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Loving, Neal Vernon

Neal Vernon Loving
1916–1998

Airplane designer, aeronautical engineer

Adistinguished airplane designer, aeronautical engineer, flight instructor, and co-owner of a flight school, Neal Vernon Loving was diligent in his pursuit of a career in aviation. Despite the challenges of racism and a crippling air disaster, he had a successful career as an airplane designer. The designs of his airplanes stand as a testament to him and to those who cherish the humble home-built plane. He later enjoyed a distinguished career as an aerospace research engineer.

Loving was born February 4, 1916 in Detroit, Michigan to Alma and Harding Clay Loving. He had two brothers, Barney and Robert, and one sister, Ardine. His father worked full time as a conductor, while at the same time studying optometry at the Columbia Optical College in St. Paul and supporting the whole family. In 1925, his father became the first black to pass the Michigan State Board Examiners in the field of optometry. Loving later realized that his father, a tall fair-skinned man with dark wavy hair and gray eyes, must have been passing for white because blacks during that time were restricted to less skilled jobs.

Loving's life was changed at age ten when he saw a de Havilland DH-4 biplane while arguing with his fourteen-year-old brother, Barney, about where to place two radio antennae across the backyard. Barney noticed Loving's excitement over the silver and blue biplane overhead and suggested Loving study aviation instead of radio. At the sight of that plane, Loving found his life-long passion. After that incident, he raced out of the house every time a plane flew over, and he was soon able to identify planes, simply by the engine sound. The 1927 solo transatlantic flight that Charles Lindbergh took to Paris further inspired his interest in aviation.

Loving's family failed to support his interest in aviation since during this time, aviation was a field limited in its advancement opportunities for African Americans, and they were skeptical of his being able to succeed in it. His mother suggested he visit the nearby public library in Detroit to find a new interest. He did visit the library, but he did not find a new interest. Instead, he found loads of aviation and aircraft books and he studied them ardently.

Loving saved his money to purchase model airplane materials and aviation magazines. At fourteen, he had saved the three dollars necessary for an airplane ride. Loving's first flight was in the front seat of a Waco biplane. The flight took him from Detroit City Airport over downtown Detroit and up the Detroit River. The fifteen-minute ride was an unforgettable experience.

In 1931, Loving enrolled in the auto/aero department at Cass Technical High School to specialize in aeronautics. Shortly after enrolling, he was called to the department head's office and told that there were no opportunities for blacks in the field of aeronautics. It was suggested to Loving that he transfer to the auto department where he could learn skills that would allow him to earn a living. When Loving replied that he loved airplanes and did not care to be that practical, permission was granted reluctantly for him to remain in the program.

Chronology

1916
Born in Detroit, Michigan on February 4
1931
Enters Cass Technical High School in auto-aero department
1935
Receives Project of the Month Award from Mechanix Illustrated
1935
Begins taking flying lessons
1939
Takes first solo flight; organizes the St. Antoine YMCA Glider Club for boys fourteen and older
1944
Airplane crash crushes both legs and rehabilitation begins
1946
Forms Wayne School of Aeronautics with Earsly Taylor
1949
Begins construction of WR-1 (Loving's Love)
1954
Wins Most Outstanding Design award for Loving's Love
1955
Marries Clare Therese; enrolls at Wayne State University to study aeronautical engineering
1961
Graduates Wayne State University
1968
Wins Meritorious Civilian Service award
1982
Retires from Wright AFB, aerospace engineering position
1991
Wins Distinguished Achievement award, Organization of Black Airline Pilots
1991
Stops flying
1994
Publishes autobiography
1995
Wins Major Achievement award, Experimental Aircraft Association
1996
Gets inducted into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame
1998
Dies in Yellow Springs, Ohio on December 19

Loving attempted to join the Cass Aero Club, but his application was turned down because blacks were ineligible. However, shortly after that, he joined the all-black Ace-flying club, an organization committed to teaching African Americans to fly. Months later, the Ace-flying club came to an abrupt end when the founder, Don Pearl Simmons, and his wife were killed in a plane crash. Nonetheless, Loving met a life-long friend at the first meeting. Her name was Earsly Taylor, a tall young woman who had served as the club's secretary. She and Loving were friends and business partners for many years to come.

