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HISTORY (continued 4 of 7)

The eyes of the nation (and the world) focus on Curtiss again in late summer 1933, when the International Air Races were held there in conjunction with the Century of Progress World's Fair in Chicago. Enormous crowds attended each day of the four-day event. Virtually every person who had anything to do with aviation attended the event. Among the luminaries were Charles and Anne Lindbergh, Jimmy Doolittle, Wiley Post, and Eddie Rickenbacker, Amelia Earhart, who also planned to attend, was grounded due to engine trouble while flying over Kansas.

Through the depth of the Depression, Curtiss struggled along, often barely making ends meet. Commercial airlines were courted, but in the end most took their business elsewhere. Operations were confined primarily to general aviation, flying lessons for the fortunate few who could afford them, and a school for aircraft mechanics. American Legion air shows, along with those sponsored by such groups as the Chicago Girls Flying Club, helped to keep the field afloat. There were occasional endurance flights and high-altitude record attempts. Wiley Post mad a well-publicized albeit unsuccessful attempt at an altitude record in 1934; Bill Lear (founder of the famous Lear jet aircraft company) began a radio communications business in one corner of Hangar One.

Flight training for military pilots was another enterprise that helped keep Curtiss solvent during the lean years. Following World War I there were drastic cutbacks in government funding for the military services. Defense installations were few and budgets were small. Since the Great War was thought to be "the war to end all wars," the federal government did not continue to fund the defense system at the previous higher war levels. Both the Navy and the Army did, however, award contracts to Curtiss for pilot instruction.

The Navy has a long-established pilot training prgram at the United States Naval Reserve Base at nearby Great Lakes north of Waukegan. As the years went by, a few land-based planes were acquired, and a small airfield was built on base property. As higher-performance aircraft were developed, there was a need for longer runways. Space was not available at Great Lakes, and after an axhaustive search for a suitable location in the Chicag area, the Naval Reserve Aviation Base chose the Curtiss-Wright-

Following the commissioning, Hangar One became home to a succession of candidates for flight training. As an "E" or elimination base, men drawn primarily from colleges and universities in the Chicago area made every effort to successfully complete the first ten hours of instruction, after which they could fly solo. Those who had the "right stuff" were sent to Pensacola, Florida, to continue their pursuit of "Navy Wings of Gold."

 

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