Collection of William J. Ballard, DDS, 3-24-05
via email from William J. Ballard, DDS, 3-24-05
In high school, Don was the quarterback for Saginaw High School. Don and his classmates built a few gliders in these years, and Don made many attempts to glide down the natural bowl at Hoyt Park. Don was also good friends with Bay City's Lionel DeRemer and Henry Dora.
In April, 1915, Don bought leftover airplane components from Saginaw's Brooks Manufacturing and modified their Bleriot type fuselage and 'Farman type' (Curtiss copy) wings into an airplane of his own design, powered by a 60 hp. Maximotor.
By June of 1915, Don was teaching himself to fly this aeroplane. Stewart Howson, in a 1949 Saginaw News article, described the first flight:
The first airplane flight was made from a cow pasture in June, 1915. Don taxied up and down the field several times, then lifted the plane over a fence at the other end of the field. We repaired the plane and the same thing happened again. The third time Don took off, circled over the farmer's barn and landed without mishap. Outside of that first ride as a passenger, he never had been aloft in an airplane before.
Don started flying it in June, 1915. Newspaper accounts of his flying exploits were scarce because news of the Great War in Europe occupied the newspapers' columns.
McGee's first public flight was before 5,000 people at the Merrill Harvest Festival August 11, 1915. The newspaper account of that flight:
He went up about 1,000 feet and, when he had reached this height, he made more than a mile circle speeding at the rate between 65 and 70 miles an hour. He was in the air for about ten minutes and, when he touched the ground after spiral glides, he was so enthusiastically received that he responded to an encore by making a short flight. He landed like a veteran both times and has thus enrolled himself among America's aviators.
At the end of 1915 flying season, Don sold this airplane to Ed Wismiller of Saginaw and built another airplane. I will send an email of a photo of this plane separately.
Don McGee's second airplane, built in the winter of 1915-16 was a two-seat biplane with a 90hp OX-5 engine, Brooks 'Farman type' (Curtiss copy) wings, fuselage and empennage of his own design.
So far, I have been able to find six newspaper accounts of his exhibitions in 1915.
In late October of 1916, he flew the 90 miles from Saginaw to Ann Arbor and flew over U of M's football stadium, where Michigan was playing Syracuse, with the letter 'M' painted under each wing.
During WWI, Don McGee was a civilian flight instructor at Selfridge Field and was killed October 19, 1917 when he passed out at the controls.
When I have finished with Ed Wismiller's chapter, I will shoot that off to you as well. Again, thanks for your help in this project.
William J. Ballard, DDS,
via email from Nancy Mess, 1-18-06
Niece of O. E Williams
The Fenton Michigan Memorial. The CHAMBER OF COMMERCE of Fenton, Michigan arranged the commemorative of twelve men (listed below) who gave their lives in the development of aeronautics. A cachet was arranged showing the names of those men. Letters arrived from all parts of the world to be mailed with the special cachet applied. 5,300 letters went into the mail on that Memorial Day, 1929.
"TO THE STUDENTS OF THE WILLIAMS SCHOOL OF AVIATION AND OTHERS OF OUR YOUNG MEN WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF AVIATION"
O. E. Williams
Lt. Cyrus Bettis (served in WW1)
Lt. John Burns (served in WW1)
Capt. E. G. Knapp (served in WW1)
Lt. J. Thad Johnson (served in WW1)
Early Wright Exhibition Pilot - Instructor
by Harold E. Morehouse
Collection of Rolland DeRemer - 12-8-03
The early developments of flying also began interesting him at this time and he studied everything obtainable on the subject. In late 1910, his interest in aviation reached a new high point when he read in AERO magazine of the wonderful exhibition flights of THE THREE MUSKETEERS. They were Brookins, Hoxsey and Johnstone, whose great flights made notable headlines in several public demonstrations that fall. DeRemer had his first sight of an aeroplane in flight on May 29- 31, 1911 when he, Don McGee and Joe Bazie saw Wright pilot Howard Gill fly at Riverside Park in nearby Saginaw, and there he was convinced he wanted to learn to fly. Following this he visited the Brooks Aeroplane Company there where he was allowed on the field to watch their testing.
During WWI, Don McGee was a civilian flight instructor at Selfridge Field and was killed
October 19, 1917 when he passed out at the controls.
If you have any more information on this pioneer aviator,
please contact me.
E-mail to Ralph Cooper