This document is a recollection of the life and aviation career of James Dorris “Joe” Greer and the historical significance of his early involvement with Delta Air Lines. It is being distributed to family members as well as: Ms. Marie Force, Archives Manager, Delta Flight Museum; Captain Rollin Jackson, Historian, Delta Golden Wings Pilots Association (DGW); Dave Roberts, DGW; and Captain James Hoogerwerf, PhD. There are numerous details and photos included that account the Golden Age of Aviation, the beginning of Crop Dusting and the Age of Barnstorming. These clippings and photos were obtained from scrapbooks, digitally scanned and restored for preservation. Readers may find that it is difficult to follow how things are laid out in the following pages because certain events and time periods overlap with each other, but they are tied together with some textual description being repeated.
Readers will also see some photos imbedded in the text. These can be opened and viewed by holding down the “Ctrl” key and clicking the photo. More photos with descriptions and .pdf files can be found on the disc for viewing in the same manner using the “click here“ link next to the section title. This will open the whole folder of documentation that is specific to that time period. The newspaper clippings are full of information and some of them are quite humorous.
There is a chronological list of events below to highlight some of the important dates. Readers may want to keep this handy and use it as a reference as the photos are browsed. Remember also, reading through the document, that the crop dusting seasons only spanned a few months during the year. The off season months were filled with other flying jobs. This was considered normal and allowed pilots to seek other income to make a living until the next dusting season. Try to put yourself in the time period as significant world events were also taking place.
There is an abundance of material to sift through and it has been broken down into various sections. Some sections are specific to “Huff-Daland Dusters” and “Delta Air Service.” Other sections are specific to “Off Season” flying and employment with other aviation companies during “Leaves of Absences” as well as Greer’s crop dusting later in life. Some of these sections intermix with each other because of their time frame overlap. Another section is devoted to documenting J.D. Greer as the pilot who flew the westbound legs with Elmer Rose on the first passenger flight for Delta Air Service in 1929. DAS President, Mr. Collett Everman Woolman, also selected Greer to fly Delta’s First Inaugural Flight in June 1934 from Monroe, LA to Atlanta, GA. Readers will learn about these key names; C.E. Woolman, Harold Harris, Jack Jaynes, Pete Hansen, Henry Elliott, CAA/FAA Examiners Frank Wignall and O’dell Garrison, and Elmer Bennett. These people played a role in the development and history of the early Delta Air Lines. It has taken time and repeated reviews for me to tie them all together and gain an understanding of Delta’s early days, the period in time, the events and my father’s life in aviation before and after Delta.
This folder contains a few clippings from newspapers and a couple of photos. The folder gives a little insight to flight training received from Lieutenant M. Merrill at Love Field in Dallas, TX. Greer also received a Degree from Sweeney Automotive and Electrical School in 1923.
There are a few articles that tell about some flying adventures. It should be noted that he built his first airplane at age 21 and acquired a few others during the time frame - 3 Jennys and a Thomas Morse Scout.
Joe Greer enjoyed aviation and all things associated with it from an early age. He was very mechanically inclined and continued to learn about aircraft all of his life.
My father, Joe Greer, flew for Huff-Daland Dusters, Inc. and Delta Air Service for nineteen years, from 1924 until 1943. He met Captain Harold R. Harris, U.S. Army Air Corps, in Macon, GA in 1923. Greer and Mr. Woolman followed his work in Macon and in Marietta in 1923, and also in Tallulah, LA in 1924. Capt. Harris was in charge of aircraft operations involved in a government study to determine the cost and effectiveness of applying insecticides to crops using airplanes, especially to fight the cotton boll weevil. Huff-Daland Aero Corp. of New York (later known as Huff-Daland Division of Keystone Aircraft Corporation through acquisitions), operated in Macon as part of the U.S. Government Investigation with a modified airplane (Jenny) used for dusting.
When the aerial application of insecticide had been proven to be effective and economically feasible, a group of bankers and businessmen in Monroe, LA, financed and commissioned the production of the duster aircraft from the specialized Huff- Daland Division of the Keystone Aircraft Corporation at a cost of $14,000 apiece and created Huff-Daland Dusters, Inc.
The group hired Capt. Harris as Operations Officer for the new enterprise and hired Mr. Collett Everman Woolman, a young entomologist working as an agricultural extension agent at Louisiana State University to lead the new corporation. Mr. Woolman had now been placed in charge of the country’s first commercial dusting company.
