by Ed Leineweber
EAA AirVenture Oshkosh is often the venue for “firsts,” as well as a place to honor tradition and decades-long service. The 3rd Annual Aviation Celebration staged by several Midwest chapters of the U.S. Navy League captured both as Donald A. “Doc” Mosher became the first to receive the Aviation Excellence Award at a ceremony on July 2. For Doc, this honor came after a 75-year commitment to the development and preservation of general aviation.
Whether in flying, maintaining and managing the most advanced and luxurious of corporate executive aircraft of the day, as Doc did in the 1950s through the ‘70s, or publishing the Brodhead Pietenpol Association (BPA) Newsletter and volunteering at EAA’s Pioneer Airport, as he still does today, Doc truly exemplifies aviation excellence.
Nor was this the first time Doc’s contributions have been recognized. He holds both the FAA Wright Brothers Master Pilot and Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Awards. Only a very small and elite group in the nation hold both awards, and only a very few people in Wisconsin. While pooh-poohed by Doc as mere “longevity awards,” a lifetime of aircraft wrenching and management of corporate flight departments, as well as over 21,000 hours of flight time in a wide variety of aircraft, large and small, without a single incident blemishing his record, seems to me to be achievements worth honoring.
While I’ve known of Doc by reputation through shared contacts in the homebuilt community, I’ve only recently had the opportunity to get acquainted with him personally, along with his wife, Dee, his co-editor and publisher of the BPA Newsletter. It has been a delightful experience.
Here’s Doc’s account of his lifetime in aviation, mostly told in his own words. For the record, Doc was born in 1925, which makes him a youthful 88 years young as of this writing:
As a kid growing up in the “Glider Capitol of America,” Elmira, New York, I was riding my bike to the various soaring sites around the area, especially during the National Soaring Contests in 1937 and later. That allowed me to get acquainted with the best sailplane pilots and designers. They eventually got to trust me with helping to assemble and disassemble their sailplanes. I owe a lot to those guys who took a bit of an interest in a lone kid. The now famous names were just nice guys to me, although even at the time I was in awe.
After high school, I entered the New York State aviation ground school, right there in Elmira. Today, guys pay a lot of money to get what I had in one tuition-free year at Elmira Aviation Ground School (EAGS), learning about building and repairing airplanes and engines from great instructors. Before and after my school days at EAGS, I worked part-time at the Schweizer sailplane factory in the same building, turning out military training gliders.
As I got out of ground school, World War II was in full swing and of course I wanted to fly and took all the tests. I had already soloed in gliders. But the Army Air Force had other ideas. I was designated a “skilled aviation technician” at age 18, and was immediately assigned to an Air Force training base in Lafayette, Louisiana, as a mechanic of primary, basic and advanced training planes – PT23s, BT13s and AT6s. I was always ready for test flights as a “maintenance observer,” although some of the instructors let me do some of the flying.
I took the CAA tests for airplane and engine mechanic and passed them – A&E in those days. Within a year, I was transferred to another Air Force facility in the middle of the Everglades — Riddle Field — a training base for British pilots. That’s where I and another mechanic bought my first airplane – an Aeronca C-3.
After all the pilots were trained, I transferred to the Air Force Training Command at Pan American Field in Miami, where we operated Douglas DC-4s all over the world.
As the war wound down, I sold the C-3 and returned home to Elmira to set up an airplane repair shop.
Corning Glass Works, Corning, N.Y., was operating a Douglas B-23 and a Beech 18, and I was hired as a co-pilot/mechanic. Corning later got a DC-3. These were four-course range and DF and ADF days. I also ran the Link trainer for Corning, so I got even with some of the tougher captains when I had them in the box! The chief pilot had been a pilot for the RCAF ferry command, flying airplanes all over the world. We had heavier DC-3 maintenance done at Canadair in Montreal, so I spent a lot of time there with those former ferry command pilots. Along the way, I got my Commercial Pilot Certificate and my Instrument and Multi-engine Ratings.
My days atop Harris Hill with sailplane champions paid off job-wise as I was looking to leave Corning Glass. One soaring champ, Emil Lehecka, told me about a company in New York City that had just purchased a Douglas B-23 and was looking for a copilot/mechanic. Emil told me that the contact guy was a vice-president of National Distillers and Chemical Co. named Art Ramer. It didn’t hurt that Art remembered me from those days back in 1938-40 on the glider field. The pilot, already hired, turned out to be a flight instructor from Riddle Field, the guy who sold us the Aeronca C-3. Small world, aviation!
The seven years at Teterboro were another real learning experience. At that time, Teterboro was a hotbed of corporate aviation, so I met lots of names as they came and went. Twist of fate… Arthur Godfrey’s pilot, Frank La Vigna, always treated me as a somewhat lesser personality because he was a captain and I was still officially a co-pilot. Years later, I hired him when I was basing a JetStar and a new Gulfstream II at Teterboro. Irony!
Got myself invited to the New York QB hangar where I met a lot of aviation people, especially Clyde Pangborn. Clyde had been the major domo for the RCAF ferry command in Montreal! Great stories!
I became very much involved with the Grumman people as they brought the Gulfstream I into the corporate fleet, as National Distillers was buying two of them.
Emil Lehecka and I even built a 48-foot sailplane on the ramp at Teterboro, with the FAA office upstairs over us. We towed it with a Mooney Mite!
