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The Halsmer Brothers Give Way To Progress

December 28, 1986

DAYTON, Ind. (AP) _ The first plane the Halsmer brothers built had one of Henry Ford’s car engines and bounced better than it flew, and the first plane they bought cost them 40 bushels of corn when corn was cheap.

But 60 years after they caught the flying bug, the three Halsmer brothers are thinking of retiring.

And the little airport they built and ran together and where they flew some of their own inventions is destined to become part of a high-tech, Japanese- owned factory turning out cars and trucks.

″Frankly, I’m going to miss the airport something terrible,″ said Joseph L. Halsmer, 72.

He and his brothers Francis and John, who worked on their father’s dairy farm, were hooked on flying after seeing an air show in 1927.

″There’s something better than shoveling cow manure,″ Joseph, the eldest, told his brothers.

Their first homemade plane, powered by a Ford Model T engine, didn’t get off the ground. ″It bounced good,″ Joseph said.

In 1931, they built gliders and taught themselves how to fly.

The brothers swapped 40 bushels of corn for their first manufactured plane, a World War I biplane. ″The guy was a farmer, and he knew we wanted it real bad,″ Halsmer said. ″Corn was worth about 75 cents a bushel then.″

In 1934, they opened their Halsmer Airport on 40 acres across from the dairy farm.

Joseph managed the airport, taught flying lessons and worked as an air transport pilot. John taught flying and inspected and licensed airplanes. Francis also was an instructor and issued commercial and private pilot licenses.

During World War II, the brothers got a government contract to teach men to fly. Since Joseph had done acrobatic flying in airshows, he taught pilots the acrobatic skills they would need for combat.

After the war, the Halsmers bought an additional 100 acres for their airport, and continued giving flying lessons and flying charters. Other pilots boarded about 30 private planes in the hangars.

The airport also became an inventor’s workshop, where Joseph invented the Aero Car, a plane that converted into an automobile, and the twin-engine Halsmer Safety Twin.

He also invented a push-pull airplane with fore and aft propellers. Cessna Aircraft Co. Inc. sold push-pull planes to the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War.

More recently, innovative aircraft designer Burt Rutan also used a fore and aft twin-engine setup for Voyager, the delicate-looking plane his brother Dick flew around the world.

Joseph Halsmer also found time to set several records, including a world speed record for aircar flight and for a turboprop trans-Atlantic flight.

Now Halsmer Airport, near this small town about 50 miles northwest of Indianapolis, is within the land the Indiana Development Commission wants for a $500 million car and truck plant to be built by Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. and Isuzu Motors Co. Ltd.

The plan was announced in early December and the commission is expected to buy the airport land in the next six months, with production to start in late 1989.

″There’s a tremendous amount of history there and the things we did to help aviation along,″ Joseph said. ″But, of all the places in the U.S. they could have built the plant, they picked here.″

″My two brothers were getting ready to retire. You almost have to think it’s the hand of God.″

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