Loving graduated from Cass Tech in January 1934 and began cleaning streets for the Detroit Welfare Department. He developed frostbite on the job, so he decided to discontinue working outside as a manual laborer and was more determined than ever to pursue a career in aviation. Subsequently, Loving began working voluntarily for his former Cass Tech aeromechanics instructor, George Tabraham. The job allowed him to gain the experience necessary to obtain an aircraft mechanics license.

In 1935, after being inspired by articles in Modern Mechanix and Popular Mechanics magazines, Loving designed and built a ground trainer, a nonflying airplane for children who want to imagine they are flying. The ground trainer was his first "big" project. Loving was given the "Project of the Month" award by Mechanix Illustrated for the airplane. The Junior Birdmen of America invited him to exhibit the plane at the Annual All-American Air Show at Detroit City Airport. Attending the air show as an exhibitor made Loving extremely proud; just seven years prior, he had visited the show as a spectator.

In the fall of 1935 during the Great Depression, Loving began to design a full-size glider. In order to raise money for materials, he started looking for a job. It was difficult for an African American to find a job during this time. However, the following year he found a job teaching model aircraft building for the Detroit Department of Recreation. Loving completed the glider, designated N15750. The N15750 had structural problems, and he was never able to fly it. However, the experience he gained from it helped him in designing other aircraft. Loving began taking flying lessons in 1938 and took his first solo flight in 1939. His friend, Earsly Taylor, was also beginning to fly. The same year, Loving founded the St. Antoine Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) Glider Club for boys fourteen and older. In 1940, he completed the construction of his second glider designated the Wayne S-1 and was registered with the Department of Commerce as NX27775.

In order to improve his skills, Loving enrolled in a six-month accelerated course in engineering and drafting at Highland Park Junior College and began applying for a job with the Detroit Board of Education. His old Cass Technical High School mentor, George Tabraham, called him to work as an aircraft mechanics instructor at the newly founded Aero Mechanics High School. Tabraham, the principal at the new school, had been a supporter of Loving's early efforts in aviation and had inspired Loving to achieve when others told him not to try. Loving became the most popular instructor at the school.

Co-founds Aircraft Company and School of Aeronautics

In late November of 1941, the NX27775 made its last glider flight because a week prior to this, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and gasoline rationing and emergency rules grounded most private aircraft. Loving built a larger version of the plane and designated it the S-2. Loving and Earsly Taylor then formed the Wayne Aircraft Company, the first black aircraft factory, in Detroit. Work proceeded slowly because both partners had other full-time jobs. However, they were determined that their company would be a commercial success.

With a Waco biplane and the S-2 glider, Loving and Taylor applied to join the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), a volunteer civilian branch of the United States Army Air Force in which airplane owners provided pre-military and preflight training to young people to be used in air-sea rescue missions. After being turned down by the white squadrons in the Detroit area, they were granted permission to form Squadron 639-5 (63rd Wing, Group 9, Squadron 5), an all-black squadron. Loving served as executive officer of Squadron 639-5, and Taylor served as commanding officer. They offered standard preflight, pre-military training, and training in parachute jumping. Squadron 639-5 became known informally as the Parachute Squadron.

Loving's position at Aero Mechanics High School was terminated in 1943. He then began working as an engine assembler on the assembly line at the Ford Motor Company. Shortly thereafter, Loving received a draft notice, and he began increasing his efforts to complete the design of the S-2 while still working his seven days per week job at Ford and continuing his CAP duties. As a result of his many hours of hard work, Loving began experiencing long-term fatigue, a condition that would cause him later health problems.

In February 1944, Loving was called to the draft. He had passed all of his exams, except the cardiology exam. Although he had received a medical certificate and his pilot's license, the military physician classified him 4-F (unfit for service) and stated adamantly that his heart was bad. Loving gave up on his hopes of serving in the military and felt that he would never get an engineering position at Ford. He appealed to the War Manpower Commission for a Statement of Availability (SA) in order for him to be able to use his drafting skills elsewhere. With an SA, Loving planned to enroll at Wayne State University in the fall of 1944.

