Tuesday, June 25, 2013

My First Max Conrad Webpage

I just happened to run across the first webpage I had created on local Winona aviation legend Max Conrad. After this I had created a website residing at http://www.maxconrad.com which now belongs to his family.  A couple of weeks ago I received a call from a writer who had interviewed me for a story about Max and the Armistice Day Blizzard.

Update: Blog Post About Max Conrad's Music

Who Was Max Conrad?

Max Conrad was one of the greatest small plane pilots ever. He was a shy, soft-spoken man with an irresistible warm grin. In later years he was often known as the "Flying Grandfather". Along with many astounding accomplishments, Max suffered many personal tragedies including almost dying early in his aviation career.

Born in Winona Minnesota in 1903. Max left and returned to Winona many times through out his life.

Major Accomplishments

  • 50, 000 hours in the air, the equivalent to about six years
  • Nearly 200 solo flights across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans
  • First light plane flight New York to Paris since Lindbergh in 1954.
  • Set a world's high jump record of 6 feet 8 1/2 inches in 1931 at the age of 29.
  • Taught more than 3000 people to fly
  • Trained 44 airline captains - more than 350 Navy, Army, Air Force, and Marine pilots and 56 licensed mechanics
  • Saved a number of lives in the 1940 Armistice Day blizzard
  • Wrote book describing his Atlantic crossings, "Green Water"
  • Broke almost every record possible in a light plane including around the world in eight days.

    Max Conrad Recognition Day August 30, 1961 -Between 12,000 to 15,000 people attended.

The late John F. Kennedy said to Max while president in a telegram:

"I'm happy to learn of the dedication of Max Conrad Field in Winona, Minnesota. Your numerous long range flight records in small aircraft are a tribute to your courage and professional ability. You have helped to prepare young people for the complex and serious responsibilities in the aerospace age. In addition, your work and example have brought good will to many parts of the world".

Ford Tri-Motor purchased with money borrowed from 30 Winona businessmen. Max planned to increase his passenger load on flights to California but instead used it for charter, stunting at fairs, dropping parachuters, and multi-engine pilot training. The plane was destroyed when one of the engines caught fire on the ground.

Picture #4

Picture #5

Winona's first airport grew to a complex that included classrooms, offices, a shop, restaurant, living quarters for students, as well as housing over thirty aircraft. Burned to the ground winter of 1942 when gasoline was spilled and frozen hangar doors could not be opened. Max saved the man who had spilled the gasoline and caught on fire by smothering the flames with his own body and then pulling off the man's coveralls.

Picture #6 Winona Experiment

The Winona Experiment was an attempt to rekindle an interest in aviation in young people. Max wanted to conduct the experiment in Winona although others did not consider Winona the best choice. Over a period of 13 weeks, boys and girls were to construct a full-size aircraft under Max's supervision. Material was donated by manufacturers and the Winona city council have approved rent-free space at the municipal airport. The program was to serve as a model for a nationwide program, still Max could not afford to keep the program going without a steady income.

Picture #7 - 1966 Aztec C, fuel capacity was 476 gallons with the addition of cabin and wing tip tanks. The plane was named "St. Louis Woman" after his daughter Jana Kosko, who lived in St. Louis at the time.

Max with his trademark Mickey Mouse doll. Max would talk to the doll on long flights.

Armistice Day Storm

November 11, 1940 started out as a beautiful day with temperatures near 60 degrees but by the next morning temperatures were below zero and 26 inches of snow had fallen. Almost 60 people died around Winona and the surrounding areas.

Max took out the Piper Cub because it was the easiest to take out of the hangar.

He flew over the backwaters of the Mississippi spotting a boy he knew standing in frozen water, and soon spotted more people. Max wanted to land but knew the wind would flip the plane so he returned to the airport. Knowing the risks of flying in such weather, Max could not leave those men stranded without trying to help. He flew the rest of the day and part of the next, guiding rescue boats, throwing out supplies, and guiding hunters to rescue boats.

Hit By a Propeller

Most airplane engines of the time did not have electric starters and were hard to start once stopped. Common practice was to keep the engine running while passengers were loading and unloading.

Max and one of his students, Bob Rumick were flying to Minneapolis but landed in Frontenac where Bob's aunt owned a hotel. After lunch they were persuaded to give rides, the last ride was to Bob's cousin and her friend. Bob's cousin jumped to the ground towards the spinning prop and Max tried to save her. Max was hit by the tip of the propeller in the head.

Doctors at the hospital in Red Wing called his parents and told them he was dying. Max's mother called her brother-in-law an attending physician at the Mayo Clinic and begged him to find a neurosurgen who could come and look at Max. After five days, Max awoke from a coma.

Soaring Above Winona, Worries Some Residents

One of Max's students tells the story of how he spotted a large thundercloud over the airport in Winona, found the associated thermal updraft and flew around with the engine turned off. People thought Max was in trouble, and called the police. Meanwhile Max flew the plane to a field several miles and did a dead-stick landing. He again started the engine and flew back to Winona.

