Visitors to the WACO Aviation Museum and Learning Center in Troy will see many photographs of early 20th century pilots with their WACO airplanes. One photograph, however, stands out from the others. Along with the pilot and his airplane, the picture shows a monkey attached to the pilot by a chain leash. The photograph is of WACO pilot Charlie Meyers and his mascot monkey named Whirlwind Jimmy. In the summer of 1927, Meyers and his mascot monkey made aviation history when they flew together across America in the Ford National Reliability Air Tour.
Charlie Meyers (pictured above), a test pilot and airplane designer for Troy’s Advance Aircraft Company (a former name of the WACO Aircraft Company), flew a plane in the tour owned by WACO airplane distributor Embry-Riddle of Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper of July 5, 1927 says, “Plane No. 10, entered by the Embry-Riddle Company, operators of Lunken Airport, is piloted by Charlie Meyers…Meyers is well known for his skill as an aeronautic pilot.” The Troy Daily News of July 15, 1927 reported: “Meyers had the distinction of making the fastest average speed of any pilot in the tour. The local pilot had better than 130 miles per hour for the entire trip of 4,166 miles.” Meyers finished sixth in the tour. The name of the Embry-Riddle Company is clearly seen in the WACO Aviation Museum and Learning Center photograph. The photograph is believed to have been taken at the time of the tour.
In national newspapers, Meyer’s monkey is named Whirlwind Jimmy. Old histories written in Troy, however, refer to the monkey as Whirlwind Johnny. The monkey’s name “Whirlwind” probably came from the name of the Wright Whirlwind engine used in the 1920s era aircraft. In fact, the plane flown by Meyers was referred to in stories as a WACO Whirlwind. Newspaper stories and pictures about Charlie Meyers and Whirlwind Jimmy have been found in newspapers in Ohio, Texas and Oklahoma. The Poteau News of Poteau, Oklahoma ran a tour-related photograph of Edsel and Henry Ford with an inset picture of Charlie Meyers and Whirlwind Jimmy. The July 15, 1927 Troy Daily News article states: “The little animal greatly enjoyed the experience and attracted much notice at the various cities visited.” Details about why Whirlwind Jimmy was flown in the airplane, how he was cared for during the journey, and his life before and after the Ford National Air Reliability Tour have not been found by local researchers.
Charles William “Charlie” Meyers was born in Iowa on May 29, 1896 to William and Mamie Meyers. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to New Jersey where he grew up. There, a sister Hattie was born on January 21, 1898. She would later play an important role both in Charlie Meyers’ life and that of the Advance Aircraft/WACO Aircraft Company. She was married to two founders of the company: George “Buck” Weaver and Elwood J. “Sam” Junkin. She married Buck on Feb. 12, 1918. He died in August of 1924. She then married Sam on June 22, 1925. He died in 1926.)
Meyers became fascinated with flying as a boy. He grew up when the field of aviation was in its infancy. Aviators Wilbur and Orville Wright made the first powered flight of an aircraft in 1903 when he was five. During his boyhood and teen years, significant progress was made in the field of aviation. He began making gliders (an aircraft without a motor) big enough for him to ride in when he was about 16. He made his first solo glider flight on June 29, 1913. This flight later allowed him to become a member of an organization known as the Early Birds of Aviation, whose members had solo piloted an aircraft before 1916.
In his late teens and early 20s, Meyers gained more flying experience. He worked for an aircraft company and served in the military. World War I had begun in Europe in 1914. In 1916, Meyers decided he wanted to use his aviation skills to help with the war effort. Because the United States was not in the war, he went to Canada, which was involved in the war. He joined the military there and was assigned to the Royal Flying Corps in England. At the time, he had 12 hours of flying time, which was more than most pilots in those days. The Royal Flying Corps commissioned him as an officer. Old records indicate that he both worked as a mechanic and instructor for the Royal Flying Corps. Eventually, he was transferred to the United States military. Following the war, he worked as a barnstormer between the years 1919 and 1924. Barnstormers were pilots who traveled around the United States performing stunts with airplanes for entertainment purposes. In 1924, he came to Troy to work at the Advance Aircraft Company.
During his barnstorming career, he met a young woman named Jesse Bailey and married her. An online obituary for Mrs. Meyers on findagrave.com, states that Charlie and Jesse met in an unusual way. One day when Meyers was flying near Greenwood, South Carolina, he had trouble with his airplane. He landed it in a pasture field outside of Greenwood, and then went into town to see if he could find parts to repair his airplane. While looking for parts, he met Jesse Bailey. They were wed about a year later.
