Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Neil Mabry: Chief Mechanic at Lambert Field for TAT and TWA

Neil Mabry had learned to repair airplanes while serving in the U. S. Army Air Service (1921-1923). After his discharge, he continued to work on aiplanes from the garage he opened a few miles west of Decatur, Illinois, which was situated across a highway from the Macon County Fairgrounds, where flyers landed their planes. On May 28, 1929, the day his daughter Nadine was born, he was hired by a fledgling airline – Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) at Lambert Airfield in St. Louis.
TAT Certificate

For the first seven months, Neil worked as Chief Mechanic for 9 to 16 hour days without a day off, helping to organize and maintain the new airline. In July 1929 they became the first airline to offer coast-to-coast service, with a combination of air and rail travel. For a while, one of Neil’s duties was to shuttle passengers between the airport and the railroad station in St. Louis.

• Watch the video (wmv file) about promotion of the TAT "coast-to-coast in 48 hours" service, a segment from the KETC program "Living St. Louis".

In 1930 TAT merged with Western Air Express, to become Transcontinental and Western Air (TWA), the Lindberg Line. (In 1950 the airline officially changed its name to Trans World Airlines.) The airline began coast-to-coast air service shortly after the merger, no longer using trains. Neil was Chief Mechanic from May 1929 to October 1940 and also Assistant Station Manager from 1935 to 1940.

At first, TAT/TWA made its money hauling U.S. Mail. Each plane (first Ford Trimotor Planes, then Douglas DC-2s) could only carry about twelve passengers. As his son-in-law Rich Kolm remembers, he talked about flying several times as “flying mechanic” in the Ford Trimotors. He gave that up because he thought the pilots were too “daredevil”; they took unnecessary risks

In 1940 Neil went to work for the Civil Aeronautics Administration (now known as the Federal Aviation Authority), inspecting privately owned aircraft. In January 1941, after attending school in Washington D.C., he was assigned to a post at Oakland Airport in California.

TWA History from PBS program "Chasing the Sun", including additional video.
TWA History from the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission.
History of Lambert-St. Louis International Airport
Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum
James "Jimmy" Doolittle
Charles Lindbergh: U.S. Airmail Service Pioneer
1935 TWA Timetable and Map and advertisements (from Airchive)

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