Charles McAllister, An Early History
Described as the Wright Brothers of local aviation, Charles and Alister McAllister carved a milestone in local and Northwest aviation.
Born in Yakima, Washington, both were sons of Charles and Margaret (Dunn) McAllister, a pioneer sheep family. Their maternal grandfather was Captain (Civil War) Robert Dunn, a Parker Heights district farmer and Yakima Valley pioneer. Al was born August 21, 1901 and Charlie on August 24, 1903. Ironically, this was the same year Orville Wright made his first historic flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
McAllister Family – 1913
(l to r) Charlie, Maggie, Alister, Charles, Sr.
Hang Glider in Wasco
In 1907 the McAllister family moved to Big Timber, Montana. While accompanying their father, who was exhibiting sheep at the Montana State Fair in Helena, the boys saw their first airplane. They eagerly paid 50 cents each to enter a tent that displayed a Curtiss Pusher flown by Tom Maroney. The plane had 60 horsepower engine and a tricycle landing gear. The boys were hooked.
In 1916 the family moved to Wasco, Oregon. Here the senior McAllister owned a garage. Al was described by Charlie as a crackerjack mechanic. While Charlie himself indulged in woodworking. Charlie was an avid reader and kept up on the articles that were being written about this new wonder called flying. By 1918, when Charlie was about to turn 16, he and his brother had built their first aircraft, a hang glider, from plans that Charlie had ordered from a Popular Mechanics magazine. The glider had no moveable controls and was flown with ropes similar to a kite. It was designed to glide down small hills in order for the operator to learn the concepts of lift. The boys were to build two more gliders by 1925. The Yakima Clipper is S/N 4.
One of the many stories emanating from Charlie’s childhood is that of a neighbor friend who was flying the glider one day when a gust of wind lifted him up and then dropped him to the ground, breaking his arm or leg. From the story we don’t know which and it could very well have been both. Whichever didn’t matter as the boy’s father came to Charlie’s dad and had a heart-to-heart chat with a few choice words thrown in. After their discussion, Charlie’s dad took an axe to the glider and made a fine stack of kindling.
On October 12, 1918, Charlie had his first ride in a powered aircraft, a Curtiss Jenny. In 1925 Charlie and Al acquired their first airplane, a damaged, WWI Standard J1 military biplane. Many stories abound as to how Charlie obtained his first airplane. One version is that the damaged trainer was obtained from an individual who was having some legal difficulties over a girl. Apparently, this individually was caught riding in a car with a young lady other than his wife and money was needed quickly to cover legal fees.
With his mechanical background, Al handled repair of the mechanical and engine work while Charlie tended to the airframe, fabric and paint.
Between them they quickly had the plane in top flying condition but neither of them knew how to fly! The brothers learned to prop the engine and enjoyed taxing the plane about the fields near their home, but Charlie, in a trait that he carried throughout his life, thought it prudent to be cautious and did not try to fly without instruction.
Repairing the Engine on the Standard J-1
1926 – Charlie and Alister McAllister learn to fly at the Rankin School of Flying in Portland, OR
Charlie (2nd from left), Tex Rankin (4th from left), Alister (third from the right)
The brothers’ interest in aviation put them in contact with Tex Rankin, one of our nation’s mast famous aviators. In April 1926, they took their first lesson at Rankin’s Portland, Oregon hangar near Swan Island. After just nine hours of instruction, costing $20, Charlie was ready to solo. Al, now almost 25 and Charlie, about to turn 21, both enjoyed an early birthday present by graduating from flight training with only 12 ½ hours instruction on August 11, 1926. In those early days flight training usually consisted of 10 to 15 hours of training. As soon as you were soloed it was figured you probably knew enough about flying to even be an instructor!
On November 11, 1927, Charlie received, by mail, his first aviation certificate, signed by Orville Wright.
Read more of Charlie’s aviation history in Charlie McAllister – The Flying School Years – 1926-1998
Charlie, age 5, with his father’s American Delaine Sheep – 1908
McAllister Home in Big Timber, Montana – 1910
Charlie’s High School Graduating Class – Wasco, Oregon – 1921
Charlie is in the top row on the left
Charlie Senior’s Automotive Shop in Wasco, Oregon – 1921
Charlie and Alister – 1921
McAllister family with Charlies first plane – Wasco, OR 1925
(l to r) Father, Charles Senior; sons Alister and Charlie; and mom Maggie. The auto is Charles Senior’s Stutz Limousine.