Huff-Daland Dusters was a shoestring operation from 1924 to 1926. Initial dusting began slowly in southern Louisiana in 1924 but caught on as Mr. Woolman sold the concept to cotton farmers and owners of large cotton plantations, called Planters. As the word got around about crop dusting by airplane, the work soon spread into Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi by 1926. The summer dusting season lasted from May 15th until the end of August if there was enough rain to make the crop (there was no irrigation until the mid 1950’s).
Huff-Daland Dusters, Inc. operated in the South controlling the cotton boll weevil which punctured the cotton bolls. In the late 1930s as a young boy, I followed my dad through fields of cotton. I found green bolls with small dark puncture holes. I would peel them open and occasionally find a boll weevil. HDD also battled armyworm infestations. The armyworms quickly stripped cotton plants of their leaves.
The company expanded at a moderate pace during 1925 and 1926 in the South. Then, Mr. Woolman secured two, 2-year winter cotton dusting contracts in the Cañete (can-YET-tay) Valley, south of Lima, Peru. These two contracts spanned four seasons: Contract 1 - the 1926-1927 and 1927-1928 seasons, and Contract 2 - the 1930-1931 and 1931-1932 seasons. These will be covered in the next section.
Dusting operations in the South and in Peru were profitable, even during the “Crash of 1929.” New passenger flights (Delta Air Service) in 1929 and 1930 were not. The winter dusting seasons in Peru (their summer) effectively doubled the annual cotton dusting income and kept Huff-Daland Dusters financially aloft by working different locations year round.
The first pilot that Capt. Harris engaged to work for Huff-Daland Dusters was Joe Greer.
Another pilot, Henry Elliott, was soon hired by Capt. Harris. Mr. Woolman concurred with Capt. Harris on both pilot selections. I remember the names Dan Tobin, Pat Higgins and Pete Hansen who were hired later. Pat Higgins was assigned as Chief Pilot for Delta Air Service (DAS) in Monroe. He remained employed for decades with DAS and later, Delta Air Lines. Hansen is in a photo in the Peru folder section.
Dad was 23 years old in 1924. He had three years flying experience and government mechanic’s licenses for both Airplanes and Engines. He had graduated from Sweeney Automotive and Electrical School in 1923. This school is where he received training on magnetos and other airplane electrical systems. (This photo to the right shows his second set of “Airplane” and “Engine” Mechanic’s Licenses, both issued in 1930 by the Department of Commerce, Director of Aeronautics. This was just prior to dad’s trip to Peru under the second contract).
Dusting preparations began in May and the dusting season in the southern U.S. was in June, July and August. The season was dependent on rain to make the cotton crop. It was tough to gear up for dusting season and sit with dusters not working in a dry season. Many operators came and went with the uncertainty that the next season might also be dry. Back then operators dusted with calcium arsenate, sulfur, chlordane and later DDT..
Joe Greer was also Mr. Woolman’s lead mechanic. He assembled Huff-Daland's new dusters in 1924 when the crates arrived in Monroe from the manufacturer. He maintained the airframes and Wright “Whirlwind” engines, the dust hoppers and the spreaders. Dad spoke respectfully and affectionately about another mechanic that Mr. Woolman hired to maintain the dusters in Monroe while dad was in Peru. His name was Gene Berry. My father was fond of him and said he was a good mechanic.
Mr. Woolman was also a pilot. Perhaps Delta’s Flight Museum has this information. I have found this is not widely known. He loved handling the controls himself, but after the mid 1930s he had little time to fly. He apparently enjoyed, as Delta’s corporate leader, managing and using his superior business skills in an aviation environment. I don’t know if he kept a pilot’s log book. Perhaps his family has records. I know that my father flew with him frequently from 1924 to 1934. Dad flew aerobatic maneuvers with Mr. Woolman in his Fleet biplane until he became proficient enough to enter aerial contests. There is a Shreveport News clipping listing pilots to perform, including DAS pilots; C.E. Woolman, Joe Greer, Pete Hansen and Henry Elliott.
From 1924 to 1934, Mr. Woolman gave dad and other dusting pilots, leaves of absences (during the off seasons) to earn a living to make it through until the next summer’s season. Pilots usually barnstormed and flight instructed during this time. They also worked on their "ships" (biplanes), mostly Travel Airs with tail-skids, Wacos, Fleets, and C-3B Stearmans. This is also covered in another section.