After finishing the Ford National Reliability Air Tour, Meyers entered another tour in September of 1927. The Troy Daily News of Sept. 12, 1927 reported, “C.W. Meyers of Troy, test pilot of the Advance Aircraft company is entered in four different events of the greatest aerial carnival in history to be conducted by the National Air Derby association in the latter part of this month (September 1927).” The 2,350-mile air derby went from New York to Spokane, Washington. This time, Meyers flew without Whirlwind Jimmy in a plane owned by Berry Brothers, Inc., a varnish manufacturing company from Detroit, Michigan. A representative of the company named Thomas Coby flew with Meyers as a passenger in the airplane. Meyers was entered in Class B of the derby, which was for lighter weight planes. The air race began at Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York on Sept. 19, 1927. Meyers won the race on September 22nd and was awarded a prize of $5,000. As part of the same derby event, Meyers placed third in an air race from Spokane, Washington to Portland, Oregon, taking home an additional prize of $400 and the Western Flying Trophy. His time was reported in that race to be four hours, 43 minutes and 24 seconds.
On October 4, 1927, Meyers was given a hero’s welcome home to Troy. A large crowd gathered on the Public Square at 7 in the evening. Local aviation writer Fred O. Kobernuss described the event in his book WACO Symbol of Courage & Excellence Vol. 2. Kobernuss writes, “On the evening of October 4th, Trojans turned out in mass to honor Charlie. The Troy school band warmed up the crowd a half hour before the start of festivities, and then at eight PM sharp, marched to meet the Mayor and ‘Troy’s premier pilot,’ escorting their car into the public square.”
Standing on a truck—used as a platform—a congratulation and welcoming speech was given by Troy businessman J. W. Safford. Troy Mayor George Stokes added his congratulations and presented Meyers a wrist watch on behalf of the citizens of Troy. Meyers’ then told the story of the air tour and said that the credit for his race win should go to WACO workers who had designed and built his airplane. He also told of the dangers he encountered while crossing the Allegheny Mountains in Pennsylvania. He said that it was so dangerous that “planes had to dodge trees, wires and hills.” A story in the Troy Daily News of October 5, 1927 told of strong winds Meyers faced in Pennsylvania. It says, “After reaching Bellefonte, Pa., the weather cleared and from then on Mr. Meyers stated the flying conditions were excellent except for strong head winds. This made it necessary for him to fly as low as 10 feet above the ground in order to avoid the force of the winds as much as possible. He stated that the entire distance was flown at very low altitudes.”
Meyers often took people in Troy for airplane rides. For many residents, it was the first time they had flown in a plane. Kobernuss wrote about one such ride in WACO Symbol of Courage & Excellence Vol. 2. One day, Meyer took a Civil War veteran named Hi Bumbli on a 20-minute ride for his 86th birthday. Mr. Bumbli brought a couple items of interest with him on the flight: a 192-year-old Bible and 108-year-old New Testament. Kobernuss wrote: “He was still active as a Constable for Concord Township and as Truant Officer for both Troy and Miami County schools. He directed Charlie to fly low over the schools so that he could let it be known that he was still on top of the situation.”
On Thanksgiving Day of 1927, Meyers flew above the Troy High School football stadium as part of the annual Troy High School-Piqua High School football game. The Troy Daily News of Nov. 25, 1927 described the fly-over. It reported: “The usual color surrounding a Troy-Piqua game was heightened by Pilot Charles Myers (sic) who flew above the field in a Waco (airplane) decorated with Troy colors (then purple and white). After circling the field a few times he dropped a football which landed on the playing field near the Troy players’ bench. He then entertained the crowd with a few of his daring stunts. The appearance of the plane flying over the field was the signal for a great ovation from the crowd as the stunt had been kept somewhat a secret. His stunts were also met with cheers and he was given a great cheer as he flew back to the landing field. (Note: The landing field at the time was where Troy Community Park is today.)
The 1928 Troy High School yearbook also tells of Meyers’ flyover at the Troy-Piqua football game. It states: “Again came the grand and glorious Turkey Day game. Although Troy was defeated by two touchdowns, the game was a wonderful success. The two bands played for the flag raising and the approach of the team was heralded by a Waco plane decorated with purple and white pennants. The ball, with purple and white streamers attached to it was dropped from the plane.”
Charlie Meyers left his employment at the Advance Aircraft Company (WACO Aircraft Company) in 1928 and went to work for the Great Lakes Aircraft Company at Cleveland, Ohio. There he worked with former WACO Sales Manager Charles Van Sicklen. In 1931, he went to work for Eastern Airlines. He was a Flight Captain at Eastern Airlines until he retired in 1956.
Meyers died on October 1, 1972 and is buried at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell.
In 2003, Dayton’s PBS Channel ThinkTV/Channel 16 showed a program titled “America Takes Flight: National Air Tour 1925-1931.” An article published in the Dayton Daily News on Sept. 19, 2003 by columnist Bob Batz says that the story of Whirlwind Jimmy is one of the tales featured in the program.
Exhibits at the WACO Air Museum and Aviation Learning Center include early WACO airplanes, photographs and descriptions of company manufacturing and employees, and displays tell the history of the company. The museum is located at 1865 South County Road 25-A, Troy. Learn more at wacoairmuseum.org.