Local History #tbt - Rain, Fate and Aeronca
Sometimes one city’s misfortune can be another city’s treasure.
That’s the briefest way to explain how Middletown, Ohio, became the home of longtime employer Aeronca, a leader in the aviation/aerospace industry. Today it is known as Magellan Aerospace.
Indeed, the infamous 1937 flood of Southwest Ohio played a major role in relocating Aeronca three years later from Lunken Airport in Cincinnati to a new base in Middletown. Local historians have explored the subject for many years.
In their 1993 book, “Aeronca, a Photo History,” Bob Hollenbaugh and John Houser recalled that the Aeronautical Corporation of America (known by the acronym “Aeronca”) incorporated in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1928. Soon, they wrote, the company became “synonymous with light planes in America.”
“Aeronca was the first American company to build and market a truly light airplane,” they continued. “The manufacture of Aeroncas prospered at Lunken Airport in Cincinnati even during the dark days of the great Depression.”
Unfortunately, Nature intervened. “...it was the frequent flooding of the Ohio River that prompted the move to Middletown, Ohio, in the spring of 1940,” the authors wrote.
The infamous 1937 flood completely covered the adjacent airport and the factory with water 30 feet deep.
(Lunken Airport photograph courtesy of "The River Book: Cincinnati and the Ohio.")
That’s when Middletown, Ohio, stepped up.
In a January 16, 1972, article in the Middletown Journal, Middletown Historian George Crout recalled how Middletown business and civic leaders got down to work to bring Aeronca to town.
“Through the work of Ben Bender and the Industrial Development Commission of Middletown, negotiations were begun with the Cincinnati-based firm,” Crout wrote. “The result was that Aeronca decided to move to Middletown, adjacent to the municipal airport, now Hook Field…”
“In 1940 the new plant was built in Middletown, and Aeronca planes began to fly out of the local airport…” he recalled.
Hollenbaugh and Houser wrote that “Production of the aircraft continued in Middletown through the war years and into the postwar period, finally ending in 1951. In the short span of twenty-three years Aeronca manufactured 17,408 airplanes of some 55 different models…”
Over time, “the predicted increase in demand for light planes did not materialize,” Crout recalled. But company officials kept their eyes on the skies.
“...to survive and contribute to the industrial scene, the company decided to turn to subcontracting and making component parts for larger planes…,” Crout wrote.
Today, located adjacent to Middletown Regional Airport/Hook Field, the company now operates as Magellan Aerospace, designing, engineering and manufacturing products for aerospace, the military, industrial power generation and specialty markets.
A pictorial exhibit celebrating Middletown, Ohio’s 78-year relationship with the aviation/aerospace industry will be available for viewing Monday, June 4 through September at MidPointe Library Middletown. A companion exhibit on the library’s interactive touchscreen will accompany the pictorial exhibit.
The exhibits highlight the history of Aeronca, a longtime Middletown employer now known as Magellan Aerospace. They also recall the vital role that nearby Middletown Regional Airport/Hook Field has played in local aviation since the 1940s.
Visitors will find the displays easily by looking for a replica of the colorful Aeronca 7AC Champion plane suspended above the Local History and Genealogy Gallery.