Ernest Lee Nibeck
Ernest Lee Nibeck
Ernest Lee Nibeck, Abt. 1928
Ernest Lee Nibeck, 1931
Photos from collection of Diane Nibeck
Ernest's Grandaughter, 11-22-02

Wins Fight For His Life
E. L. Nibeck, Grinnel Airport Caretaker
Has Narrow Escape at Omaha Air Races
Makes Graceful Landing on One Wheel
But Overbalanced and Nosed Into Ground.

     E. L. Nibeck, Grinnell airport caretaker, won a battle for his life Saturday, May 16, at the Omaha air races when the left side of the landing gear on his Curtiss-Robin plane broke during one of the races. He was successful in landing the ship without injury to himself.
     After giving a distress signal to the fire wagon, an ambulance and officials by flying over them, Nibeck made a graceful landing on one wheel. The plane overbalanced however, after gliding on one wheel a short distance and it nosed into the ground. The fire wagon and ambulance were close by and were prepared to do their stuff in case of a fire or injury.
     Hugging the ground too closely at the start of the race, the Curtiss-Robin ship dipped to the ground at one pilon when another ship directly above him took away his power by giving him the wind. The plane righted itself and roared upward, but after a few turns Nibeck noticed that one of the wheels on the landing gear was loose.
     Nibeck's feat in landing the ship with only the propeller broken attracted wide attention. Stories were carried under "Extra" headlines in four or five Omaha hewspapers. Nibeck's picture was taken by dozens of photographers including the Paramount New Reel cameraman and he was beset by countless reporters. One newspaper claimed that he was a better pilot than Lindbergh who a few months ago was forced to land on one wheel and cracked up his ship.
     Nibeck realized the seriousness of the situation and chose a soft landing place near one of the runways. He stopped the flow of gas, turned the switch and threw all the weight he could on the one good landing wheel.
     The crowds swarmed over his plane. The announcer of the program played it up big as an "event not on the program." Later Nibeck was asked to make a talk over the broadcasting equipment.
     A department of commerce inspector also complimented Nibeck on the fine landing he made. The ship was left there and Nibeck and Fred Hoover, who accompanied him, returned home on the bus.
Newsclipping from collection of Diane Nibeck

Ernest Lee Nibeck
Photo from collection of Diane Nibeck

Ernest Nibeck Has Transport Flying License
Now Has Right to Fly Anywhere in This Country,
in His Own Plane or for Hire--Was a Pioneer in the Flying Work

     Independence friends of Ernest L. Nibeck, formerly of this city and now manager of the Grinnell weather station and airway keeper there, are interested in the announcement that he took his transport license examination at Waterloo last week and on Thursday George W. Vest, Chicago supervising inspector, who conducted the examinationn, reported that he was one of the ten successful candidates. His picture, along with those of C. A. Morris, Waterloo, well known here, and others, appeared in a Waterloo newspaper Friday. E. L. is the first and only Indepencence man to take up aviation. Some years ago he received his pilot's license. He formerly was mail messenger here, but the past year went to Grinnell to take up airkeeper work there and since has resided in that city. The transport license give him the privilege of flying his own machine or others for hire and engaging in the flying work generally in all parts of the United States. We wish to congratulate Mr. Nibeck. He went into the game when those who did so were real pioneers, and his advancement is a source of much pleasure to his many friends in this, his old home town.
Newsclipping from collection of Diane Nibeck

Ernest Lee Nibeck
Photo from collection of Diane Nibeck

Ernest Lee Nibeck
Ernest Lee Nibeck
The Grinell airport on the transcontinental airline and the site of the only marker radiophone for weather conditions.
April 11, 1931
Ernest Nibeck, of the Grinnell airport, radiophoning weather conditions to the pilot of a transcontinental airmail plane as he soars over Iowa. The receiver on the table carries the pilot's voice. Similar equipment, but on a small scale, is installed in the cockpit of the mail planes.  
Grinnell Airport Has Only Radiophone Weather Station For Aviators In Iowa
Attendants May Talk With Mail Plane Pilots
Through Apparatus Installed By Commerce Dept.

