Ralph Thomas Huggins
Died: June 4, 1946
Robert and Ralph were brothers born three years apart in 1906 and 1909 respectively. The Huggins family lived in Honey Creek (Waukesha County) Wisconsin where Robert developed an interest in aircraft as a young child and by the age of thirteen was reported to know more about aviation than anyone in the area. By age 18, in 1925, Bob had built a glider with the help of his younger brother Ralph. This was the first of several planes the boys would build. Ralph then built a biplane. It never flew but Robert reported that they learned many valuable lessons in the process.
In 1927 Robert and a partner, George Gerber, acquired a WWI Curtiss Jenny. They modified the aircraft installing a 42-foot high-lift wing of their design and construction. This wing was the subject of an article appearing in the Jan-Feb 1931 edition of Aviation Mechanics magazine and attracted national attention. Igor Sikorsky, founder of the then fledgling Sikorsky aircraft company, traveled to Honey Creek to consult with Robert about the high-lift wing and offered him a position.
Robert declined the job offer and continued his work in Honey Creek. Robert, George, and Ralph then converted the Jenny into a single wing monoplane. It was in this plane Robert learned to fly. Donations from the community to support his flying lessons were accepted. After only two lessons, Robert soloed and returned to Honey Creek where he perfected his flying and taught his partner and younger brother to fly.
Dean and Dale Crites, two farm boys who lived near by, took an interest in what Robert was doing. Robert taught both twins to fly. The Crites would become successful in aviation in their own right. By 1930, Robert had obtained the highly valued aviation mechanics and air transport licenses and became the first flight instructor of the Waukesha Aviation Club.
He was very active in supporting the development of aviation locally and throughout the state participating in air-fairs, air-races, barnstorming, and performing aerobatics. Robert continued his efforts at flight instruction, aircraft maintenance and airport management. His brother Ralph, while also a pilot, was developing skills as a mechanic while working at an engine shop and later on aircraft. By the end of the 1930’s, Robert was managing airports with his brother Ralph working by his side as a mechanic.
During World War II, Robert became a civilian instructor in the Air Corps and instructed Air Force and Navy pilot cadets in Georgia and then at Curtis Wright Airport in Milwaukee. Ralph was conscripted into service as a civilian mechanic. He served in San Francisco, CA and later at Curtis Wright Airport.
After the war years, Robert resumed his airport management, flight instruction, aircraft maintenance, and support of general aviation. Ralph, while already an accomplished aircraft mechanic, began instructing more actively as well. He also began designing a camera for airborne photography. While instructing a student pilot, Ralph died in an aviation accident in June, 1946.
Robert continued his aviation career managing several airports throughout the state. He came to be considered the voice of experience that pilot’s sought out when aviation questions arose. Always interested in making private flying affordable to many people Robert was an early supporter of the Experimental Aircraft Association and joined as member #25 in March, 1955.
Robert managed the Capital Drive Airport in Brookfield, WI from 1955 until his death in 1970. At Robert’s death Dale Crites referred to Robert as “a boy that’s been the father of aviation in Waukesha County. He rubbed shoulders with pretty near everybody in the aviation industry in the Midwest.” For all of his years in flying Robert was known for his helping the little guy and putting others before himself, often to his financial detriment. Pilots knew they could get an honest answer from Bob Huggins.