Master Mechanic - Charles Taylor

By Tom Hendershot

As AMTs of today we work with many different types of people who make up our profession. We know about our fellow co-workers, personally and professionally. But have you ever stopped to think, who was the first aircraft mechanic?

AMT Day is now recognized in almost 50 of the United States, Commonwealths, and Territories. A Congressional Resolution was passed on April 30, 2008, designating May 24 as National AMT Day. The date chosen for these honors falls on the birthday of the first aircraft mechanic, Charles Edward Taylor who was born in 1868 in a log cabin in Decatur, IL.

In 1892 Charlie met Henrietta (later known as Etta) Webbert, whom he asked to marry shortly thereafter. As fate would have it, Henrietta’s family was friends with Bishop Milton Wright who had two sons named Wilbur and Orville. In 1896 Taylor moved to Dayton where he found work making farm machinery which included engines and bicycles. In 1897 the Wright brothers rented a building for their bicycle business owned by Henrietta’s uncle Charles Webbert.

In 1898 Taylor opened a machine shop doing general repair work, bicycle repair, and machine tool work. Within a year he sold the business and went to work for the Dayton Electric Company.

By this time the Wright brothers were spending increasing amounts of time solving the problem of flight and needed a person to repair bicycles so they could continue with their experiments. Since his salary with the electric company was low, Taylor dropped by the Wrights’ bicycle shop and inquired about a job. The Wrights offered Taylor $16.50 a week and without knowing it the three were preparing to enter history!

In 1903, when the Wright brothers decided that their glider was ready to be adapted with a power plant, they searched for an engine that could meet their calculations of producing 8 horsepower and not weigh more than 180 pounds. The Wrights turned to Taylor and asked if he could build the engine.

With the Wright brothers’ calculations, and using nothing more than a lathe, drill press, and some simple hand tools, Taylor built the world’s first aircraft engine. Due to his skill and craftsmanship, Taylor’s engine produced 13 horsepower and weighed only 150 pounds, exceeding all requirements set forth by his employers.

Thus, on Dec. 17, 1903 at a sandy spot called Kitty Hawk in North Carolina, mankind conquered the problem of controlled, powered flight. It was remarkable feat and a tribute to the Wrights as well as Taylor. Although the Wrights became internationally famous, Taylor did not seek the limelight for his contributions and achievements. Much like present day AMTs Taylor simply looked at the task before him and set out to achieve it.

In 1911, Taylor was again part of history as the mechanician for aviator Calbraith “Cal” Rogers. Following by train while Rogers flew his Wright Model B from New York to California, Taylor made dozens of repairs along the way. Taylor died in California on Jan. 30, 1956, with little recognition for his life’s work.

On May 24, we honor Taylor who is sometimes referred to as the “third Wright Brother” and the founder of the profession that many of you reading this article have entered … aircraft maintenance.

Reference: “Charles E. Taylor: 1868-1956 The Wright Brothers Mechanician” by Howard R. DuFour with Peter J. Unitt.

The FAA Master Mechanic Award is named after Charles Taylor to recognize those that have been in the industry for 50 years.