Walter J. Addems (1899-November 21, 1997) grew up in Illinois and made his first flight in a glider he built himself when he was only 16 years old, using the plans found in an issue of Aviation Week magazine. The flight was short lived, but he flew enough to qualify for membership in the exclusive Early Birds club. Later in life, Addems was participating in airshows and barnstorming, where he used a Curtiss JN-4 or “Jenny” for his exhibitions.
After marrying Genevieve Mongeau in 1925, Addems ceased barnstorming and began flying mail from Chicago to Milwakee, eventually joining the National Air Transport (NAT) flying mail from Chicago to Cleveland. Addems became so proficient as a self-taught pilot, he began to train other fliers. In fact, he was granted one of the first pilot instrument ratings, and NAT modified a Douglas mail plane so Addems could instruct pilots in instrument flying by 1931.
After NAT, BAT, PAT, and Varney became United Airlines, Walter Addems stayed on, ultimately becoming Director of Flight Operations where he had a significant role in flying and mapping each new route, testing new planes for the fleet from the DC-3 to the Boeing 377, and developing airline operating procedures. However, in spite of support from many of the airline’s pilots, he lost this job after the airline saw a series of unfortunate crashes in the 1950s. He resumed flying on government contract runs and eventually becoming United’s chief pilot on the San Francisco-Hawaii route.
Then, in 1959 upon reaching the retirement age of 60, Mr. Addems retired in Atherton, California, where he began building planes again. In 1962 he completed a replica of a Nieuport XI, an aircraft used in WWI by the Lafayette Escadrille, to fly in air shows. He flew the Nieuport XI until the age of 83, spending 67 years of his life flying. His last flight was delivering the Nieuport to the San Diego Air and Space Museum. He passed away at the age of 98 in Palo Alto, California.
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