It may be worth noting here that the dusting business continued in the United States for many more years. The “Puffer” was not the only aircraft used. The C-3B Stearman and Travel Air 4000 found their way into service in the early to mid 1930s.
In 1926, just three years into business, Mr. Woolman traveled to Peru and secured a two season dusting contract for 1926-1927 and 1927-1928. I haven't learned how he knew about the need for cotton dusting in Peru, but this contract allowed the aircraft to continue working and provided income for the company. In the southern hemisphere, the seasons are reversed to ours in the states. So our winter months here (off season) are their summer months. The contracts provided much needed work for the dusters and were key in keeping the company afloat financially.
In addition to working in the states, pilots Joe Greer and Pete Hansen flew the additional dusting seasons in Peru’s summer, in the fertile Cañete Valley south of Lima. Dad managed the cotton dusting operations, personnel and maintained the fleet of dusters in Peru, spanning late 1926 through March of 1932. A local named Jack was hired as a handyman and dust loader.
Cotton in this area occasionally grew eight to ten feet tall. Peru cotton was irrigated and production could be relied on. Production per acre was greater, fibers were longer and the quality was superior to our cotton in the South. A second contract, negotiated by Mr. Woolman, was secured for the 1930-1931 and 1931-1932 seasons. This new contract prompted the rehiring of several Delta Air Service pilots who were recently laid off due to the cessation of passenger operations in the states (see next section).
The Peruvian dusting operation was not large. Initially, dusting was done with five Huff-Daland “Puffers” during the first contract. For the second contract however, Joe Greer and Pete Hansen returned to Peru with five, new Huff-Daland "Petrel" dusters this time, equipped with larger engines than the “Puffers.”
These Petrels were ordered from the Huff-Daland Division of the Keystone Aircraft Company when Mr. Woolman and Joe Greer made a trip to New York. They went by Niagara Falls on this trip in late October 1930. There are files on the DVD documenting the trip.
The new dusters were put into crates and shipped from New York to New Orleans. Once there, DAS pilots Greer and Hansen supervised the loading of the dusters aboard the Grace Lines ship "Athenas." The aircraft sailed by boat from New Orleans to Havana, then to Cristobal in the Canal Zone, and then on to Lima. Greer and Hansen flew from Cristobal to Lima on a Pan Am Ford Tri-Motor. The “Athenas” docked at the Port of Talarrah (or Talara), Lima in late November or December 1930. Once the duster crates arrived in the Cañete Valley at Campo de Aviation San Vicente, Hansen and Jack helped dad assemble the new dusters.
Dad received a letter from Mr. Woolman in 1930, encouraging him to take care of the dusters and to keep them in good maintenance, as times were tough after the “Crash of 1929.”
The dusters were stored in Peru after March 1931 at the end of dusting season. Then in December 1931, Greer and Hansen sailed from New Orleans back to Lima on the Grace Line Ship “Santa Rita” to finish out the contract.
There are a few files and photos concerning the first Peruvian dusting contract. Most of the photos I have put together, however, cover the second contract period.
This is a photo from my father’s scrapbook dated February 17, 1932. This was my dad’s 31st birthday. The photo was taken at a stone covered beach south of Lima. He is sitting on the running board of the company truck. A faded sign on the door reads Huff-Daland Dusters, Inc. There are many more, higher quality photos during 1931 and 1932 as he had a better camera with him.
Also worth noting, prior to departing on the second contract in 1930 dad had his Engine (#4016) and Airplane (#4266) Mechanics Licenses re-issued to him (October 15 and November 30 respectively).
Passenger flights started on June 17, 1929 with two simultaneous passenger runs, one headed West and the other headed East. The two Travel Air, six-passenger aircraft were prepositioned for early takeoffs on the 17th. The westbound flight was flown from Jackson, Hawkins Field, westward to Dallas, Love Field, with stops in Monroe and Shreveport. The eastbound flight was the reverse route from Dallas, Love Field to Jackson, Hawkins Field with stops in Shreveport and Monroe. The routes were then extended farther east to include Birmingham, AL. More expansion ensued with Atlanta being the eastern most terminus and Fort Worth, TX to the west.
