Richard Schilberg (1887–1971)
Richard Schilberg was an aviation pioneer whose early efforts in Stuttgart (Arkansas County) made him Arkansas’s first acknowledged aircraft manufacturer.
Richard Schilberg was born on September 28, 1887, at Canada, Kansas, the son of Gottlieb Schilberg and Juliana Heidt Schilberg. He moved to Stuttgart in 1909 and opened a welding shop, initially specializing in agricultural machinery. He married Gladys Fricker on January 28, 1913. They divorced in 1926 and he married Mable Stilzen in 1927. The couple took their first airplane rides in June 1913, when one of Arkansas’s first aerial exhibitions came to the town. Increasingly interested in flying, he began building aircraft in Stuttgart by 1914, becoming the first major promoter of aviation in the Grand Prairie region. Schilberg’s ambition was to make Stuttgart the state’s flying headquarters and a waystation for cross-country fliers. He planned a flying field with hangars, mechanics, supplies, and flight lessons; however, economic conditions of the 1920s slowed progress on acquiring proper airfield facilities.
Schilberg advertised airplane rides for $5.00, piloted by an Army Air Corps officer, to encourage public confidence in aviation. He published names of local citizenry who had safely taken flights with him. As early as 1922, he was performing flying exhibitions, with his welding shop employees making parachute jumps for excited crowds. In addition to building aircraft, he purchased several craft and made extensive modifications to them. His firm provided flying lessons and repair services. Schilberg flew to the 1923 International Air Races in St. Louis, Missouri, in an aircraft he spent over a year constructing, making only one necessary stop. There, he consulted other fliers, including Charles Lindbergh, in order to learn and perfect his trade. Gladys Schilberg was also an avid flyer. She manufactured the fabric parts of the firm’s aircraft, using a tough mercerized cotton, finished with nine coats of lacquer and two of varnish. Seams were reinforced with adhesive tape. Planes were sold at prices from $650 to $3,000 and featured protective metal plates at high-pressure points.
In July 1924, Schilberg announced plans to open an aircraft repair facility at Stuttgart but received little financial support. After World War I, he is known to have built twenty-eight aircraft in his welding shop, known as Stuttgart Aviation Company. As late as 1926, he was referred to as the state’s only aircraft manufacturer. In April 1926, Schilberg and other pilots flew three of his craft to the National Elimination Balloon and Aeroplane Races, held in Little Rock (Pulaski County). Felix G. Smart of Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), who was the state aeronautical governor, and John Carroll Cone of Little Rock, state auditor and future aircraft maker, flew in Schilberg planes at the event.
Being unsuccessful in obtaining adequate facilities at Stuttgart, and in search of better aviation opportunities, Schilberg moved to Wichita, Kansas, around 1928, along with two partners from the welding company. Doing business as Schilberg and Williams Welding and Repairing, he became that city’s ninth aircraft builder, joining such firms as Beech, Cessna, and Stearman. Schilberg also managed a couple of Michigan aircraft firms before retirement. Schilberg died on August 10, 1971, and is buried in Rose Hill Memorial Park in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
For additional information:
“City Aviation Pioneer Now Resident of Ohio.” Stuttgart Daily Leader, December 17, 1954, p. 1, 8.
“Local Man to Fly to International Air Meet” Stuttgart Arkansawyer (September 1923).
Mosenthin, H. Glenn, “Flying Machines over the Prairie: Beginnings of Aviation around Stuttgart.” Grand Prairie Historical Bulletin 60 (April 2017): 2–13.
“Research Indicates First Plane Came to City in 1913.” Stuttgart Daily Leader, January 22, 1955, pp. 1, 4.
“Richard Schilberg Buys Third Curtiss Plane.” Stuttgart Arkansawyer, February 13, 1922, p. 1.
“Safety Airplane Rides.” Stuttgart Arkansawyer, May 27, 1922, p. 2.
“Schilberg May Have to Take Planes Elsewhere.” Stuttgart Arkansawyer, September 30, 1922, p. 1.
“Stuttgart Plane Brought to Air Meet By Builder.” Arkansas Democrat, April 29, 1926.
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