by Archibald McKinlay
The Times, Sunday, August 28, 1988
South Chicagoan Max Stupar, atop of a Baltimore Avenue building, prepares to launch himself in one of the gliders he built
at the turn of the century. The photo is circa 1908. Stupar later went on to become a pioneer of the aviation world.
Collection of LaVerne Erhardt
This is a tale of the Region's Daedalus.
You'll recall that the original invented wax wings for himself and his son Icarus to escape prison, but when the exhilarated icarus soared too close to the sun, his wings melted, plunging the young test pilot to earth and death.
Unlike Greek mythology, however, our story combines Daedalus and Icarus in one person, a Regionite known simply as Max. Maximillian Stupar was born on Sept. 23, 1885 in Metlika, Slovenia, where he learned the delights of flying kites.
Even after his parents uprooted Max from the empire of the Hapsburgs and transplanted him in South Chicago, that joy never left him. When Max wasn't dreaming about kites, he dreamed about Leonardo da Vinci's sketeches for carrying a man in the air.
And he followd the exploits of Octave Chanute, another transplanted European (from France) who had found a home in Chicago and had developed an interest in kites.
Max was inspired by Chanute's building on the landmark glider expereiments of Otto Lilienthal, a German, to write Progress in Flying Machies (1894). This book was the bible of aeronautics.
Max/s book, some glider experiments he attempted in the dunes of Indiana, Miller Beach , during 1896, and in Dune park during 1897, provided the design for the Wright brothers' first airplane.
But while Chanute and the Wright brothers were becoming aeronautical icons, Max managed to elude celebrity.
In 1902, as the Wright brothers also experimented with gliders, Max began his own experiments. Instead of taking off from the dunes of Kitty Hawk, Max leaped from the tops of houses, barns, low hills, and slopes of South Chicago.
His gliders sometimes reached the awe-inspiring altitude of 300 feet. Some neighbors demanded the kid be given a saliva test.
Then, like Octave Chanute, Max moved his experiments to the sacred sands of Dune park, which led in 1908, to his construction of his first airplane. Alas, the plane cracked up before Max could test it properly.
Undeterred, Max patterned a plane after the one Louis Bleriot had used to fly the English Channel. He made a test flight to Milwaukee, lifting the hydroplane from the waters of Sandy Beach at 95th and the Big Lake the following year.
Lucklessly, that plane also had a short life, ignominiously plowing into Chicago's first airfield, Cicero Field at 22nd and Cicero.
In 1910, he opened the Stupar Aero Works in South Chicago, then sold it in 1912 to the Chicago Aero Works for a one-third ownership, and a position as chief engineer. Between 1912 and 1916, Chicago Aero built 30 airplanes and introduced the Stupar Tractor Biplane, the first biplane to use an enclosed fuselage and tractor propellor.
And then Max escaped the Region. With a glowing resume that proclaimed Max an aviation pioneer, he left South Chicago, in 1916, to join the Standard Airport Corporation in New Jersey.
Then World War I intervened.
With America's entry into the most implicative event in the history of modern man, the airplane came into its own as an instrument of war and a subject of romance, the steed of flying knights in search of adventure.
So Max returned to Chicago as a member of the inspection service for the new U.S. Air Service, and then went to Buffalo, and finally Washington, D.C., as assistant chief of wood inspection for airplane construction.
Throughout the war, and until 1922, airplanes were made almost exclusively of wood, the so-called "stick and wire" construction. Max knew more about that than just about anybody, having worked closely with several South Chicago lumber firms. He also authored a book entitled "Wood Technology," as he drifted farther away from the cockpit.
After the war, Max became an engineer with the G. Elias and Brothers Lumber Co., which was just getting into aircraft design. In 1927 joined Curtiss Airplane. He stayed with Curtiss until 1939, as chief of the estimations department, in which post he originated the definitive advanced system of airplane cost estimating.
Max finally escaped his prison of routine, when war started again in Europe during 1939. He soared as high as the sun. Not only did he help develop the modern method of assembly-line airplane construction, he became liason between the government and the aircraft industry, flying all over the country in the process.
Then his moment in the sun ended. On Nov. 27, 1941, near the Dayton field named of Ohio's two most famous bicycle repairmen, Max fell to the earth for the last time, joining the ranks of the young test pilot, Icarus.