AKA Steward Macdonald
     In April, 1915, Walter Lees received a letter offering him an attractive salary to work for Pancho Villa. Villa was known to some as a "bandit," to others as a revolutionary leader and popular Mexican Hero.
     "I was all for going right down there, but luckily, Morris, (Raymond V. Morris), talked me out of it."
     This was a time of bloody political and military strife in Mexico. Flying for Villa would have been an extremely dangerous adventure, if not fatal.
     "Shortly after that offer I received a letter from a friend of mine, Jack Vilas, in Chicago. He owned a Curtiss F-boat of his own and had a friend, Steward McDonald, who was having a Curtiss boat built and needed a pilot. I hadn't soloed the Curtiss boat at North Island yet, because I didn't have the money to put up the bond, but Morris said to take the Chicago job anyway and bluff it out."
     In May, Walter rode the day coach to Chicago. When he arrived, he found the boat wasn't set up yet. Jack Vilas said not to worry, when it was ready, he would test hop it before Walter had to fly it. Then Vilas was called out of town. Before he left, he took Walter aside and told him, "If there's a strong wind from the west, of from the shore, don't try to test it."
     "But Jack, there are always strong winds in Chicago." Walter joked.
When the plane was ready, the wind blew strong for seven days, coming in from the west.
     "The owner couldn't understand why I wouldn't try it out. Finally one night, he got really mad and said if he could find another pilot in town that night who would fly it, I wouldn't have a job the next day.
     Fortunately, he couldn't find anyone, and the next day the wind switched to a lazy east wind. I made two test flights and then proceeded to carry several of his friends for rides. Luckily, none of them knew how inexperienced I was.
     That summer, Walter carried many passengers in "Alice" as the Curtiss F-boat was called, off the lagoon at the Reserve Yacht Harbor at Grant Park in Chicago and also at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
From Jo Cooper's book, Pioneer Pilot

Charles S. MacDonald
ALICE - 1915
Macdonald's Curtiss F Boat
Collection of Walter E. Lees
     "I had my first airplane ride there in Chicago. It was in a Curtiss flying boat called "Alice". Jack Vilas had helped to build it and it belonged to Steward McDonald. Pops, (Walter), flew for him. That was Pop's first job and I think he got $300 a month. We had just come from the San Diego flying school to Chicago and had no money. I think Jack Vilas got him that job."
     "It was a nice day. The plane was docked at the Chicago Naval Reserve dock. We were only in the air for 15 to 20 minutes, but I loved it. Lots of fun. I didn't get airsick at all, although I have on other occasions."
Interview with Loa Lees, 1976
Lake Geneva
Collection of Walter E. Lees

       Charles Stuart Macdonald, president Cummins Diesel Rwy. Equipment Co., New York, died in his office Sept. 10, 1953, aged 69.
     The winter of 1914-15, in association with A. M. Andrews, he had built by Orton Hoover a flying boat modeled on the lines of Jack Vilas' Curtiss, with Curtiss engine, after having been flown about by Vilas.
     The summer of 1915, Walter E. Lees taught him to fly the craft and he soloed June 3. He and Lees flew the new plane out of Grant Park lagoon, Chicago, and later operated off Lake Geneva and then back to Chicago where the boat was dedicated to the Illinois Naval Aviation Reserve, of which Macdonald was an officer.
     At some time he was in business with David H. McCulloch in New York at the American Transoceanic Co., operating at Palm Beach in the winter with a 4-place twin-engined airplane among the equipment.
     In 1917 he was commissioned in the Army air service and was instructor at Selfridge and at Minneapolis.
     After the war he was sales manager for Mack trucks and later joined the Cummins organization.
     Surviving are his wife Beatrice, a son Robert F., a married daughter and two grandchildren.
From The Early Birds of Aviation CHIRP, December 1, 1953, Number 50
Editor's Note:
If you have any information on this Early Bird,
please contact me.
E-mail to Ralph Cooper

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