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Tucson Citizen. April 17, 1928. June 8, 1928, June 29, 1928.

Arizona Daily Star. March 25, 1962. Spring, 1970. August 27, 1982.

A copy of the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register is available here.

Davis-Monthan Aviation Field Register
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Gilbert Walmisley Sykes was a local Arizona aviator. He was a well-known parachute jumper before he learned to fly. His flying activity was only part of a long and full life.

When he was 11, his father sent him and his brother to school in England. At the outbreak of WWI, they volunteered for the British Military. He joined the Royal Flying Corps, but quickly was transferred to the wireless section of the Royal Navy, where he was often visited by M.G. Marconi, inventor of the wireless.

After return to the U.S. in 1919 he went to work for the U.S. Forest Service as a fire lookout in the Catalina Mountains. His mark at the Forest Service remains to this day as a nominator for the largest velvet mesquite tree in the state of Arizona. He authored two articles for the Forest Service. I have not read these articles, which appeared in the Service's "Fire Management Today" publication, but here they are in case you are interested: Sykes, Gilbert. Mechanical weakness of the fire swatter. 04(4): 191-192. And Sykes, Gilbert. Coronado fire camp table. 17(1): 21. Except for a 10-year period (about 1923-33), he was a forest ranger his entire life.

He quit the Forest Service in 1923 and opened the first radio repair shop in Tucson. He became interested in flying and paid for his lessons by parachute jumping at air shows. He took flight lessons at the Davis-Monthan Airfield. His flight instructor was Charles W. Mayse.

Sykes and Mayse flew and jumped at local aviation events. A feature article on Sykes in the Arizona Daily Star, March 25, 1962, reports on one such experience.

"At the 1925 Phoenix air show, Sykes left the packed chute on the plane and during the night a heavy dew soaked it through.

"At 3,000 feet Sykes climbed out on the wing and clung to the struts while he buckled on three straps, one around his waist and two arond his upper thighs, grasped an iron hoop holding the chute shrouds and jumped off.

"'The idea was for the slipstream to inflate the chute. Only this time it didn't work like that. The chute was too wet to open up and I fell for about 2,000 feet, jerking and pulling on the lines to open 'er up.

"'Finally at 1,000 feet the chute opened but I was falling so fast the shock tore the ring out of my hands and broke the strap around my waist. Then a second jerk from the chute snapped the strap around one leg and pulled the other strap down my leg.

"'It was a good thing I was wearing cowboy boots because the strap caught on my heel and toe and left me dangling head down. To top it off, that darned Charlie flew a circle around me as I hung there and yelled, 'What's wrong?'

"'There I was hanging by one leg and he wants to know what's wrong. I managed to twist around 'til I got the ring and I landed all right.', he said."

The same news feature reports that, about this time, Irene Lindley came to Tucson from Chicago. She also took flying lessons from Mayse, and bought Waco 4280 from him. The flying, as well as both owning airedales, brought Gilbert Sykes and Irene Lindley together and they married in 1928, the same year Sykes soloed.

The Tucson Citizen reports his first solo flight on April 17, 1928. It reports of Sykes' zeal for aviation, such that, "...he recently acquired a half section of land nine miles southwest of Tucson on the Ajo road, which he intends to make into a private aviation field for his own and his friends' use." For some reason he did not announce his solo flight, preferring that his flight, "...this morning was intended to be secret. Not even his closest companions were informed that he would make his initial flight as a pilot."

It didn't take long for him to gain "experience". All totaled, pilot Sykes signed the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register twice, on May 4, and June 5, 1928. Both times he was flying the Waco 10, registration number 4280, pictured in both images below. It is surprising he didn't sign the Register more often, as he was a "local". He carried a passenger on June 5th; a Mrs. Huggins. Luckily, she wasn't with him three days later. The Citizen headline on June 8, 1928 follows.

G.W. Sykes, right, with Waco 4280 ca. 1928

He wasn't seriously injured, his face taking the cuts and bruises of the crash. A tough lesson, nevertheless, as his pilot license was barely two months old, and he did wreck his wife's airplane.

Below, an image of his crashed airplane about seven miles north of Prescott on the way to Flagstaff. As a past resident of Flagstaff, Sykes was on his way there to participate in the dedication of the Flagstaff Airport (Koch Field). The airplane was demolished.

Waco 4280, 6/8/28

Later in June, on the 28th, the evening newspaper reports Sykes named as head of the Tucson aviation committee. His first big job was coordination and preparations for the National Air Tour that was to pass through Tucson on July 10th.

Preparations included dragging and marking the field, selection of a score or more of officials, securing transportation for competitors and officials, planning entertainment, publicity and securing guards and messengers. The 26 competitors in the 1928 tour were scheduled to leave Detroit on June 29th, to reach Tucson from El Paso on the morning of July 10 between 10AM and noon, and to remain until the next morning to depart for the Pacific coast. Sykes had a large responsibility over the following 12 days!

Gilbert & Irene Sykes, ca. 1970

Gilbert and Irene stayed together many years, and another feature article in the Arizona Daily Star during the spring of 1970 included this image of them.

In 1933, he went back to work for the Forest Service. I could find no other records that mentioned anything about his or Irene's flying activities or aircraft ownership after that. He retired from the Forest Service in 1962.

Gilbert W. Sykes passed away on August 23, 1982, of pneumonia, while vacationing in Penzance, England. He was 82 years old. He was a lifetime member of the Arizona Cattle Grower's Association (his father had been, among other things, an early cattle rancher in Arizona), a member of the Pioneer Historical Society, and a member of the board of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.


UPLOADED: 01/23/06 REVISED: 10/07/07

The Register
President (as of the upload date of this page) Andy Heins of the National Waco Club sent the bottom image of 4280 at left. Andy  runs the day to day business of the Club, and we should all thank him for the effort he expended to help us understand better the Waco aircraft that landed at the Davis-Monthan Airfield way back when.
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