In aviation history the 1920s and 1930s are collectively known as the golden age of aviation. This was a time of unprecedented advances in the design and production of aircraft. Engineers and businessmen envisioned the revolutionary changes that aviation would have on their world, much the same way today's science and business leaders envisioned the momentous impact the personal computer would have on ours. For the public, aviation, and its heroes such as Lindbergh, Earhart and Doolittle, captured the American imagination with dreams of travel and slipping the surly bonds of earth. Air races were the NASCAR of their era, and advances in technology saw many challenges made to speed, distance and altitude records. Known to all were the company names Cessna, Curtiss, Lockheed, Ryan, Sikorsky, Stearman, Boeing---and Waco.
The Weaver Aircraft Company was founded in 1919 by Clayton Brukner, Elwood Junkin, George Weaver and Charles Meyers. Clayt Brukner and Sam Junkin were high school friends who shared a fascination with designing and test flying their own aircraft. Despite their youth they were visionaries who foresaw the commercial potential of their work. While traveling through Ohio in 1919, they had a chance meeting with barnstormers Buck Weaver and Charlie Meyers. These four individuals decided to combine their talents, and formed the Weaver Aircraft Company to manufacture the WACO aircraft.
WACO is an acronym for Weaver Aircraft Co. and is pronounced wah-co, as in taco. Numerous designs and prototypes were developed but none were commercial successes. In 1923 Buck Weaver, to support his family, left the company for a better paying flying job. Charlie Meyers continued barnstorming
so this left Brukner and Junkins as the managing partners of the enterprise.
In 1923 they changed the name of their business to The Advance Aircraft Company but the company's product continued to be the Waco aircraft. The Advance Aircraft Company's first commercial success occurred in 1925 with the design and production of 260 Model 9 airplanes. Tragically, just at the time of their first success, Sam Junkin died from heart failure at the age of 30, leaving Clayt Brukner to manage the enterprise.
In 1927 the popular Waco 10 was designed, resulting in a 3 year production run of over 1600 aircraft. With the success of the Waco 10, the company was fast becoming the best known aircraft manufacturer in America. The Waco aircraft were graceful in appearance while rugged and reliable in use. Wacos were sold to individuals, flying schools, mail carriers and fledgling airlines such as Northwest. Waco test pilot, Freddie Lund, was well known as an air show performer, and Waco biplanes were prominent at every major air event in the country.
In 1929, to better identify the company with its product, Brukner changed the name of The Advance Aircraft Company to the Waco Aircraft Company. Through Brukner's leadership the Waco Aircraft Company successfully navigated the Great Depression, offering design and performance improvements to a demanding domestic and international market. In 1935 Waco delivered its 2500th aircraft, and by 1940 Waco had built more than 3000 planes with more Wacos registered in America than aircraft of any other manufacturer.
With the outbreak of World War II, Waco Aircraft helped meet the nation's challenge by building 600 UPF-7 biplanes for military pilot training. It then tooled up to mass produce the Hadrian troop carrying gliders which flew Allied soldiers into western Europe on D-Day in 1944. In post-war America the emerging aviation market was for all metal monoplanes rather than the frame and fabric biplanes for which Waco had become famous. Clayt Brukner made the difficult decision to end aircraft production, and one could say Waco went out on top.
Today, many Wacos still fly. They are restored and maintained by enthusiasts who appreciate their history and the reward of flying these magnificent aircraft. To quote the Waco Aircraft Company slogan, "Ask any pilot."
"When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return."
Leonardo da Vinci