The last large piston-powered corporate airplane was the distinctive Howard Super Ventura, and the company bought two of the early versions. I was closely involved with Dee Howard and Ed Swearingen in San Antonio as they were developing the Super Ventura and later the Swearingen PT-6 turboprop Merlin.
Flew a lot in the Super Ventura, perhaps my favorite airplane of all time; at least the last of the great pistons. Later, as Ed was developing the turboprop Merlin, I operated two of the first ones. Did a lot of demo flights in each airplane. The potential customers were a class of individuals unto themselves – kings and thieves.
National Distillers was setting up a new flight operation in Champaign, Illinois, in 1956, and I was sent there “for a year” to set up a safe flying operation for the company. It turned into 13 years, but gave me a great opportunity to do lots of neat stuff, including lots of soaring. Met lots more interesting people in my travels.
During those years we operated Beech Twin Bonanzas, Queen Airs, King Airs, and the Swearingen turbo Merlins. Meanwhile, I was still involved with the Teterboro-based airplanes. These included two Gulfstream ls, a DH-125, an early JetStar, several Falcons, and two Gulfstream IIs. I was back and forth to Teterboro, and the planes stopped at Champaign quite often. Because of the P&W PT-6 engines used in the Champaign airplanes, we developed an FAA-approved repair station that was rated for hot section repairs.
While living in Champaign, I became a Schweizer dealer and bought six sailplane kits from the Elmira factory and finished them and got them type-certificated by the FAA. Try that today! That also got some sailplanes into the Champaign area, especially for the university glider clubs. I actually ran a glider flight training school for several years.
I was the chairman of the Soaring Society of America’s Airspace Committee, and assembled a great team of names from the soaring community, both national and international. We really had to stand up to the FAA (‘Jeeb Halaby at the time) to demand our airspace rights. Did a lot of work with Chicago Center regarding IFR in thunderstorms, including the still-standing soaring altitude record for Illinois – some 17,000 feet (no oxygen). [Author’s note: Doc received SSA’s Exceptional Service Award in 1965, the first year it was presented.]
When National Distillers in 1971 no longer needed the Champaign operation due to changes in its business, I had no desire to move back to Teterboro with the company, so I took a job with John Morrell & Company, a meat packer in Chicago. We started with a Queen Air, added a twin in Iowa, and added a Jet Commander to go to Latin America (Chiquita Banana).
Morrell was a subsidiary of United Brands Co. and I was called to New York (New York again!) to run all the UB airplanes and revamped the company planes in Latin America – Panama, Honduras, Costa Rica. That reversed the accident rate and brought costs down dramatically. We added a new Gulfstream II and a JetStar based at Teterboro. I had a corporate office on the 27th floor of 30 Rockefeller Center! (Not my style.) I left UB due to my unhappiness with management decision-making.
From there my employment history tells the rest: charter operations at Teterboro and Ronkonkoma in New York, great fun at Oklahoma City with North American Rockwell, which morphed into Gulfstream Jet Commander. Managed all flight operations – flight testing of three new models of Turbo Commanders, ferry flights, pilot training, etc. Worked with Bob Hoover. When the plant closed, I moved to Denver to sell Turbo Commanders.
I got sidetracked from airplanes to own the “world famous” Glory Hole Tavern in Central City, Colorado. More great experiences and people and stories! Sold the business and left Colorado to come to Oshkosh, where my wife grew up.
Back to aviation once settled in Wisconsin. Got a call to go to Milwaukee to start up a new FAA repair station for C-130 parts. Stayed an extra year to run it. Today, it is a multi-million dollar business. Again, happy days, but no flying. So I went to Dekalb, Illinois, to start a charter operation with Aero Commanders and King Airs. At age 67 I was still flying charter! Decided it was time to stop flying for a living.
Finally, moved to Neenah, Wisconsin. Lots of interaction with EAA. Lots of flying at Pioneer Airport; in charge of airplane maintenance there. Very active in the local EAA Chapter (newsletter, president, etc.) And now publishing the Brodhead Pietenpol Association Newsletter with Dee. We’ve gone from about 125 to 700 members!
Through it all. I never had an airplane accident, nor did any operation that I was associated with. Over 21,000 hours of safe flying. I attribute my successful record to firm, friendly discipline, lots of good people, and lots of good luck. [This ends Doc’s reminiscence.]
Great lifetime aviation story, isn’t it? Doc’s wife, Dee, calls him the “Forrest Gump of Aviation.” Like Forrest, a straight shooter who just wanted to do the right thing and stay out of trouble, but who seemed always to show up in the background when great historically events occurred. Doc personally witnessed so much the rest of us just read about. “Doc was there,” Dee says. “His entire life has been spent around the difficult birth, exciting youth, challenging teen years, and historical adulthood of the ‘Golden Years’ of aviation.”
So, thanks to the Madison, La Crosse, Green Bay/Fox Valley and Glenview, Illinois chapters of the Navy League of the U.S., and to the Hangar One Foundation, which has seen fit to honor Doc Mosher with its first “Aviation Excellence Award.” It would have been hard to find a more deserving recipient to initiate this distinction.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Ed Leineweber is an aviation, litigation and business attorney practicing in Madison, Wisconsin. He is a Certified Instrument Flight Instructor (CFII) and holds a Light Sport Repairman Maintenance Certificate. A retired Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge, Leineweber once operated two fixed based operations and managed the airports where they were located.