The McAllister’s 1918 Standard J-1 being repaired in Downtown Wasco, Oregon – 1925
In flight during Portland flying lessons – 1926
Plane damaged by Horse before early flight of the J-1
Read about the Flying School Years – 1926-1998.
During your visit to McAllister Museum of Aviation you’ll be able to see many more items and hear stories from Charlie’s 70+ year history in aviation!
Charlie McAllister – The Flying School Years
Parade down Yakima Avenue celebrating the arrival of Charlie’s STD J-1, the second plane in Yakima – 1927
Now, it was time for Charlie and Alister to do something with their aviation training.
Wasco was too small to promote flying, so the brothers moved back to their old hometown of Yakima.
After the successful flight of the Spirit of St Louis crossing the Atlantic Ocean in 1927 and Lindbergh flying the same aircraft to all 48 states promoting the development of aviation in 1927-1928, airfields were popping up all across the world. Yakima and Charlie McAllister joined in the excitement. Locally Maurice McMechan was well established here in 1925 offering flying lessons, W.O. Wikstrom, a local car dealer, was hired to promote aviation in Washington State. Charlie and Alister McAllister were welcomed by McMechan to help him in his development of Western Airlines and at the same time start their own business McAllister Flying Service.
Charlie’s Aviator’s Certificate from the Rankin School of Flying in Portland
On November 11, 1927, Charlie received, by mail, his first aviation certificate, signed by Orville Wright.
In 1926, the brothers occupied a partially completed hangar at what was then called Goodman’s pasture, not too far from the present Yakima airport. To drum up business, Charlie and Alister now began barnstorming all over Washington, Idaho and Oregon. They were the second “flyers” to set up an aviation business. The first person on the airport was a man by the name of Maurice McMechan, who had started his business in 1925. Mr. McMechan and some business friends started a small airline called Western Airlines (not to be confused with the commercial airline of the same name) and provided the first chartered passenger flight service between Yakima and Wenatchee. The McAllister brothers worked for Mr. McMechan while getting their own business off the ground.
Western Airlines formed with flights to Wenatchee – 1928
15,000 spectators at the Dedication of the Yakima Airport – June 2, 1928
In 1927, the county purchased land for an airport and with the help of the American Legion many of the town folks turned out with plows, tractors, and axes to help grub the sagebrush and clear the land. “There was a great crowd out to see the first airplanes land on the new field,” related Charlie. Charlie wanted to be the first pilot to land in Yakima and, thinking it would be early enough, he crawled out of bed at 5 am. He took off from the Goodman’s pasture and landed at the new Yakima Airport. Charlie recalls, “When I landed there was this 19-year-old kid leaning on the wing of his Eagle Rock airplane. He asked me where I’d been and how come I took so long getting up.” He was the second flyer again.
Spectators numbered 15,000 to view the airshow. About 30 aircraft were on display with 600 passengers taking trial flights.
The City of Yakima dedicated their new airport on June 2, 1928. Al, Charlie, and Tex Rankin flew an air show exhibition for the crowd. The town folks were jubilant and excited about these new aeroplanes.
Elrey “Jepp” Jeppesen flying an Eagle Rock is the first to land at the new Yakima Airport – 1928
Charlie McAllister in the Cockpit – Yakima Airport Dedication – June 1928
It was during this year that Charlie began construction of his hangar with lumber taken in trade for flying lessons.
McAllister Flying Service – 1928
New hangar under construction & first graduating class of pilots
Charlie’s new hangar and the J-1 at new Yakima Airport, Western Airlines Waco 10 on right – 1929
Charlie, as mentioned earlier, was an avid reader and in reading the National Geographic magazine noted that glider records were being set worldwide. He thought he was capable too, so he and Al set about building a glider with Al doing the metal work. Together they built the Yakima Clipper, a high-performance sail plane, now on display in the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field, Seattle. The Clipper was the first glider or sailplane licensed in the State of Washington. Charlie, appropriately enough, was the first pilot to be licensed to fly gliders.
