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Don Luscombe

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

By all signs, Don Luscombe was a successful young businessman on his way up. He lived in a large white house on the hill in Davenport with a wife and two children. Only in his mid-twenties, he had already established his own advertising agency.

But Don Luscombe was restless. While serving in the Ambulance Corps in France during World War I, Don had talked several French pilots into taking him up in a flying machine. He was hooked. Back in Davenport, he took flying lessons from Frank Wallace, a former barnstormer and race car driver working for the Bettendorf Car Company. Wallace ran a flying field bordering the Mississippi River at the east end of company property.

Don soloed after only four hours of instruction, but by 1925, his dreams had expanded. He wanted to become the Henry Ford of airplanes. The car in every garage would be joined by an airplane.

For an advertising salesman with no engineering background, this was not a practical dream. Existing airplanes were large and heavy, and flying in the open cockpits required helmets and goggles. They were perfect for daredevils and stuntmen, but not for folks in suits and ties.

Don Luscombe and Frank Wallace dreamed and talked so well that even without an airplane, local businessmen began investing. In 1926, Central States Aero of Bettendorf was formed with ten thousand dollars in capital.

Slowly, a small light airplane emerged unlike any ever seen. The Monocoupe, as it came to be called, had the passenger and pilot sitting side by side rather than front and back as in previous planes. And both were enclosed entirely by a windshield and cabin—no open cockpit.

On April 6th, 1927, Luscombe's plane made its first flight over the Rock Island area, giving Bettendorf the right to claim itself as the birthplace of the light plane industry. By 1929, 90% of the private airplanes in the United States were Monocoupes.

What was its secret? Not so much engineering as Don's understanding of human nature. Remember that unusual side-by-side seating? As Don explained, "You wouldn't want to take your girl out for a ride and have her sit behind, would you?"

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.