Scheduled for a routine CAP training session on July 30, 1944, Loving, already experiencing long-term fatigue, set out to fly the S-2 at Wings Airport in Utica, Michigan, north of Detroit, with only two hours sleep the previous night. In addition to his poor physical condition, he failed to see indications of the loss of altitude. As he was preparing to land, the glider stalled and crashed. Both of Loving's legs were crushed, so doctors had to amputate his legs just below the knees. He recuperated at the St. Joseph Hospital in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, where he remained until Valentine's Day 1945. During his recovery, he and Taylor made the decision to close the Wayne Aircraft Company. Within months, Loving was fitted with wooden legs, and by 1946 he was driving, walking, and flying again. The same year he and Taylor opened the Wayne School of Aeronautics, the first flight school for black pilots, equipped with an Air Force training plane. They had no problem recruiting students for the school because black veterans rejected by white schools and returning war veterans could attend. Also, accepting students of all races helped to increase the number of recruits. The school was in full operation by early 1947.

Receives Outstanding Design Award for Loving's Love

Loving once again began designing planes. He had an interest in midget-class racers, a new category intended to be affordable to builders and pilots with average incomes. Loving began working on a midget racer, designated the WR-1, which later became known as Loving's Love. In 1948, the Professional Racing Pilots Association (PRPA) approved the general design of the WR-1. Loving began constructing the gull-winged plane in January 1949. On August 7, 1950, he took the plane out for a nearly flawless test flight. The following year, he began to enter it in races, earning a racing pilot's license at the National Air Races. The engine on Loving's Love could reach over 3,800 rpm in level flight resulting in a top speed of approximately 215 to 255 mph. Loving became the first black pilot and the first double-amputee to qualify as a racing pilot with the National Aeronautic Association and the PRPA.

Between 1953 and 1954, Loving flew Loving's Love on a 4800-mile round-trip between Detroit and Kingston, Jamaica to the location where Earsly Taylor Barnett and Carl Taylor Barnett had founded a flight school. The following year, at the second annual fly-in of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) at Rockford, Illinois, Loving won the "Most Outstanding Design" award for Loving's Love. The following year, Loving married Carl Barnett's sister, Clare Therese. Later, they adopted a son, Paul Leslie, born in 1958 and a daughter, Michelle Stephanie, born in 1959. In the fall of 1955, Loving was finally able to enroll at Wayne State University as a student in the aeronautical engineering program at the age of 39. In 1957, he closed the Wayne School of Aeronautics and devoted himself full-time to his studies. He graduated from Wayne State University in 1961 with a degree in aerospace engineering.

After receiving his aerospace engineering degree, Loving went to work as an aeronautical engineer in the Flight Dynamics Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (AFB) in Ohio. He became known for his diplomacy and his work in clear-air turbulence measurement techniques. While serving as a project engineer for the Air Force's High Altitude Clear Air Turbulence Project, Loving coordinated agreements with other nations for worldwide operations bases for the Lockheed U-2 spy plane and traveled oversees to discuss potential turbulence problems a supersonic transport (SST) might face.

In 1982, Loving retired after twenty years of service at Wright AFB and devoted his time to his family. He continued to fly a "roadable" aircraft, kept at his garage at Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he and his wife lived. He stopped flying in 1991, when he had an aneurysm in his lower aorta and the Federal Aviation Administration revoked his medical certificate. In 1994, his autobiography, Loving's Love: A Black American's Experience in Aviation, was published. He also became a motivational speaker.

On October 18, 1997, Loving was enshrined in the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame for his long and memorable career. He died in 1998 at the age of 82. He will go down in history as one who overcame the odds and made major contributions to the black aviation community and the aerospace industry. Loving's Love is on permanent display at the Experimental Aircraft Association's Air Education Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

REFERENCES

Books

Gubert, Betty Kaplan, Miriam Sawyer, and Caroline M. Fannin. Distinguished African Americans in Aviation and Space Science. Westport, Conn.: Oryx Press, 2002.

Online

Orndoff, Bill. 2003. "Pilot overcame prejudice, built experimental plane." Hilltop Times. http://www.hilltoptimes.com/story.asp?edition=113&storyid=3136 (Accessed 24 January 2005).

                                          Sharon McGee

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