During this period the country was in a recession (1929 Stock Market Crash) and few people could afford to fly. The passenger schedules lost money, but the dusting operations made a profit. The passenger operations might have survived with an Air-Mail contract but DAS was then a small, privately funded company and was not awarded one of the new contracts by the U.S. Government to fly Air-Mail over specifically assigned routes.
DAS first effort to fly passengers ended on October 15, 1930. Dusting profits were reduced at this time, but kept the company solvent financially. This was a challenging period for DAS and an emotional day for Mr. Woolman. (This information, all of which I am sure that you are familiar, is from conversations with my father, records, and overheard conversations between my dad and other early pilots, Dept. of Air Commerce and CAA examiners, and with our family).
Two weeks later, Mr. Woolman secured the second Peruvian dusting contract (1930-1931 and 1931-1932) and rehired my father and other pilots. This contract came at a crucial time financially for the survival of DAS. This is a perfect example of Mr. Woolman's character, his resourcefulness along with his resolve and determination! Not long thereafter, 5 new “Petrel” dusters were acquired from Keystone and crated for their journey to South America. Joe Greer and Pete Hansen accompanied the aircraft from New Orleans to Peru aboard the “Athenas” to start the new contract in November of 1930. The following year, they sailed for the 1931-1932 Peruvian dusting season on the Santa Rita.
The dusting business around Monroe was not a full-time operation. Mr. Woolman also hired out Joe Greer as a mechanic when needed. He and other pilots also "Barnstormed,” flew airshows, sold airplane rides for 50 cents and $1.00, and performed aerobatics and stunt flying with wing-walkers and parachute jumpers. Greer also instructed and had eight flight students that received their pilot licenses. One student was the third female pilot to receive her license in the state of Louisiana. Two were doctors from Monroe.
Many towns in Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas and Mississippi, celebrated the opening of their airports, especially during the early 1930s. There are many letters of invitation to participate in these celebrations. Mr. Woolman gave leaves of absences so pilots could make a living until the next summer dusting season in the South.
Dad barnstormed especially in 1931, 1932 and 1933. He had an aerial circus with wing-walkers and three parachute jumpers. One was a lady, Miss Eris Daniels. He would drop leaflets over southern towns, perform aerobatics and then gave rides. He earned 1st and 2nd place prize money entering stunt flying contests. He would also perform outside loops and fly at the openings of new airports. My father flew with Mr. Woolman, who gained enough aerobatic experience to also enter stunt flying contests. There are two clippings in my father’s album listing C.E. Woolman and others as contestants.
One of dad’s aerial circus jumpers was Willie Jones. Jones reached 300 parachute jumps when he was performing with the “Greer Flying Circus” which was later renamed “The Dixie Aces.” Willie Jones went on to reach a record “1,000 Jumps” before he retired. There are more than sixty leaflets in the scrapbook advertising stunt flying, wing-walking, parachute jumping and also crop dusting demonstrations held on large plantations. These shows saturated even small towns mostly in Louisiana and Mississippi. Joe Greer demonstrated dusting by airplane on the Bob Snowden and the H. M. Brinkley Plantations, both of which are near Horseshoe Lake in Hughes, AR and also on the Pierce Estate in Wharton, TX.
In the late 1930s, Dad had built his own fleet of nine dusters in Greenwood, MS, during the off seasons. Mr. Woolman was encouraging and applauded my father’s efforts in Mississippi. Dad had just flown in to Lakefront Airport in New Orleans from a Delta trip. He was at the Methodist hospital visiting my mother who had just given birth to my younger sister Betty, when the notification came by phone of bad news. The Greenwood operation was lost in a fire which destroyed all nine dusters, the hangar and shops when a kerosene heater exploded. This happened in 1940. He had C-3B Stearmans, Travel Airs and a deep-red Waco (his favorite) with seventeen coats of hand-rubbed dope on the fuselage.
As it turns out, I have the small South American (Peru) album, half of a large album and a scrapbook of flyers. Some advertise the demonstrations of crop dusting on the Bob Snowden and H.M. Brinkley Plantations. The Delta Museum also has copies of these leaflets.
In this section you can see that some of the years overlap with previous sections covered. This section is to address other flying activities and companies that J.D. Greer worked for in addition to Delta Air Service. Mr. Woolman graciously gave dad many leaves of absences from 1934 until 1943. Joe Greer was Huff-Daland Dusters’ and Delta Air Service’s senior pilot until 1941. Mr. Woolman froze his seniority number in about 1942.
