Combs, Harry (Benjamin) 1913-2003

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COMBS, Harry (Benjamin) 1913-2003


See index for CA sketch: Born January 27, 1913, in Denver, CO; died of heart failure, December 23, 2003, in Phoenix, AZ. Business executive and author. Combs was a former pilot who became president of the aircraft companies Combs Aircraft and Gates Learjet. The son of a World War I combat pilot, as a young man Combs learned to fly as well and even built his own biplane. He graduated from Yale University in 1935 and worked for Pan American Airways for two years before founding Mountain States Aviation in Denver in 1939. The company, which later was renamed Combs Aircraft, trained pilots and was notable for preparing them for World War II. Combs himself joined the U.S. Army Air Forces during the war and piloted troop transportation planes all over the world. After the war, he returned to his business, and from 1966 until 1972 was an advisor and chair of the board of Gates Aviation & Combs Aircraft, Inc. In 1972, Combs was made president and director of Gates Learjet Corp. He moved the company from Denver to Tucson in 1975, and seven years later he retired. During his later years, Combs was often recognized for his service to the aviation industry: he earned a Wright Memorial Trophy Award in 1985, and was elected to the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1996, among many other honors. He also won the Aviation/Space Writers Association award for best nonfiction book in 1979 for his Kill Devil Hill: Discovering the Secret of the Wright Brothers (1979), which he wrote with Martin Caidin. Combs published other nonfiction titles, including The Legend of the Painted Horse (1996) and Where Was Custer?: At the Battle of the Little Big Horn (1999), as well as the novel Brules (1992). Combs's final contribution to the world of aviation came recently in November, 2003, when he donated a replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer to the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.



Los Angeles Times, December 27, 2003, p. B25.

New York Times, December 28, 2003, p. A27.

Washington Post, December 27, 2003, p. B5.

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Combs, Harry (Benjamin) 1913-2003

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