William C. Diehl
William C. Diehl

Bill's aviation career extended from 1914 when he designed, made, and taught himself to fly a tractor monoplane, until the sad day nearly two years ago when the dear Lord folded Bill's wings. Bill could look back on many thrills and a few spills. His happiest recollections and proudest claim to fame were associated with his service during World War I when he was a civilian flight instructor with our Signal Corps Aviation Section and Army Air service. He loved to talk about those heroic days when he and a number of you other Birds were teaching our student fliers to take off and fly and get safely down again. Such instruction had a vital part in final victory. But whereas those who were taught to fly and became officers of our Army received honors and benefits, nothing much was ever heard again about the instructors. BIll decided to do something about this ommission.
     You'll recall that Bill was with us at Fort Myer when we dedicated those two bronze plaques commemorating persons and events associated with aeronautics at that military base near Washington. Bill decided that he would sponsor a similar memorial for his fellow instructors. He agreed that it is good for us to inform present and future generations of the foundations for progress.
     After Bill's eyes were closed his Will was read. Therein he specified a number of gifts for relatives, friends, and institutions. His aeronautical papers and mementoes were given to the Smithsonian and the Air Force Museum. The bequest to which he devoted that his Executors should apply "such sums as they may find necessary for the erection of a large plaque mounted on a stone, the same to be engraved with the names of all of us including myself, who were civilian instructors actively teaching our military pilots to fly." Bill named a group of his friends to carry out this assignment with Paul Garber to be in charge.
     Sincere efforts have been made to fulfill Bill's wishes, but legal details need to be clarified. Using Bills' list as a basis, the names of all known civilian flight instructors of that war have been compiled, and the text of the plaque composed. A number of Early Birds are included amongst them and the list is being sent to all living Birds so named, for comments, deletions, and additions. Following extended efforts to find a suitable place for the plaque, the Commanding Officer of Chanute Field, near Chicago, has agreed enthusiastically, to accept it. Bill was one of the first instructors to be assigned there. Estimates of costs have been obtained, totaling about $4,000.
     As further progress is made you will be informed. Meanwhile our thanks to Bill.
This from The EARLY BIRDS CHIRP, March 1976, Number 82

Via email from Calobe Jackson, Jr., 6-18-05
Dear Ralph,
     I just found your site by goggling William Diehl. I have been researching William McDonald Felton, who owned an AeroPlane School and flying field in Harrisburg, Pa from 1919 to 1924. When Felton purchased his first airplane, Diehl flew it into Harrisburg. He landed on May 30, 1919. The local newspaper showed a picture of Diehl. My understanding is that Diehl worked for Felton as a flying instructor. Diehl is listed as living in Harrisburg in the 1920 Census.
     Reading that Diehl left his papers to the Smithsonian, I am anxious to see if Felton is mentioned. Before Diehl some famous French pilot known as the Blue Devil landed to visit Felton. The story goes that this Blue Devil mistakenly flew to Harrison burg, VA. by mistake and then flew to Harrisburg, Pa. Felton's ad of May 30, 1919 mentions this landing, but I have yet to find a newspaper article about it. Unfortunately Felton's AeroPlane School was torn down several years ago.
     I would appreciate any information or sources that might contain additional information on Diehl and the French Blue Devil.
Thanks for any help
Calobe Jackson, Jr.
Editor's Note: If any of you can help Calobe in his search for more information on either Felton or Diehl, please contact him through me.

You will find the story of the meeting
by clicking on:
William C. Diehl

  William C. Diehl was born in North Bergen, N.J. November 3, 1891. He attended public schools in West New York, N.J. and business school in Hoboken. He got started the hard way by hanging around airfields and race tracks or wherever an airplane was to be found. His first solo was made December 28, 1914.
     In 1917 he became a civilian instructor for the U.S. Army Air Force.
     After the war he went barnstorming, made short passenger carrying flights and for a time was test pilot for the Wright Aeronautical Corporation.
     Diehl died April 27, 1974
From The Early Birds of Aviation
Roster of Members, 1996

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