Duties of the Wedell-Williams Air Service, Patterson

Stop 3 of 6 in the Wedell-Williams Airport in Patterson tour

The air service at Patterson performed transportation and maintenance services and built the racing planes which brought fame to Wedell-Williams.

The Air Service’s routes usually started and terminated in New Orleans, but Patterson’s connection to New Orleans brought the town closer to cities like Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Alexandria, Dallas, and even Laredo, TX, next to the Mexican border. One air route went from New Orleans directly to Patterson, then Beaumont and on to Houston. Air routes in the 1930s were similar to train routes, with a main route from Point A to Point B, but with several stops on the way for refueling and maintenance. The aviation industry shared similarities with other transport industries in the beginning. As with trains, planes could transport a group of people more quickly than automobiles; like cars, planes could be privately owned.

Jimmy Wedell’s passion for building fast planes distinguished Wedell-Williams from other air service operations. His first planes were the We-Will and its smaller twin, We-Will, Jr. The We-Will was designed to carry mail faster than any other planes, which Williams thought would help him secure an airmail contract. US airmail delivery routes were hotly contested among air transport companies.

Small air service companies, including the Wedell-Williams Air Service, complained of unfair practices in the awarding of government contracts. The “Airmail Scandal” required action, and on February 9, 1934, Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order that cancelled all airmail contracts in favor of the military.
Army Air Corps pilots did not know the routes, causing disastrous results. Airmail went back to private companies, but with the stipulation that no previous holder of a government contract would be considered. The air service eventually received an airmail route from New Orleans to Houston.

While the transportation aspect of the air service fluctuated due to the Great Depression, Wedell kept building and racing planes. Wedell would start with small sketches before building the plane from the ground up. Once complete, the plane would undergo numerous test flights to determine its speed capabilities. When Wedell was satisfied with the plane, it would be sold to the person who had commissioned it. Those Wedell built for himself would be flown in many air races across the country.

Images

Wedell-Williams Air Service as Distributors

Wedell-Williams Air Service as Distributors

Potential buyers searched through catalogs such as this, and once they made their choice, the company would place deposit to hold the plane. The customer purchased the plane from the air service, which would usually make a 10% commission from the sale. Image Courtesy of the E.F. Newman Collection, Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans View File Details Page

Wedell-Williams Flying School

Wedell-Williams Flying School

This pamphlet described the flight school's many locations, which included New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Alexandria, Patterson, and Gulfport, MS. The classes offered several types of flight and mechanic's certification. Image courtesy of the E.F. Newman Collection, Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans View File Details Page

Wedell-Williams Flight School Student Contract

Wedell-Williams Flight School Student Contract

The Wedell-Williams Air Service required all students to sign this contract in order to ensure that they understood the requirements and the dangers. Image Courtesy of the E.F. Newman Collection, Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans View File Details Page

Pilot's License Application

Pilot's License Application

Upon completing the appropriate classes, potential pilots would complete this application for the Department of Commerce, which oversaw Aeronautics in the United States. Image Courtesy of the E.F. Newman Collection, Earl K. Long Library, University of New Orleans View File Details Page

Jimmie Wedell's Mechanic's License

Jimmie Wedell's Mechanic's License

The air service trained mechanics for $200. When they completed their lessons, they could obtain a license such as this one. Image Courtesy of the Wedell-Williams Memorial Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Building Racing Planes Remained Jimmie Wedell's Passion

Building Racing Planes Remained Jimmie Wedell's Passion

Wedell (righthand side) is most likely showing Harry Williams a new aircraft design; however, it is difficult to discern the markings on the board. Image courtesy of the Wedell-Williams Memorial Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

One of Wedell's Racing Planes

One of Wedell's Racing Planes

Wedell and his crew are posing with the frame of one of his custom designs. Wedell's ideas led to each design, but his entire crew helped him to build each plane. Image Courtesy of the Wedell-Williams Memorial Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Jimmie Wedell Standing Outside of a Wreck

Jimmie Wedell Standing Outside of a Wreck

Sometimes, testing the custom built planes had disastrous results. Wedell built and tested this plane for Roscoe Turner, and as he flew 300 mph at 100 feet above the ground, the wing buckled. Wedell managed to turn the plane upside down and climb to 300 feet before jumping out of the plane. Thanks to his parachute, he emerged miraculously unharmed. Image Courtesy of the Wedell-Williams Memorial Foundation and the Louisiana State Museum View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Teresa M. Thessen, “Duties of the Wedell-Williams Air Service, Patterson,” New Orleans Historical, accessed March 28, 2017, http://neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/688.
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