During these leaves:
Greer decided as the war wound down, to return to crop dusting instead of returning to Delta Air Lines (Delta Air Service became Delta Air Lines in 1945). He bought land in Florida, south of Saint Petersburg and established Ellenton Airport. It is here that he ran a dusting/spraying operation, a G.I. flight school and an overhaul facility for Pratt-Whitney R-985, 450HP engines. These engines were in wide use by dusting operators on Stearmans and other aircraft. Dad operated Ellenton Airport from 1945 until 1966. He then sold the airport to a retired United Airlines pilot, John Thomson and his wife, Dorothy. They resold in 1997 to a veterinarian as learned by my son Joe Jr., on his visit to the airport while working on an aerial spraying contract in Tampa.
I dusted for my dad in 1957 for a month after receiving my Navy Wings. This was at his Louise, MS, summer cotton dusting airport, which he operated from mid-May until the end of August. Seven, Pratt & Whitney 450 powered Stearman duster/sprayers were ferried up from the Ellenton airport. (In Florida, during the winter, he sprayed citrus and “flew frost” if there was an expected frost or freeze. He flew in a leather flightsuit and helmet with goggles, heavy boots and gloves. He also dusted for gladioli and vegetable growers. I remember the name Harlee Farms from this period).
I will add here, that in the 1950s, some new organophosphate chemicals were being used, specifically Malathion, and Methyl and Ethyl Parathion. Twenty two accidents and seven fatalities occurred in 1957 during the first six weeks of dusting in the South. Many new poisons were released for the 1957 cotton dusting season. I wrote to American Cyanamid and obtained a toxicity chart and names of the newly released insecticides. The chart used Malathion as an index of one. A few of the new poisons were less toxic than Malathion, but most were several times as toxic for human exposure. One named “XXX” was determined to be several hundred times as toxic. These affected a pilot’s vision and nervous system. As an antidote, Atropine was injected into pilots and handlers who displayed symptoms. Most of the new insecticides were immediately removed from use and new special handling procedures were instated and required for others. Greer Flying Service only had one incident when a dusting pilot lost depth perception upon returning for landing. He also couldn’t get both feet on the brakes on rollout so he cut the engine ignition switch and coasted to a stop on the long runway. There are some nice articles in this folder.
This section is about two important events for Delta Air Service and our family history. The first will be the 1929 First Passenger Flight from Jackson, MS to Dallas Love Field, TX. The second is the 1934 First Inaugural. There are a few names mentioned here later in the discussion that probably could use a brief introduction and how they correlate:
|Earl Williamson, Sr.||-||Relative, close friend and wing-walker for my father.|
|Captain Elmer Bennett||-||Flew Delta’s Inaugural Flight from Atlanta to London in April 1978 before retiring after 39 years of service with Delta. He was a friend of my fathers and they had known one another since he was 21. Captain Bennett was Delta’s senior pilot when he retired.|
|Jack Belmont Jaynes||-||Chief Federal Airline Inspector, Southeast Region, Atlanta. Mr. Jaynes and Mr. C.E. Woolman were long-time associates and close friends.|
“Delta, the History of an Airline” is professionally written. The authors, Lewis and Newton, did a magnificent job. Searching over fifty years of company records, gathering information and conducting time consuming interviews was a tremendous undertaking. They met their challenges and are to be commended for a job well-done. The book is informative and enjoyable.
My father's involvement in Delta's early history should have been picked up in the book. There are unavoidable omissions in such an enormous task of writing 55 years of Delta history (book published in 1979). I must assume part of the responsibility for this omission. I did not stay in contact with the museum as I was wrapped up in my own career and assignments as a Naval Aviator. Other than two group photos which appear in the book, there is no written information about my father’s Huff-Daland and Delta Air Service involvement. I believe this is because of two reasons:
I hope the records in the archives will be made complete as information is uncovered. Readers can see from the enclosed files and photographs that dad was involved from the beginning, starting with HDD in 1923. He managed winter cotton dusting operations in Peru for over four years. He also flew the first passenger schedules from June 17, 1929 until October 15, 1930. He flew the First Inaugural Flight for Delta Air Service in late June 1934. Greer’s name is not mentioned anywhere in the book regarding the June 17, 1929 flights, nor the June 1934 Delta First Inaugural Flight.
