The History Of Ground Support Equipment

Ground Support Worldwide turns 20 years old with this issue. With one birthday in mind, we decided to take a look at many more GSE birthdays and celebrate some of the names behind the brand-names.


Our magazine may be into just its first generation, but look how far the aviation industry went in only its first two. Just 50 years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight, the British Overseas Airways Corp. began operating the first passenger jet service.

And consider how much the industry changed in little more than the following two generations:

In 1958, for example, more people crossed the Atlantic by ship than plane. In the United States, the 10 largest transportation companies were all railroads. Less than one in 10 Americans had ever even been on an airplane. The notion of “how far” it was from New York to Los Angeles was measured in days. Hawaii drew just 171,000 visitors.

With that in mind, here are some milestones in GSE development:

1705 – The Goldhofer family starts a forge in Amendingen, Germany.

1811 – Friedrich Krupp starts casting steel.

1860 – What eventually will become TLD begins with a silk-weaving business in Lyon, France.

1883 – John Bean invents a continuous spray pump to battle bugs on his 10-acre almond orchard and the Bean Spray Pump Co. is born.

1891 – Brothers August and Joseph Thyssen start out with a coal mine and steelworks.

At the start of the 1900s, Earl Estes starts the Dixie Manufacturing Co. The company’s original product line includes horse collars and saddles. You no doubt recognize many of these other surnames, but what about Earl Estes? We’ll pick up his story in another 70-some years.

1903 – Wilbur Wright becomes the world’s first ramp agent. This year marks 110 years since Orville Wright took off from the sand at Kill Devil Hills aboard the Wright Flyer into a freezing headwind of 27 miles per hour and flew about 35 yards.

Take a look at one of history’s most famous photos above, and you can see much more of Wilbur than Orville as the Wright Flyer makes its maiden voyage.

A closer look, however, reveals the picture also shows a work bench and a jumble of something to the right of the bench.

That turns out to be world’s first “GPU” and “chocks.” We found out more about the details at an EAA Web site on vintage aircraft:

“On the right end of the airplane’s foot-printed outline is a small footstool or bench, with a large C-clamp lying across the center support of the bench,” H.G. Frautschy writes. “Ken Hyde of the Wright Experience believes they used the clamp to gently secure the wingtip of the machine to the bench, to prevent the Flyer from rocking too much from side to side in the breezy conditions as they prepared it for flight.

“To the bench’s right, there is the starting battery, with its kinky, stiff wire sticking out of the wooden box. It was used to start the engine of the Flyer, which was also equipped with a Splitdorf dynamo. A battery was needed to supply enough electricity to generate a spark within the primitive make-or-break ignition system used for the engine. There’s also a shovel and a small can, which, according to “The Papers of Wilbur and Orville Wright” edited by Marvin W. McFarland, contained “nails, tacks and a hammer in it, for emergency repairs.”

1914 – The “aeroplane” is just starting to see military service at the start of World War I. Over the next four years, the plane graduates from reconnaissance missions to bombing runs. The Hucks Starter, an auxiliary power unit that provides the initial start-up power to piston engines, proves that machines replacing workers isn’t anything new. (There’s a picture of a Hucks Starter in Tony Vasko’s column on page 24.)

1917 – C.C. Hobart, along with his wife, Lou Ella, and their three sons, Edward, Charles and William, starts what will become Hobart Brothers. The company makes generators, metal office furniture and air compressors.

1918 – Pilots buzz rural America as “barnstorming” becomes popular entertainment.

All a daredevil pilot needs is an open field to land on, in other words, the first farm he spots. After cutting a deal with the farmer, the pilot performs various stunts for the crowd.

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