As people followed the record-setting flights of the pilots and planes featured in this exhibition, they caught “aviation fever.” Boys worshipped the World War I pilots—the “Knights of the Air” featured in pulp fiction books and comics—and built model airplanes. Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart got everyone’s attention, and the aviation boom was on. The public seemed primed for personal flying too, until the Great Depression ended most of those dreams.
As the Depression eased, private flying increased. About 1,500 people had an official pilot license in 1928, but by 1938 the figure was nearly 25,000. Of these, 11,000 (including 600 women) were strictly private licenses. Though private flying was curtailed during World War II, aviation for the average citizen had arrived.
William Piper showed his marketing savvy in several ways:
- He adopted the automobile purchasing model: $475 down and 12 monthly payments, so the plane could earn its keep at flying schools.
- He distributed “How to Fly” kits and pins to flying clubs.
- Coded mailing addresses in magazine ads tracked responses and trends. For example:
P.O. Box 57 P Street
Lock Haven, Pa. U.S.A.
5=May; 7=1937; P=Sportsman Pilot magazine
- He provided Piper employees flight training for $1 an hour.
- He docked salesmen’s pay if they spent more than one night in each town.
More than 7,000 new private aircraft were produced in 1939. Three manufacturers—Piper, Cessna, and Beechcraft—dominated general aviation production after World War II, and the brand names continue into the 21st century.
Small Civil Aircraft Built in 1939