I had planned upon retirement from the Navy to visit the Delta museum with my family and read many documents about my father. This was especially important for us since Earl Williamson, Sr., his brother-in-law, had passed away. Uncle Earl was the same age, his wing-walker and life-long friend. In addition, my father’s business which contained all of his logbooks, photos, letters from Mr. Woolman, documents, and memorabilia were destroyed in a fire caused by a lightning strike in 1965. I managed to rescue half of a large album from the hangar shop and I also received the South American Peru album along with a scrapbook from my Mom’s estate in 1991. These contain very interesting photos and clippings that I would like the museum to have about Huff-Daland Dusters and Delta Air Service.
When I learned about the book “Delta, the History of an Airline,” I immediately purchased a copy as I was excited to read the information. I went directly to the index and couldn't believe that many of my father’s friends names were listed, but not his. How could this early history have been omitted? I visited the Delta Museum after the book was published to inquire. Mrs. Jackie Pate graciously met with me and she explained that "We had almost no records from the old Monroe Station. About ten years of records were lost when Delta Air Service moved headquarters from Monroe to Atlanta. When we had the scholars write the book, they interviewed families and relied on their information about the early crop dusting days.” I told her that I knew, as did our whole family, Mr. Woolman and the early pilots, that my father flew the Delta Air Service first passenger run on June 17, 1929, from Hawkins Field, Jackson, MS, to Love Field in Dallas, TX with stops in Monroe and Shreveport. Mrs. Pate said "Your father may very well have flown, there may have been two or three pilots.”
Earl Williamson, Sr. knew the Monroe “Station Keeper,” as was his title. He drove me from Earl’s home in Vivian, LA to the Station Keeper’s home near the Red River, in Gilliam, LA. I believe his name is John Smith, but I have forgotten it. It will turn up when I find pictures I took on the trip. It was a great visit, four of us, with uncle Earl and his son, Earl Jr. I told the station keeper about the book, the omission, and talking with Mrs. Pate and her explanation.
I asked if he knew my father and recalled the Delta Air Service first passenger runs on June 17, 1929. He seemed very interested and said "Yes, your dad flew on 17 June. I signed him out on the flight. I knew your dad well. He was our head pilot and had a mechanic’s license. Times were tough. Then Mr. Woolman got the Peru dusting contracts. They kept the company going during the recession. The passenger runs didn't make a profit and we relied on the dusting business. Pat Higgins ran the Monroe operation and your dad ran the Peruvian dusting operation." I clearly remember the words of the station keeper as we departed, "Rest assured, your dad flew that first day. If the museum looks in the station log, they will see my entry where I signed him out on the flight.” (I have since learned that the Monroe Pilot Schedule Logbook has not been found, but I did find a copy of the last page of the logbook with the names of six pilots and their route assignments for 8 through 15 October 1930. These were the last flights of DAS’s first attempts at operating a passenger schedule. This Monroe Logbook page was in my father’s scrapbook. Four pilot’s names are familiar; Elliott, Greer, Higgins and Pfeuffer while two are not, Sanford and Hunt).
I told the Station Keeper that the book “Delta, the History of an Airline” lists Elmer Rose as the pilot on the westbound flights. He said, “He went with your Dad. He was with us a short time, on leave from the Army Air Corps, I don’t know what happened to him. I don’t know where he went.”
My feeling is that the book is written and unless the Monroe Station Log, or other clippings or documentation for June 17, 1929 are found, it should remain as written. Perhaps an addendum or revision can be made sharing this information.
As can be expected, we are a bit disappointed not seeing him recognized. Hawkins Field was my father’s stomping ground. He was born in Kosciusko, north of Jackson. He flew out of Hawkins field and Yazoo City farther north, dusting and barnstorming. I have known through my years from our family and from overhearing stories of the early days among visiting pilots and families that my father flew from Hawkins Field to Love Field, in one of the Travel Airs on June 17, 1929. He did the maintenance, ran up the engines and flew the test flights to get them ready for the first passenger runs. I have a picture of my father standing in front of a Travel Air at Selman Field in Monroe and another photo of him running up the engine. The only documentation that I have found however, concerning this historic day, is one clipping from a Jackson newspaper - the “Jackson Daily News.” They interviewed Elmer Rose at Hawkins field before the flight and listed him as the pilot. Maybe dad was pre-flighting the airplane when the reporters came by? I don’t know. I do know that there were two pilots on the three legs. I also read that there was at least one empty seat on the flight West and Mr. Woolman gave permission to Rose for him to take his wife along. There may have been additional news coverage in Jackson, Monroe, Shreveport, and Dallas that I haven’t uncovered.
