took a great delight in riding. As you know, the tri-motor Ford was a slow, but very safe and serviceable plane. After the airplanes stopped using them, many of them were sold South and Central American countries for use as cargo planes. Several American pilots were recruited by these countries to fly the planes. Leonard had just turned down an offer to go to Honduras on such a job when his application with TWA was accepted.

Dodson sold the tri-motor Ford and sent Leonard to the Northrop factory in California to supervise installations on special twin-motor Northrop which the insurance company had ordered.

During the hard times of "dirty thirties" the Dodson Insurance Company closed its aviation department. Leonard applied for a job with TWA. His application had been accepted and he was to report for duty in December. A friend of his who owned a Stinson monoplane asked Leonard to fly this place on a barnstorming trip out west until the TWA job materialized.

He was flying with a load of passengers at Tacoma, Wash., on Oct. 23, 1937, when one of the wings collapsed on take off at an altitude of about 100 feet. He had presence of mind to "cut the switch" which probably saved a fire; but he was killed along with three of his passengers.

As I recall, this model Stinson had one central fitting which supported the wing struts and the motor strut. There was so much stress on this one fitting that it would crystallize causing a structural failure. This was the third Stinson to crash because of this defect, and, to my knowledge, this model was then permanently grounded.

At the time Leonard was killed a young pilot by the name of Russell Dick was flying for TWA. He and Leonard learned to fly together at the Old Richards Field on which there was always more cars than planes. Russell recently retired from TWA, one of their oldest pilots in length of service,

Leonard's mother died in Hardy in 1927 and his father died there in 1942. Both had been up with Leonard in the old OX-5 [sic], and both had reservations about the future of aviation.




The Register


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Thanks to Guest Editor Bob Woodling for help researching this page.



Military Aircraft of the Davis Monthan Register, 1925-1936 is available at the link. This book describes and illustrates with black & white photographs the majority of military aircraft that landed at the Davis-Monthan Airfield between 1925 and 1936. The book includes biographies of some of the pilots who flew the aircraft to Tucson as well as extensive listings of all the pilots and airplanes. Use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-2-5.


Art Goebel's Own Story by Art Goebel (edited by G.W. Hyatt) is written in language that expands for us his life as a Golden Age aviation entrepreneur, who used his aviation exploits to build a business around his passion.  Use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-1-8.


Winners' Viewpoints: The Great 1927 Trans-Pacific Dole Race is available at the link. Use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. What was it like to fly from Oakland to Honolulu in a single-engine plane during August 1927? Was the 25,000 dollar prize worth it? Did the resulting fame balance the risk? For the first time ever, this book presents the pilot and navigator's stories written by them within days of their record-setting adventure. Pilot Art Goebel and navigator William V. Davis, Jr. take us with them on the Woolaroc, their orange and blue Travel Air monoplane (NX869) as they enter the hazardous world of Golden Age trans-oceanic air racing. ISBN 978-0-9843074-3-2.


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