On June 16, 1933, with Charlie in the cockpit, the glider was launched using 100 feet of long shock cord similar to a slingshot. The shock cord was made of rubber and nylon. The Clipper was brought by trailer, made by Charlie from a model T Ford car frame, to Badger Pocket, near Ellensburg, Washington, and readied for flight. Two men held the wings level and a third secured the tail. The rest of the launch crew took hold of the shock cord and ran downhill stretching the cord until the man holding the tail could no longer hold on. The glider was literally catapulted into the air.
It was intended that this glider flight was to set a world record. Unfortunately, the official coming over from Seattle to record and give official documentation to the flight was involved in an auto accident. The official and his brother were taken to a local hospital where, sadly, the brother died. In spite of this trauma, this official borrowed another car and drove over to Ellensburg. Because of this unfortunate delay, Charlie lost valuable flying time and possibly the chance at a national or perhaps an international record. After nearly nine hours, Charlie was forced to land. He didn’t set the world record, but he did achieve acclaim for setting the Northwest glider non-powered endurance record.
Charlie with his Piper Cub used for flight instruction for the Civilian Pilot Training Program – Preparing pilots for war service
With single-engine Piper aircraft the McAllister Flying Service embarked on a civilian flight training program. This training grew in intensity with the pre-WWII years, 1938-1940. With the U.S. entering the war, and with his vast glider experience, Charlie was asked to relocate to Twentynine Palms, California to instruct and train glider pilots. He didn’t stay long as he told them his training in Yakima was more important!
The country was having war jitters and since Charlie was to be away for the duration, the City of Yakima asked him to close down his business or provide some means of security. Charlie asked his father, who himself was getting along in years, to be his security guard and protect the premises. The city gave their approval and Charlie’s dad slept in the office area during the night where he could fend off any suspected saboteur. With the war’s end came many men and women wishing to learn how to fly. The new GI Bill provided the financial resources and private flight instruction literally took off.
Charlie briefly moved to Twenty Nine Palms, California to train WWII Glider Pilots
Pre-WWII Charlie taught ground school at the Yakima Fairgrounds and flight training at the Yakima Airport – preparing students for war service
GI Bill trained pilots graduating – 1947
Over the years, Charlie also fueled thousands of civilian and military aircraft, both fixed-wing and helicopter. At one time he had eleven underground fuel tanks and four fuel trucks. When the military held their frequent maneuvers at the Yakima Training Center, he had to be ready at a moment’s notice to fuel aircraft. He would often bring down a cot and sleep in the office area of his hangar waiting to hear the sound of approaching aircraft.
After 70 years of running McAllister Flying Service, Charlie takes a moment for a much earned rest break
Charlie was most proud of the many people he gave rides to and of those he taught to fly. Many a student pilot can recall Charlie snoozing in the right seat during training flights but who came awake immediately should he feel something amiss. Charlie not only taught a student to fly, but also to understand the elements and feel of the aircraft in the sky. In the early years, he used to travel to local fairs and community activities and give rides out of fields, as well as the airport, if the town had one.
On September 18, 1976, Charlie was honored at a special fly-in banquet. The following notice was published in the October edition of the Western Flyer magazine:
“Aviators from around the Northwest gathered in Yakima, Washington on September 18 for a very special fly-in to honor Charles D. McAllister, one of our most active senior members. The Washington State OX-5 Club named Charlie the “Aviator of the Year”. About 150 well-wishers turned out and many of them flew antique aircraft to the Yakima airport for the surprise fly-in. Following the ceremony honoring Charlie’s 50 years of service in Yakima, a drive was started to rename the airport McAllister Field.”
This honor was achieved in 1998 when the City of Yakima invited Charlie to attend the special name change ceremony. Charlie passed away just a few months later.
Yakima County and City of Yakima Resolution renaming Yakima Air Terminal to McAllister Field in honor of Charlie McAllister – 1998
Charlie is honored as the Grand Marshal of the Yakima Sunfair Parade – 1996
Charlie had the oldest continuously operating flight school in the Pacific Northwest starting in 1926 and running until 1998 when he died at the age of 95. No one knows for sure, but it is said that Charlie and his instructors trained between 5,000-7,000 pilots during those 72 years. Charlie himself is credited with personally training as many as 1,600 pilots.
In 2001, the transformation of the flight school into the McAllister Museum of Aviation marked 75 years of McAllister’s presence on the field.