Almost Yesterday: Flying With Biffle

Mar 23, 2021

It seems like Almost Yesterday that the first commercial airplane landed at Chicago's Municipal Airport, later Midway Airport. The plane came in from Omaha, Nebraska, with passengers and several bags of mail. The date was December 1, 1927, and it was an historic first for aviation in Chicago.

The Boeing Aircraft was piloted by Ira Oris Biffle, from Patton, Missouri.

Biffle was born on September 14, 1886, the son of Valentine and Matilda Berry Biffle.

Biffle spent his first eighteen years on the family farm between Patton and Marble Hill, Missouri, and there in 1904 he learned about the Wright Brothers and man's first flight. From that time forward the Bollinger County farm could not hold him.

Within a decade he was one of America's first skilled aviators, air mail pilots, and aviation instructors. In 1915 he joined three other pilots to initiate the United States Army Air Corps, operating out of San Diego, California.

During World War I Biffle may have trained more daring young men to fly than any other instructor, and was consistently described as "a hard-boiled instructor.”

Biffle's most famous student was Charles Lindbergh, who paid Biffle $200.00 in 1922 to teach him to fly. Lindbergh quickly impressed his instructor as "a darned good student – intelligent, quick, and nervy, much above the average.” Five years later, Lindbergh became the first pilot to fly non-stop from New York to Paris, becoming one of America's most famous heroes and aviators.

Tragically, on April 7, 1934, at the age of 48, Ira Biffle died of heart disease, impoverished and nearly blind.

The man who taught Lindbergh to fly, was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, an American hero from Patton, Missouri.