GEORGE C. DADE, 1913-1998  
  George C. Dade, 1979  
May 29, 1998

George C. Dade, 85, Founder of Aviation Museum

George C. Dade, who as a boy on Long Island, N.Y., was so enthralled watching the pioneering giants of aviation take off from his front yard that he devoted much of his life to preserving memories of those early pilots and restoring some of their planes, died Wednesday at a hospital near his home in Glen Head, N.Y. He was 85 and a founder of the Cradle of Aviation Museum at Mitchel Field in Uniondale.

It is tempting to wonder what sort of obsession Dade might have developed if his father, an Iowa-born Minnesota homesteader, hadn't read about job openings at Glenn Curtiss' airplane factory on Long Island in 1921.

Whatever it might have been, it's a safe bet that as a young teen-ager Dade wouldn't have been living at an airport hobnobbing with the famous likes of Richard E. Byrd, Amelia Earhart and Charles A. Lindbergh; that he wouldn't have earned a pilot's license at 17, or crashed a plane in a Connecticut farm field at 18, a transforming experience that led him first to establish a business retrieving wrecked planes and then to make enough money shipping warplanes to Europe in World War II to finance his later efforts to create an aviation museum.

At the time he read about the Curtiss job openings, Dade's father was mayor, postmaster, sawmill operator and just about everything else in the little town of Blackduck, Minn. But he was also a master woodworker, and the chance to help fashion Sitka spruce into airplanes was enough to lure him East with his family.

That is how it happened that at the age of 9, George Dade found himself living in a converted Army hospital in the middle of Curtiss Field, a magnet for the storied aviators of the 1920s that had been carved out of the old Hazlehurst Army Base along with the adjacent Roosevelt Field.

In a 1979 book, "Getting Off the Ground: The Pioneers of Aviation Speak for Themselves," written with George Vecsey of The New York Times, Dade recalled his days as an awestruck kid, scampering around the field, tagging along behind pilots and mechanics, and thrilled to be allowed to set out the kerosene pots that marked the runway at night.

He eventually got jobs at the field, varnishing planes, selling tickets for flights aloft and working the public address system at air shows.

Looking back on those days, Dade said his biggest regret was that he had not been present at Roosevelt Field when Lindbergh took off on his historic solo flight to Paris on May 20, 1927. Because it had been raining, Dade stayed in bed rather than pay his usual morning visit to the field before school.

Still, in the days after Lindbergh had landed at Curtiss Field on May 12 to prepare for the flight, Dade had come up with the chamois cloth used to strain the fuel for the flight.

And after Lindbergh made a triumphant return to Curtiss Field the following year, Dade, a 16-year-old wearing the white coveralls he had stained with oil to make him look like a mechanic rather than a lowly ticket seller, had his picture taken adjusting the great man's parachute.

For all his love of flying, it was the mistakes of aviation that led to Dade's business career. After he crashed a plane he had bought for $375 into what he thought was a haystack and turned out to be a rock pile covered with hay, Dade and his younger brother Bob loaded the wreck on a truck with such impressive care that they soon had a thriving business retrieving wrecks for other pilots.

At a time when wrecked planes suffered far more damage being moved than in crashing, the secret of their success was a biaxial support system that Dade designed to keep fragile planes from twisting during transport.

The innovation led to a bonanza in World War II, when Dade Brothers took in more than $50 million packaging and shipping 33,000 planes overseas.

After that, Dade, who had graduated from New York University, didn't have to make a living, but he did have his old obsession to deal with.

When he learned in 1973 that Lindbergh's very first plane, a World War I Curtiss Jenny that had been crashed by a later owner, was rotting in an Iowa hog barn, Dade bought the remains and recruited retired aviation mechanics to restore it in his Glen Head garage.

The plane, which Lindbergh himself later confirmed was his own, is the centerpiece of a collection of about 60 planes, rockets and missiles Dade helped assemble for the Cradle of Aviation Museum, now under construction at Mitchel Field.

Dade, whose wife, Edith, died in 1995, is survived by two sons, Henry of Dover, Ohio, and Stephen of Sea Cliff, N.Y.; a daughter, Jean Tichenor of Glen Head; six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

From The New York Times, May 29, 1998
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