     GRINNELL, April 11, 1931.--Travelers first learned weather conditions from proprietors of country stores. Now garages, depots, and coast-guard stations give the information to automobile drivers, train engineers, and ship captains.
     Airplane pilots, travelers who are greatly dependent on atmospheric conditions today, are kept informed by the most detailed weather bureau equipment of all kinds of transportation.
     Electrical and mechanical devices have been invented which furnish both special and routine data to airmen as they wing their ways on and down and back and forth across the United States--with passengers and mail. Thirteen marker radiophones, latest invention is giving weather news to aviators, have been installed by the aeronautics branch of the department of commerce. The only Iowa station is located at the grinnell airport.
Not Needed Yet.
     Good weather has prevailed since the radiophone was placed in operation here two weeks ago, said Ernest Nibeck and Cedric Barnes, field attendants. The two men work in 12-hour shifts, and calculate atmospheric statistics once every hour.
     Before the phone was put in use, pilots were forced to get their information at the Grinnell port by putting down and asking, or reading the local report on the automatic telegraph typewriter at either Iowa City or Des Moines. Each of the main airports on the Chicago-Omaha route, which are Sterling, Ill.; Iowa City, Grinnell, Des Moines and Adair, must record its weather conditions once an hour on the machine, which is supplemented by identical telegraph typewriter held in reserve at every station. Grinnell's findings are typed at six minutes before the hour.
     Only conversation dealing with weather conditions may be carried on over the marker radiophnone. The range of the transmitter here is a radius of 20 miles, while the long wave receiver covers a much larger area, conversation between a pilot and the Laramie, Wyo., airport being picked up recently. The Grinnell transmitters day wave is 53 meters and at night it is 93 meters.
Serves Two Purposes
     The phone at the airport here is designed to serve as both a marker beacon, informing the airman of his relative position along the Iowa section of the transcontinental airway by means of code signals, and as a radiotelephone affording communication by voice between the ground and aircraft equipped with two-way radio apparatus. Four dots, denoting the letter "N," buzz constantly as the call of the Grinnell airport.
     It is possible for the pilot of a passenger or mail plane soaring over Iowa's tall corn to communicate his identity by voice to either Nibeck or Barnes at the field here, so that his position may be reported along the airway by means of the automatic telegraph typewriter circuit.
     If you are listening on a short-wave receiver some stormy night and hear; "ceiling, 800; visibility, one-half mile;, wind direction, south; temperature, 70 degrees; and barometer; --," it'll be a good bet that Ernie Nibeck or Cedric Barnes have received the "SOS" of a distressed airplane pilot and are guiding him on, or directing him to the Grinnell airport.
Newsclipping from collection of Diane Nibeck

Iowa Department of Transportation
Office of Aviation

     This website is a wonderful place to start if you want to know more about aviation in Iowa. You will find sections devoted to Pilots Page, Contact List, Publications and Education, Aviation Funding and Legislative Issues, Iowa Airports, Calendar of Events, Web Site Links and Aviation Advisory Council.
     To learn more about the Grinnell Airport, you can click on "Iowa Airports." To learn more about history in Iowa, you can click on "Publications & Education." You should plan to spend a lot of time enjoying the multitude of interesting offerings of this site.
Air Mail Pioneers
"Dedicated to the Former Employees of the U.S. Air Mail Service"
by Nancy Allison Wright

"This website is dedicated to the men and women of the U.S. Air Mail Service, a little-remembered organization that laid the foundation for commercial aviation worldwide. With the cooperation of the U.S. Air Service, the U.S. Post Office flew the mail from 1918 until 1927."
     This website offers an extremely valuable resource to the online community. If you are not already familiar with it, you are in for a treat. For example, you can find a map of the Transcontinental Airway by clicking on:
U.S. Airmail Service Map

     To enjoy the many other features, click on the title above.

Ernest Lee Nibeck
This is Ernie, his wife, Irene and his son Richard.

     I have the sale agreement for this plane. May 31, 1928. It was purchased from the Hunter Airplane Company and signed by some one by the name of D. Hunter.
Photo and Text from collection of Diane Nibeck

Ernest Lee Nibeck
Ernest Lee Nibeck
Richard Nibeck & Ernie Nibeck, 1928
This picture was taken about 1928 and shows Ernie in the goggles with my dad on the step behind him.
Ernie Nibeck & Richard Nibeck, 1942
My dad was in WWII and Korea. He was a meteorologist and forecast weather for the bomber pilots in Korea.
Sort of interesting how they were both into weather
at a different time of aviation history.
Photos & remarks from Diane Nibeck
Ernie's Grandaughter, 11-22-02

Ernest Lee Nibeck

     I am attaching a "first day of" airmail letter sent from Nibecks brand new field in 1929. There was an airshow and a large dedication ceremony at it's opening. Notice that it was forwarded by train to "advance delivery"!!!
     To see the full size image of this cover, and photos of an air mail letter to Mrs. Nibeck, postmarked on February 21, 1928, just click on:
Photo & text from from the Billy Robinson Field Collection

Photo from from the Billy Robinson Field Collection
Ernest Lee Nibeck
Ernest Lee Nibeck

Grinnell Airport
Photo from from the Billy Robinson Field Collection

Ernest Lee Nibeck
Photo from collection of Diane Nibeck

Wings from a 1920 deHaviland Mail Plane
     Diane Nibeck has found this link to a photo of wings which resemble the one pictured above from her Grandfather's collection. To access it, for comparison, click on:

     While on the site, I recommend that you click on the "Return to Antique Airplanes" title and enjoy the visit. You should also sample the entire Air Mail Pioneers site, if you are not already familiar with it.

Ernest Nibeck died on October 27, 1969
He is buried in the National Cemetery in Danville, Illinois
as he was a WWI veteran
Personal Communication from Diane Nibeck (11-22-02)
Editor's Note:
If you have any information on this Early Flier,
please contact me.
E-mail to Ralph Cooper

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