Past Contact: Mechanics in History

Ernest Eugene Tissout, Sr.: More than Amelia Earhart's mechanic.


Thursday Eve, Jan. 10, 1935
[Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii]

"Dearest Beulah and Gene,

Well the time is drawing near. I am writing this letter in hopes that Miss Earhart will mail it in Frisco for me therefore you would get it soon. She is planning on leaving tomorrow afternoon if all turns out well and we leave Saturday noon on the Lurline and I'll be home by next Saturday

. . . This is going to be short honey as I am in an awful hurry worked all nite last nite and will work again tonite . . . I'm terrible anxious to get home. I suppose the darn boat will be awful slow have not been off this military post for so long have only been in Honolulu twice and that's to see Paul [Mantz.].

Love Ernie"

Amelia Earhart taxied her Lockheed Vega (NR965Y) toward the runway at Wheeler Field, Honolulu for her record-making solo flight to Oakland. Her mechanic, Ernest Eugene "Ernie" Tissot Sr. ran beside her wing until she picked up speed and flew into aviation history.

This was not the first time Tissot's hands touched fame. Just eight years before, Tissot worked for Ryan Airlines in San Diego, CA, as a welder, constructing the frame for Charles A. Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis. It was a proud moment for Tissot's young bride, Beulah, when she learned the Lone Eagle had crossed the Atlantic and landed safely in France. Later that month, Lindbergh joined Ryan employees for a luncheon in his honor, and theirs. Pictured standing behind him is Tissot, among fellow "wrenches," aircraft designers, and clerks.

Tissot: 1905-1952

Ernest Eugene Tissot Sr. was born in 1905, just two years following the Wright brothers epic flight at Kill Devil Hills, NC. He died of cancer at 46, leaving behind his devoted and adventuresome wife Beulah, who lived to be 95, and their only son, Ernest Eugene Tissot Jr.

"His life was short, but I admired and loved him so much," says his son, Gene. "He influenced my entire life —; my career and my love of family."

During the 1930s, Gene watched planes take off and land at the original Grand Canyon Airport at Red Butte, AZ, where his father was chief mechanic for Grand Canyon Air Lines, Inc. (GCA.)

Tissot was hired in 1932 by GCA entrepreneurs, Glover ("Roxy") Ruckstell and Irving ("Kravie") Kravitz, and with Beulah and pre-school Gene, lived within walking distance of the hangar and terminal.

"It was a wonderful life," says Gene. Retiring at the rank of Rear Admiral, USN, Gene traces his own distinguished career as a Naval aviator to the influence of his father. "I spent most of my time watching my father work on airplanes

. . . He taught me to keep my tools clean and put away, something I have not done nearly as well as he did. By watching his work I developed an abiding respect for the aircraft mechanic, and later on as a pilot I never forgot the vital contribution that these dedicated and often unsung craftsmen offered."

Chief mechanic at Red Butte, AZ

During the airline's start-up years Tissot maintained Ford Tri-Motors (one with a P&W Wasp C, 425-hp engine and another with a J-5), a Stinson (w/Lycoming 220 hp), two Travelaires, a Stearman (w/J5 power plants,) a Waco (w/P&W Wasp), a trimotor Bach (one P&W Hornet; 525-hp engine, and two J65s), and other passenger aircraft owned and operated by GCA.

It was at GCA's hangar just 15 miles south of the rim of the Grand Canyon, that Amelia Earhart found refuge from her adoring public, and flew NR965Y in for fine-tuning by Tissot. "Unfortunately, I had a cold and my mother wouldn't let me meet her that day," shrugs Gene. If there are photographs of George Putnam during Earhart's visit, they are well hidden, although he later mentioned stopping at the Canyon in a letter to a friend. Tissot, Ruckstell, and Kravitz were all shutter-bugs and it's no surprise that they took several pictures of Earhart and her red Vega while she was there. One rumor circulated following an interview with Kravitz that he allowed Earhart to pilot GCA's Travelaire while he described the view to tourists. It is certain that Earhart's Vega sat directly in front of the hangar which at that time bore Stanavo's "flying eagle" logo. Stanavo was Standard Oil Company's aviation product line of gasoline, oil, and grease.

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