Bonham Chancellor loved to take friends up in the sky.

The flying professor

Who wasn’t a passenger with flying-obsessed Bonham Chancellor from 1945-51?

Jeanne Newby

Bob Chancellor, who had a career with Voice of America, submitted this story about his father, ©2011.

Bonham Chancellor moved his family to Webb City in the summer of 1943 to take up the position as principal of the junior-senior high school. We moved from Shelbina, Mo., where there was no airport; and he had grown up around Boonville, Mo., where there was no airport, so the move to Webb City was certainly his first exposure to airports and flying. But his interest and enthusiasm for flying took effect quickly and strongly.

His first flight, a 30-minute demonstration, was logged Oct. 9, 1943, with pilot/instructor Tim Merritt. He next flew in February of 1944, and had been in the air 21 times by the end of June. These were all dual hours, with instructor N.A. (Gus) Skoglund, a former Navy pilot. Simultaneously with flying, he was taking the required ground training courses, and in May 1944, he applied for a student pilot license.

At least 60 hours of flying time, both dual accompanied by an instructor, and solo, were required before the student pilot could attain a private flying license. The instructed hours included lots of take-offs and landing: circle the field, land and take-off again; emergency landing, plot and follow a course to Pittsburg, Kan., or Neosho. With 10 hours 40 minutes under his belt, Bonham Chancellor made his first solo flight June 23, 1944. That was followed by a few more instructed hours and lots of solo time, reaching for the goal of 60: take-off, turns, stalls, landing, and “playing around.”

Flying activity in those days was centered at a large hangar, right by the highway between Webb City and Stone’s Corner (now West McArthur Drive). There were two or three trailers that functioned as offices for the various flying services – there was no Joplin air terminal or commercial air service at that time. The airplanes were single-engine, high-wing aircraft: Cessna 120 or 140, Luscombe or Aeronica.

Bonham Chancellor’s big day came more than a year after his first solo flight. With 63 hours of solo time and 85 hours total air time, he was tested and awarded his Private Pilot’s License October 14, 1945. Now, he could take up passengers. That was a beginning of a chapter in which many people in Webb City, young and old, would take their first airplane ride.

His first passenger was my younger brother, Sam, who was 5 years old. The next ride was mine, I was 9. And then my mother. It appears that he hoped Mother would get the flying bug, and perhaps take instruction for her own license – during the first year she was his most frequent passenger and he even purchased her own log book.

There was a notation in his log book that his license had cost $571: $184 for instructed time and $387 for solo time plane rental. That sounds incredibly cheap for these times, when earning a private license can cost 8 to 10 thousand dollars. But those were the days of 20-cent gasoline, and as principal of the high school he earned $6,000 per year, so learning to fly was a substantial investment.

But the flying professor found a way to finance his expensive hobby. During the summer vacation periods, he worked for the flying service, maintaining and cleaning planes, pumping gas and pushing aircraft into and out of the hangar. He also worked on the apron, spinning and starting propellers in those days when small planes did not have electric starters. For pay, he took one hour of flying time for each hour of ground work. He did this for several summers and amassed a large balance of free flying time.

He loved to fly. I think it was because of the precision and preparation it took. And he loved to share his enthusiasm of flying. He always was looking for someone to fly with him. After receiving his license, he made 513 flights; 390 of those times he took a passenger. In fact, the first 63 flights after he was licensed, he had a passenger with him.

I flew with him 32 times, amassing 18 plus hours in the air – pretty heady stuff for a pre-teen. My mother surpassed me, with 19 hours in 26 flights and even younger brother Sam, barely able to see over the dashboard, made 20 flights and logged nearly 11 hours.

But here’s where it gets fun – the number and names of other people he took aloft. Sometimes it is difficult to determine the names or partial names, or initials entered into his flight log books, but in approximate order over the years, they include: 1945-46: science teacher G.C. (Willie) Williams was his first (and frequent) non-family passenger, followed by Mrs. Williams, John K (?), Jack Lowe, Jack Cogbill, Geltz Zentner (a trainer), (?)Hood, Alec Parson, John K., D.D.G. and Mrs. D.D.G., Dick Burdick, Tommy Byrd (a next door neighbor), Jim Finley (flying company owner), Carole Byrd, Mel Snead, Nelda Snead, (?)Bachler, Miss Winter, Harry Howel, Wilma McDonald, Glen McDonald, Earl Webb, an un-named sailor, Madge James, Al Fahrman, Miss Coleman, Alice Gaor, Rosemary Parish, Mr. Foley, Bob Laster, Kate and Clayton, (?)Preston, Mrs. Brixey, Ed Kluba, Charles Brown, Mr. Cannon, (?)O’Neil, Jr. Elliott, Archie Smith, Jack(?), (?)Essex, (?)Bachler, Joe Stanley, Dick Lewis, Vernon Babbitt, Mr. Ward, Ray Shonk, relatives of Jim Finley, my aunt Phoebe Kennedy, my grandmother Louise Tearle, (?)Cooley, (?)Watkins, Bachelor’s son, Archie (?), Mr. Housman, (?)Locke, (?)Bruff, (?)Wheeler, (?)Fahrman, (?)Shaner, (?)Choate, (?)Inman, an unnamed school boy, Jack Hill, (?) Lowe, (?) Rodarme, (?)Danhart, Ed Murray, Mutt Hughes, (?)Hatcher, Terry James, (?)Bair, Joan Smith, Mary Lee Stewart, Woody Oldham, Bennie Welcher, and Jerry Watson.

