Major Jack Berry was quick with his fist or a smile. He entered the army at the outbreak of World War I as a private and rose to the rank of Major. During WWI he served with the A.E.F. in France as an engineer laying out airfields for the fledgling U.S. Army Air Forces.
After the Great War, Major Berry served as the chief engineer of Airway Development for the fledgling U.S. Airmail Service. As chief engineer, Major Berry supervised the building of the first transcontinental air lane from New York to San Francisco. This transcontinental air lane was marked with light beacons and emergency landing fields were established along its length.
Aided early airport construction
In 1924 Cleveland was strategically located along the newly established air lane. However, Cleveland's airport was inadequate and plans were made to shift the important airmail route to Akron. Bill Hopkins, the city manager of Cleveland, was faced with his city loosing the airmail terminal business. At that time, Major Berry was the national authority on airport construction and Bill Hopkins persuaded the U.S. Post Master to loan Major Berry to the City of Cleveland to supervise the construction of Cleveland's airport.
Major Berry overcame all obstacles while constructing Cleveland's airport. Having practically no budget, he improvised; borrowing lights from the county courthouse, calling here and there, to get this and that. The airport had no truck, no problem; Major Berry wore out his own car hauling rock.
Trees on property adjacent to the airport posed a threat to arriving and departing aircraft. The owner of the property refused to allow them to be removed and even stood guard around them. But one dark night, 27 sticks of dynamite were tamped in around the roots of these trees. The next morning the trees were lying on their sides as though they were rooted out by a hurricane. Local police claimed that the evil deed was done by a man who learned about high explosives in the World War. No one was arrested, the property owner was furious, but flying was safer.
Airport manager and aviation safety pioneer
After the airport's completion, Major Berry became Cleveland's first airport manager. As airport manager, he helped promote and organize the Cleveland Air Races. Under his direction the Cleveland airport became a magnet, drawing aviation giants from around the world.
Major Berry was lauded as an aviation safety pioneer. He applied ground-breaking aviation technologies to improve safety. The Cleveland airport was the first to have a control tower with radio control of air traffic. In 1931 the Cleveland Control Tower established the first en-route air traffic control, tracking aircraft traveling between Cleveland and other cities.
In 1940, with war looming on the horizon, the Assistant Secretary to the Department of Commerce appointed Major Berry to the committee of 20. These men were nationally known aviation leaders and together they planned the development of airports for national defense.
Major Berry is credited with the establishment of the NACA Engine Test Laboratories at the Cleveland airport in 1940. These same NACA laboratories developed the rocket engines that powered the Mercury and Apollo flights.
Shunning the spotlight
Major Jack Berry is a giant of aviation history. He personally knew and influenced the careers of every major pioneering aviator during the golden years of aviation. But amazingly, this great man's name is conspicuously absent from the history books. After careful study, I came to understand why.
Major Berry was a leader, a businessman who was congenial but quiet and modest. He did not like the spotlight. He was a man of action and had no use for fanfare. Major Berry preferred to be the man behind the curtain.
Major Berry's modesty and aversion to the spotlight were best demonstrated when he stunned the Cleveland City counsel and everyone else at City Hall by refusing to allow the city to rename the Cleveland Airport, Berry Field. Nothing like that had ever happened in the memory of the oldsters around the City Hall. When questioned by reporters, Major Berry said, "after all I just did my job."
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