Delta’s First Inaugural Flight was in late June 1934. This flight was flown from Monroe, LA to Atlanta, GA in a Travel Air S-6000-B, a single engine, six-passenger, high-wing monoplane. The passengers were Mr. C.E. Woolman and his business associates. The Federal Airline Inspector onboard was Jack Jaynes. The pilot was my father, Joe Greer. (Don Dice flew Delta Air Service’s first awarded U.S. Government Air-Mail Contract #24 Inaugural Flight shortly after on "The Fourth of July" 1934). Scheduled passenger service followed these two inaugural flights on August 5th.
I spoke with one of my father’s long-time friends, Captain Elmer Bennett, who retired in 1978 after 39 years of service with Delta. He was seventeen years younger than my father. Looking to build flight time, he told me that he had applied for a dusting job with my father in Greenwood when he was 20, but there had been a dry season and the planters had turned the cotton over to the boll weevil. Dad recommended him to Mr. Woolman. Woolman hired him in 1939 at the age of 21.
Captain Bennett was domiciled at Lakefront Airport in 1940 when my father was there. He said, “I knew you when you were five, you lived on Franklin Avenue near the Lakefront Airport. Your father had parties for Delta Air Service pilots and their families.”
It was also during this time period, when my Dad first introduced me to Mr. Woolman. I remember that I knew that he was important by the way my father introduced me. Dad said, “Mister Woolman, this is my son Joe. Joe, this is Mister Woolman.” Dad spoke in a slow and polite tone. Mr. Woolman shook my hand. He was tall and had on a suit and even at five years of age, I felt respect for him. I showed him my “Oakey-Doakes” comic book. Mr. Woolman shared my interest in it. He did this for me. This was his nature.
The October 1978 issue of the Airline Pilot Magazine paid tribute to Captain Bennett upon his retirement. He was Delta’s senior pilot when he retired and he had flown Delta’s Inaugural Flight from Atlanta to London in April 1978 before retiring. This opened the European market for Delta. His career with Delta and his Inaugural Flight to London are highlighted in the article. Here is an excerpt:
It was an honor and a privilege for me because the company felt it was the most important inaugural ever for Delta except maybe for the first one which was flown in 1933 by Joe Greer." (Attachment 5)
I called Captain Bennett later after the article was published to congratulate him and inquire about the year. He said "I might have been wrong on the date." It was 1934. He said “There was a government airline inspector on board conducting the ‘Check Ride’ who might still be alive.” Captain Bennett was also writing a book about his flying career with Delta. He mailed a copy to me of his handwritten pages. I hope his book “The Climb to the TOP” will be published.
After my dad left airline flying, junior pilots jumped ahead of his seniority number which was still frozen by Mr. Woolman. Captain Bennett at one point held seniority, one number above my father’s. He volunteered that he was very proud of that. My father and Bennett remained friends until my father passed away in 1969 at the age of 68. Captain Elmer F. Bennett passed away May 13, 2011 at the age of 93. He was a fascinating man to know.
TElmer Bennett remembered the Inaugural Flight and had told me that there was a check pilot on board who may still be alive. I searched, on and off, for thirty years for the name of the "Check Pilot" and the date in June 1934 of Delta's First Inaugural Flight. I searched for information in CAA and FAA archives and for newspaper and magazine articles. My relatives knew of the flight through the years, but no one remembered or knew the name of the examiner who conducted the “Check Ride.”
I found him - Mr. Jack Belmont Jaynes was the inspector. Officially his title during this time period was, “The Department of Air Commerce, Chief Federal Airline Inspector, Southeast Region, Atlanta.” This was very welcome information. I needed the documentation at this late date to substantiate my father's history with Huff-Daland Dusters and Delta Air Service, since the Delta history book had been published and the information, albeit incomplete, was set in ink.
Mr. Jaynes had also published a book in 1982 about the history of aviation entitled “Eagles Must Fly,” which recorded the First Inaugural Flight on page 193.