That was just the first full summer. High school students, friends, fellow teachers, Lions Club members, or if you were just hanging around the airport when it was time to go flying, you were invited. In mid-1946, he had passed the examination for his Commercial Pilots license, which meant he could be paid for flying, and many of the logged flights logged appear to be familiarization flights for prospective students. He was not licensed as an instructor, however. And many flights were not paid flights – he took people aloft for the sheer joy of flying.

1947: (?)Locke, Bud Schoekels, Joy(?), B. Tomlinson, (?)Collier, Bob Morris, Bob Lassiter, Mr. Crawford and son, Shirley Ferrell, Beverly Smith, Pat Greene, Eugenia Craig, Frances Hopper, Jack Cogbill, Dorothy Dennis, Shirley Bradbury, Jay Stever, (?)Hulen, (?)Gardner, Eugene Long, Charley Brown, (?)Lacey, Bob Finley’s friend, John Owen, Ted Parrish, Oliver (?), Jack Carmack, (?)Greninger, (?)Glover, Joe Babbitt, Bob James, Boyd(?), Glen McDonald, and Mrs. Byrd.

Ed Kluba, Ed Murray, Ken Davis, Donald Davis, Bill Mace, Old John, Bob’s friend, my uncle Marsh Kennedy and Phoebe, Carl Gerlich, Rusty Martin, Carole Byrd, Elmo Webb, Ralph Rusk, Jack Carmack, Gene Crocker, Robert Woods, Mary James, Mrs. Williams, Charles Tudor, Fred Nelson, Mott sisters, Henry Hulett (probably where a lot of aerial photos of Webb City came from), and Karl Lee.

1948: Bart Hancock, Henry Norman, Maley Ray, Miss Stinnett, Mutt Hughes, Elmo Webb, Jim Harsh, Joe Sullens, Jim Owen, Jim Harsh, Herb Munsen, Galen Longnecker, Clayton Johnson, Phillips family, (?)Woods, Tommy Byrd, (?)Newton, Gerald Roberts, Bob Bradbury, Hortense Hackbarth, Clint Cooper, Junior Harper, Bob Richardson (6 times), Ed Kagin, Lee Dew, Anna Kluba, Tommy Kluba, Clark (probably Robert, the superintendent of schools), Gary Cooper, Fred Nelson, Peggy Walters, Shirley Roland, Elmo Webb and family, an auditor for Eagle Pitcher, my uncle Skipper Johns, Richard Armstrong, Carl Brooks. trainer Gretz, John Peck, Joe Babbitt, Frank Doll, Carol Knost, Miss Hubard, Richard Cruse, Bob Nieswanger, Jim Finley, and Ed Kagin.


It’s likely Henry Hulett took his marvelous aerial photos of Webb City while flying with Bonham Chancellor. This photo shows how Chancellor painted the roof of Webb City High School for other pilots. (HENRY HULETT PHOTO)

By 1949, the pace and the enthusiasm had slowed down, in part because he had used up most of the accumulated flying hours from his summers of work, and the costs of a family of three boys forced him to seek remunerative summer employment elsewhere. He had attained a Ground Instructors license, and taught aeronautics for the Civil Air Patrol in which he was an officer and for Finley’s Flying Service… He also taught aeronautics in 1948 at Webb City High School; one of the few public high schools in the country to offer such a course. And of course, he and his class painted the famous sign on the high school roof, which photographer Henry Hulett captured.

Passengers in 1949-51: Bernie Leonard, Ed Kagin, Dale Gilliam, Jim Coffee, Bob Farris, John Campbell, the Hughes kids, Glen McDonald, Ed Kluba, Bob Stults, Dick Rowlette, Henry Hulett, Mel Kennedy, Bob Richardson, Jack Boyd, Kenny Johnson, Jerry Drachenberg and Dick Rowlette.

There was a year and a half gap from September, 1951 until February, 1953 when he made five solo flights. Bonham Chancellor’s last logged flight was a 35 minute jaunt on March 28, 1953, at which point he had logged 355 hours flying time. Ironically, he was never again in an airplane until 1972 when he boarded an airliner to Washington, D.C. for the wedding of his first passenger, Sam Chancellor.

Bob Chancellor (1936-2017) was a 1954 graduate of Webb City High School and is in the Webb City R-7 Hall of Fame.

Jeanne Newby

A lot of us appreciate the Bradbury Bishop Fountain, but Jeanne actually worked behind the counter making sodas while she was in high school. She knows everything about Webb City and is a member of the Webb City R-7 School Board.

Scroll to Top