Friday, May 13, 2016

Weldon B. Cooke, Aviation Pioneer

Weldon B. Cooke was born in California in 1884. After attending the College of Engineering at the University of California, he became interested in the automobile. He worked for a livery service in San Francisco, and eventually he became a race car driver. In 1911 amateur aviation enthusiasts L.B. Maupin and Bernard Lanteri hired Cooke to fly the airplane that they had built. He made numerous flights in California during the years 1911 and 1912 in the plane, known as the Black Diamond, and won a $7,000 prize for flight endurance  at the Los Angeles International Air Meet held at Dominguez Field in January of 1912.  In the picture below, L.B. Maupin is the fourth man on the right, and he is standing beside W.B. Cooke.

Charles E. Frohman wrote in his book Sandusky’s Yesterdays (Ohio Historical Society, 1968), that at the end of 1912, Cooke moved to Sandusky so he could build planes. Soon he formed the Weldon B. Cooke Aeroplane Company, along with E.W. Roberts, Frank Frey, James Flynn, Sr. and James Flynn, Jr. The company used space within the Roberts Motor Company. Cooke wrote a testimonial which praised the Roberts Motor Company, in a 1912 issue of the journal Aero and Hydro.

Cooke was especially interested in building hydroplanes. Perhaps his best known hydroplane was the Irene. Weldon Cooke is seen below in front of the ship Irene which was being converted into a hydroplane. The hull had been constructed at the Davis Boat Works in Sandusky.

Ernst Niebergall took this picture of Weldon Cooke and his hydroplane in Sandusky Bay.

Unfortunately the Irene was not successful. Cooke left Sandusky in 1914, and he died in a plane crash in Pueblo, Colorado on September 6, 1914. 

You can read more about the Black Diamond, the plane flown by Cooke in 1911 and 1912, at the website of the Hiller Aviation Museum, where it is now on display. Several photographs of Weldon B. Cooke are housed at Lake Erie’s Yesterdays. (Search for Weldon Cooke in the search box at the bottom of the page.) Several early Ohio aviators, including Weldon B. Cooke,  are honored on this historic marker at Sandusky’s Battery Park.

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