In the 1920s, after World War I, there was tremendous interest in aviation. Many of the boys who had flown the planes in France, for the Army Signal Corps, now wanted to continue their flying experience or to be connected with the flying industry somehow.
In McCook, Harold Sutton, who had been a flight instructor in Texas during the war, managed to buy one of the planes used for instruction, a Curtiss JN-4, (Jenny), at an Army surplus auction and flew it back to McCook.
For several weeks after he returned, Sutton enjoyed numerous flights, giving rides, around McCook and up and down the Republican Valley. He may not have had the distinction of owning McCook's first plane. He did have McCook's first plane accident.
Harold had finally succeeded in coaxing his wife into his plane for her first plane ride. All went well initially, but returning to the airfield (where McCook High is now located) the little plane began to cough and lose power. Harold figured that he could glide into the field for a landing, and almost made it. Instead, his tail rudder caught in the top of a tree, causing the plane to flip over on its top, Neither Harold nor his wife was hurt, but though Harold managed to free himself from his seat belt, his wife was stuck -- upside down, hanging from her seat belt. Harold was a nervous wreck. He could not lift her enough to undo the seat belt, and he feared fire from the crash.
Fortunately, two boys (Ray Search was one) saw the crash and ran to the Suttons' aid, and managed to extricate Mrs. Sutton, unhurt, from her seatbelt. In the years following Ray and Harold became good friends. Ray went on to a lot more flying, but after the crash Harold Sutton (and Mrs. Sutton) gave up flying for good.
Dr. Willis, a McCook physician, was well-known locally for his hunting prowess and his Canadian-manufactured plane, "Gypsy Moth," which he delighted in flying. He had a good safety record, but during a flying lesson with his daughter, they managed to crash the plane. Neither father nor daughter was hurt, but the shattered propeller sat in a corner of the airport for some time, till Ray Search had the prop made into an unusual clock, which hangs in the office at the High Plains museum yet today.
Wade Stevens, an instructor pilot in France during World War I, came home to become the pilot of a friend with a new plane, Dr. Brewster of Beaver City. Wade taught the good doctor to fly and Dr. Brewster became something of a celebrity as "Nebraska's Pioneer Flying Doctor." Wade gave up flying, entered the NU School of Law, and embarked on a successful law career in Beaver City and McCook
Charles Lindbergh regularly made barnstorming tours through McCook from his home base at Bird City, Kansas, giving flights to patrons for a nominal fee. From here he went on to become one of the new mail pilots, on his way to immortality, as the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
Harry Strunk made history in 1928, when he became the first publisher in the world to deliver a daily newspaper by air. Steve Tuttle, of Oberlin, was the first pilot for Strunk's plane, "Newsboy," a Curtiss-Robin C-1 monoplane. Tuttle, with exceptional accuracy, regularly delivered Gazettes to 46 communities in Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas.
In the early days of flying, after World War I, pilots were a close-knit group, who loved swapping stories of flying experiences and any and all aspects of flying. In McCook, the pilots even had their own fraternity, "The Knights of the Wormy Stump." This unusual name came from one meeting of the group, when a worm emerged from a stump, which was being used as a stool in front of the fireplace at Ray Search's cabin.
The charter members of that group made up of the nucleus of McCook pilots of that day -- Steve Tuttle, manager of the airport and Newsboy pilot, Forest Garlick, flight instructor, Paul Batty (Dr. John Batty's brother), Les Neiman, Eddie Malcolm, Charles Warriner, radio technician who later was the lead engineer for the CBS Radio network, Glen Hughes, and Ray Search. Glen Hughes and Willard Dutton, a local druggist, and also a pilot, were victims of a fatal McCook plane crash in 1933.)
However, not all the interest in flying in the 1920s revolved around piloting the planes. There were also McCook people who were interested in manufacturing planes. Steve Tuttle, from the beginning was engaged in the buying and selling of planes from his position as manager of the airport. One time Tuttle, Forrest Garlick, and Ray Search got into the business of aircraft manufacture. Their first plane was constructed of parts which had been salvaged from a number of discarded planes throughout the area.
When they flew their plane to North Platte for licensing, they were turned away because of discrepancies on the serial numbers of some of the parts. Discouraged, they sold their plane on the spot to a willing buyer. This fellow proceeded to fly the plane to his home in the Sandhills. He crashed the plane on its maiden trip, but was he was uninjured. For Steve, Forrest and Ray, their first manufactured plane was also their last.
A more successful aircraft manufacturing venture came to McCook in 1927, when Glen Morton and his brother established the Morton Brothers Aircraft Manufacturing Co. of McCook. Their first plane, a three passenger bi-plane, "The Nightingale," powered by a 90 h.p. Curtiss engine, was sold to a Kearney man for $2,800. (Presumably, that man did not crash on his plane's initial trip.) Eventually, there was at least one other plane built in the McCook plant. Lack of capital, plus less than suitable facilities for building planes, proved to be impossible hurdles to overcome and the building of planes in McCook was abandoned in 1928.
But this was not the end of the Morton Bros. Co., which had another facility in Omaha and continued to build their planes there, as well as operating a flight training school There were a number of models of planes, among which, the Morton f.s.b. (fast, safe, beautiful) was the most popular. It was a two-passenger plane powered by an 80 h.p. Continental engine. It had a wingspan of 30 feet 6 inches, and length of 18 feet 6 inches. It could carry a load of 650 pounds and had a range of 150 miles, and could climb to an altitude of 15,000 feet.
Though the Morton name continued to appear on new model airplanes, assets in the company were sold to the U.S. Aircraft Co. in 1928. In the 1930s, right up to World War II, the Morton parasol monoplane was a popular, easy flying machine.
The Morton Brothers are today remembered for the manufacture of Morton radial engines. The Morton M-5, was the standard of the industry.
The four-stroke, 5-cylinder radial engine, was designed by Glen Morton in the 1940s and sold as both a production engine and in kit form.
Some refer to the engines as ugly, but everyone agrees that they were practical and effective for the purposes for which they were designed. After the war a miniature version of the engine was built for model planes.
Source: Aerofiles.com; Ray Search Remembers McCook; McCook Gazette Centennial Edition