Making Record Setting Flights

Preparing the Plane

Remove everything not absolutely needed: floorboards, soundproofing, upholestery, seats, and even normal engine components.

Reduce drag; door handles, latches, antennas, even the flaps!

The plane was basically a flying gas tank

From the "Standard Catalog of Piper Twin Engine Aircraft 1954 - 1993" by Jim Cavaugh

1966 Aztec C Specs

Useable fuel 144 gallons
Wingspan 37' - Average empty Weight 2933 pounds - Average Useful Load 2267 pounds - Top Speed 216 mph - Max Cruise 210 mph
Range 1055 miles - Endurance 5.9 hours

2 - 250 hp Lycoming engines

Max Conrad is mentioned on Page 39 of this book

"In early 1961, Max Conrad set an international speed record when he flew a Piper Aztec
around the world in less than nine days, at an average speed of 123.2 mph.

Preparing the Man for a Severe Test of Endurance

Beginning with his charter flights to California, Max trained himself to stay awake for long periods of time. He found if at the end of the long flight he alternated between a little rest, a light meal, some exercise, and more rest; he was ready to go again within a day. If instead, he ate heavy after a long flight, it prolonged recovery or even caused sickness. He also prepared for a long flight by losing one night's sleep a week for a month before a long flight.

Max was awake for as much as 60 hours at a time while flying. My thoughts are, how can a
human go that long without sleep? In doing some research, I found that people have forced themselves to stay awake for considerably longer than 60 hours

Side Effects of Long Periods of No Sleep

decreased judgment ability and decision making, reduced short-term memory capacity
People report hallucinating and having trouble speaking.

Major disasters such as nuclear accidents of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island and the spill of the Exxon Valdez could possibly be due to lack of sleep.

The record appears to be 264 hours or about 11 days without sleep.

Max's New York to Paris

23 hours and 23 minutes in Piper Apache twin engine 150 hp - 150 mph cruise, long range
total weight 4900 pounds, roughly 3700 miles overloaded plane by 1500 pounds

Lindbergh Spirit of St. Louis 46 foot wingspan 2500 pounds of fuel total weight 5135 pounds

Weight savings - no radio to save 90 pounds, no fuel guage - heavy and inaccurate, used a watch and the tachometer Lindbergh was a stickler for detail in the construction of Spirit of St. Louis 33 hour flight


"In 1926 Clifford B. Harmon, a wealthy sportsman and aviator, established three international trophies to be awarded annually to the world's outstanding aviator, aviatrix, and aeronaut. A fourth trophy was later created to honor achievements in space flight. The Harmon Trophy--the aviator's award--is given for the most outstanding international achievements in the preceding year, with the art of flying receiving first consideration. The Smithsonian Institution acquired the aviator's trophy in 1950 from the Clifford B. Harmon Trust."

Lindbergh, Howard Hughes, Jimmy Doolittle, Chuck Yeager, Wiley Post,


Max Conrad Timeline

1903 - Born in Winona Minnesota

1921 - Marquette University

1922 – University of Colorado

1923 – Detroit Michigan, worked at Cadillac and Plymouth factories

1924 University of California at Berkley

1925 University of Minnesota Engineering School

1928 – first solo flight Chicago flying lessons – WDN article “learned to fly in Denver”

Wichita Kansas to pick up airplane

1928 – back to Winona

First week in Winona had first crash landing due to engine failure and stalled landing Student pilot crashed plane with Max in it by hitting a haystack, Max was hurt

1929 – Max is hit by propeller, almost dies

1930 – flies to California to recuperate

1931 – set world’s high jump record of 6 feet 8 ½ inches

1931 – Marries Betty Biesanz

1931 – Brother Art dies in plane crash

1937 – buys Ford Tri-Motor, it later burns up in a fire

1940 – Armistice Day rescue

1943 – hangar burns, Max rescues man

1943 – left Winona to be a bush pilot and then pilot for Minneapolis Honeywell Company

1948 – family moves to Switzerland

1951 – Returns to Winona, starts the Winona Experiment

1951 – Non-stop between Los Angeles and New York, first person in light-plane

1953 – Flew to 48 states

1954 – New York to Paris in 22 hours in a light-plane,

1955 – Starts ferrying airplanes across the Atlantic

1958 – named “Pilot of the Year” by the National Pilots Association

1959 – Start of his record setting

1961 – Winona held “Max Conrad Recognition Day”. Name Winona Municipal Airport was changed to Max Conrad Field

1961 – Flew around the world in eight days, breaking the previous light-plane record by three weeks.

1964 – Dissolves Conrad Aviation in Lock Haven, headquarters for ferrying operation

1964 – Moves to Prescott Arizona

1965 – non-stop flight between Capetown, South Africa and St. Petersburg Florida, 7878 miles in 55 hours.

1979 - Died at age 76


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