Three Area Men Relate Stories About Starling Airport
Age 83, Oscar Masters recalled how he flew planes out of Starling Airport.
Back in his childhood years in the 30s Oscar grew up on Montebello Road and watched his neighbor Murray Whitehead play softball. Later Murray would buy the land to begin Starling Airport. Future owners were Carl Stockstrom and, in the 50s, David Randolph, a developer.
When Oscar was a senior in Herky High School he would spend weekends with Murray at Starling Airport, a one lane gravel road near Hwy 61. Nearby was a gravel plant owned by Holzer. A drag system was used to get the gravel out of the river and it was taken to a storage yard at the northeast corner of Hwy 61. Residents would buy the gravel. The Rhombergs had a farm on that gravel road that eventually saw Starling Airport in operation.
Oscar wold help build gliders designed after the Yankee Doodle built in 1936 and flown in 1937. He would put wings on so he could catch a ride when the glide was being air tested in Arnold. The gliders were built on Ivory Avenue in 1942-43. Ten experimental planes were built and each one was tested at Starling. Murray would tow the plane via large trucks to Starling where the wings were reattached and the plane taken up 4,000-5,000 feet to see if the plane was air worthy. Aftter the 10th glider was built, the gliders were moved out to “A” building at the Arena. Then every 10th airplane was inspected. Once planes went into production, every nut and bolt was accounted for in a cost effective method.
These gliders were used during World War II because they could fly in quietly–just glide in. They were used during the Normandy Invasion on D Day in France–June 1944.
Oscar remembers the day Randy Chapman flew a glider for a large crowd. The plane had been hanging overhead in the building and the gas heaters blew on it continually and dried out the parts. When the plane looked like it was going to crash, Randy looked like he was getting out of the plane when he realized that the plane was aiming for people who were watching him–including his wife. He repositioned himself in the seat and steered the glider away from the people toward the lake in Arnold City Park. He died in the glider.
Oscar served his country in 1943 in World War II in the Army Air Force. When he returned to this area, he flew the Piper Cub and other small planes out of Starling. Later he flew out of Weiss Airport in Fenton.
Oscar and his brother owned Masters Brothers Sand Plant on Hwy Z till 1972, then managed it for Bussen Quarries until it was sold to Unimin in 1990. In retirement Oscar started skiing when he was 68 and quit this year. He plays golf almost every day and bowls three nights a week.
John “Bill” Stamm, age 80 and living in the Tenbrook area, recalls that in 1944 at the age of 16, he got a work permit to work for Laister-Kaufman Aircraft Corporation. Bill’s job was to make tubing, the size of a tailpipe, foir the framework of a glider. Laister paid Bill $.75 per hour. Laister rented the “A” building at the arena so Bill carpooled with Joe Brissette who lived on Jeffco and Freddy Mueller who had a filling station on Baumgartner and Lemay Ferry Road. When the war ended in 1946, Laister stopped production of gliders.
Bill also recalls that two men with motorcycles rented a cottage on the Meramec River in the Tenbrook area from his father, Albert Stamm, Sr. The men flew planes out of Starling and took Mr. Stamm, Sr. for a plane ride. The men also played golf at Hillcrest Country Club.
In mid-May 2007, Joe Brissette writes: “Back in WWII I remember going to Starling Airport one special day with my Mom and Dad (Joe and Marie). The Army had equipment on display and we could climb in and out of it. Soldiers were also there playing musical instruments and marching. If we purchased a War Bond we could ride in a DUCK that would take us into the lake and back out or we could get other items like pictures. My Dad had a picture of a WWII bomber that we think came from there. Sister Gloria recalls ‘We also remember auctions that were held to auction off War Bonds.’ Since we lived close to the airport, when our cousins would come to visit, we would climb on the roof of one of our chicken houses and watch the airplaines take off and land at Starling Airport.”
The Starling Airport Story
In The Jefferson County Record dated March 6th, 1941, readers learned that “Jefferson County will have its first airplane factory soon, according to Murray Whitehead, general manager of the Whitehead Aircraft Corporation. This new Corporation plans to manufacture inexpensive ‘Starling’ planes at a rate of three a day.
“The Company’s factory is to be located at Starling Airport, just south of the Meramec River near Hwy 61 in Arnold.” The boundaries are the railroad on the east, Bradley Beach Road on the north, Hwy 61 on the west and Starling Airport on the south.
“Whitehead, who was raised in Kimmswick, stated that his low-wing, two-place cabin monoplane would sell under $2,000. The plane’s features include a variable incident wing and a fool-proof instrument panel. The cockpit and cowling design affords the pilot a close view of the ground in taxiing. The ‘Starling’ has a wingspread of 28 feet, a length of 20 feet 11 inches and weighs 1,350 pounds. The fuselage is of steel tubing with combination metal and fabric covering. The wing is of spruce, plywood and fabrics. The seats are side by side.
“Powered by a 75-horsepower engine, the ‘Starling’ is expected to have a top speed of 145 mph and a six-hour cruising range. Flaps and a warp in the wing are designed to afford stability in landing at a speed of about 30 mph.
A follow-up story dated September 25, 1941 announces “the formation of the Laister-Kauffmann Aircraft Corporation. The new firm has leased 10,000 square foot of floor space at 7710 Ivory Street and expects to begin production of the training gliders within 30 days.
“The new gliders, prototypes of the famous ‘Yankee Doodle’ sailplanes, have been approved by the Army Air Corps division and are being studied by the navy as a possibility of using the motorless craft as an offensive weapon.
“When production volume warrants it, the new company plans to erect a factory at Starling Airport and transfer most of its glider production there. The company is recruiting a half dozen glider experts to teach employees. The initial production schedule will employ about 25 people.” On August 15, 1945 “Randall Chapman, chief engineer for Laister-Kaufmann Aircraft Corp., and a veteran glider pilot, was killed while stunt flyhing before a large crowd during an air show at Starling Airport. His wife, Margaret, was among the spectators.
“Chapman, 29, was flying a single-place ‘Yankee Doodle’ glider. One of the plywood wings collapsed when the plane was at 2500′ feet throwing the craft into a vertical dive with a series of violent twists. The glider landed in a shallow pond at the north side of the airport in full view of the crowd.
“In April Chapman set an unofficial Missouri record for sustained thermal soaring in the craft at Starling Airport. It was licensed by the Civil Aeronautics Authority for experimental flight.”