Sculptures Honor Pioneering Aircraft Mechanic

Charles E. Taylor is aviation's forgotten man. But not to U.S. aircraft mechanics, nor to Virginia Krause-Hess. "I was inspired by that wonderful man," said Krause-Hess, a Dayton, Ohio, sculptress, in a telephone interview. "He was an unassuming man who worked for the Wright brothers.

In those days, when you worked for people, they got the credit for it. . . . But he was amazing." Taylor built the gas engine that powered the Wright Flyer, which Orville piloted on the first controlled, powered, heavier-than-air human flight on Dec. 17, 1903. "A friend of mine, Howard DuFour, wrote a book about Taylor," Krause-Hess said. "I had a mind's eye impression of what he would look like, and I wanted to put it in three dimensions." Krause-Hess' bronze sculptures of Taylor have been a sensation in the aviation community. The Aircraft Maintenance Technicians Association, a non-profit organization that promotes the profession of aircraft maintenance, has purchased and donated several of the $6,000 sculptures. "More than 100 years of aviation have passed and the man who provided the power for powered, controlled flight has been overlooked by history," said AMTA Director Ken MacTiernan in a telephone interview. "These busts will let the public see the man who made it possible for this country and the Wright brothers to claim the first flight."

Before AMTA donated its first Taylor bust to the San Diego Aerospace Museum in December 2005, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., purchased Krause-Hess' sculpture in May 2005. In August, AMTA donated a Taylor bust to the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. On May 24 -- Taylor's birthday -- the association will install another Taylor bronze bust at American Airlines' Kansas City Overhaul Facility. The same day, the Federal Aviation Administration will present six American mechanics with the Charles E. Taylor Master Mechanic Award.

The award, which has been presented to 14 American Kansas City-based mechanics and at least two in Tulsa, is given to aircraft mechanics who have worked in the field for 50 years, 30 years of which have been as a licensed airframe and powerplant mechanic. Charles E. Taylor Master Mechanic Awards have been presented to American's Tulsa-based mechanics William Fey, who is retired, and Jimmy Rae.

AMTA has donated Taylor bronzes to American's Maintenance & Engineering Center in Tulsa and American's Alliance Airport base in Fort Worth. American officials said a date hasn't been set for the dedication in Tulsa; they said the Fort Worth dedication has been tentatively set for Aug. 9. AMTA's fourth Taylor bronze has been donated to Wright State University in Dayton, where it will be dedicated on June 16. Krause-Hess, the Taylor sculptress, said she hopes her friend, DuFour, who has been ill and who wrote the biography "Charles E. Taylor: The Wright Brothers Mechanician," can attend the Wright State ceremonies.

Taylor, who was born on an Illinois farm in 1868 and died in California in 1956, began working as a mechanic in Wilbur and Orville Wright's bicycle shop in Dayton in 1901. As the brothers began spending more time flying a glider they had built, they began taking their aeronautical work to Taylor, who a biographer described as "a quiet genius who loved cigars and the sound of machinery." Taylor machined many of the parts for the Wrights' 1902 glider.

When a dozen U.S. automobile manufacturers rejected the Wrights' requests to build a 12-horsepower gas engine to power their first biplane, they turned to Taylor. "(U)sing only hand tools, a lathe and his own brand of precise technical excellence, (Taylor) made the parts and built the engine," Brian Finnegan, an official with the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association, has written. "He gave of his best and in just six weeks, Charlie Taylor turned out an engine with more horsepower per pound than had ever been produced before. "Charlie Taylor is the father of aviation maintenance and he belongs on the summit with Orville and Wilbur Wright." D.R. Stewart 581-8451 / /

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