Here is an excerpt:
"I want to mention here my good friend, Mr. C.E. Woolman, President of Delta Air Lines, one of the most competent airline heads with whom it was my privilege to be associated. In June, 1934, I was honored to be aboard Delta's inaugural flight from Monroe, La., to Atlanta, on which the pilot was Joe Greer, in a Travel Air 6000-B, a six passenger single-engine airplane.” (Attachment 2)
Jaynes lists other Delta pilots with whom he flew on pages 193 and 194. There is a nice photo of Delta Captain Don Dice on page 194.
As one may recall, “Delta, the History of an Airline,” documents Delta’s First Inaugural Air-Mail Flight on July 4, 1934 and also documents Delta’s return to passenger flying on August 5, 1934. The August 5th flight was authorized after a required thirty-day probationary period following an initial inspection flight by a Federal Airline Inspector onboard a Delta passenger aircraft, known as a “Check Flight.” However, “Delta, the History of an Airline,” does not document this required check flight in June 1934. The exact day is questionable, but it was probably during the last two weeks of June. The date is surely recorded somewhere and will turn up. Hopefully, this information can be presented and recorded for future revisions. I personally believe that the Inaugural Flight was to be flown on June 17th to coincide with the fifth anniversary of DAS’s June 17, 1929 first passenger flights.
Jack Jaynes and Mr. Woolman shared mutual respect. This was expressed in his words, and also the friendship he and Mr. Woolman shared, when he addressed the “Delta Golden Wings” Retired Pilots Association in 1970. Mr. Jaynes selected himself to conduct this historical “Check Flight” which is documented in his address. He was also greatly involved through the "Jet Age" up until 1972. He then began compiling his personal and government records and wrote the book “Eagles Must Fly.” He worked for the DAC, CAA & FAA. I am attaching a “brief” of Jaynes’ involvement in the early history and development of aviation (20s & 30s), which I summarized from his book (Attachment 1). I was very excited to locate Jack Jaynes’ files archived in the McDermott Library, University of Texas, Dallas. Here is a link to the Jaynes papers. Jack Jaynes passed away in 1986 at the age of 89.
(Note the top endorsement on the photo to the left, J.B. Jaynes 11-15-30).
TIn my search, I initially stumbled across Jack Jaynes’ name in 2011 by accident, when reading the minutes of the "Delta Golden Wings" Retired Pilot's Association (I joined DGW about 1989). The DGW association was started in November 1968 by many of my father's friends and junior pilots, many names that I recognize, most of whom, if not all, have flown West. Tommy Bridges invited Jack Jaynes to speak at their first annual meeting in 1970. Fred W. Miller, Historian, was so impressed by “Jack Jaynes’ Outstanding Address” that he published it, in its entirety, in the minutes of the first meeting. I am extremely grateful to Captain Bridges and Captain Miller for inviting Jack Jaynes to address the DGW and recording his speech within the minutes.
Here is a documenting excerpt from the speech:
“I had the honor and pleasure of being on Delta's inaugural flight from Monroe, Louisiana to Atlanta. I don't recall the passengers other than Mr. Woolman, his Monroe backers and myself. The pilot, the best I can recall was named Greer. He didn't remain long with the Company. I understand he went back to the dusting business, apparently he couldn't get the dust out of his blood.” (Attachment 4)
This meeting was held in Fort Worth at the Red Coach Inn, November 1970. Mr. Jaynes mentions his respect for Mr. Woolman in his address and flying on Delta's Inaugural from Monroe to Atlanta. He spoke about the responsibilities of the modern day pilot. The names; Tommy Bridges, Ben Catlin and Gene Croft are familiar to me as they were my father’s friends when I was young. All were members of the DGW first elected officers. I grew up with these names and met Captain Croft at a DGW reunion in Lexington, KY.
We now have the documentation. Besides the memories of the remaining members of our family who knew J.D. Greer, here are three outside references that document Delta’s First Inaugural Flight in June 1934 flown by Joe Greer:
Unfortunately, our family, Captain Bennett, Jack Jaynes, Jack McKee (Delta’s Chief Pilot in New Orleans) and numerous DAS pilots were somehow not interviewed by the scholar’s team who gathered information to write the Delta History book. The 1970 records of the “Delta Golden Wings” Retired Pilots Association were not uncovered, nor was Jack Jaynes’ address to the association regarding Delta’s First Inaugural Flight. The Delta History book was published a year after the Airline Pilot Magazine article.
Delta Captain, James Hoogerwerf, published a review of the book “Delta, The History of an Airline” and has recently provided an update (Attachment 6). I have read some of his work. It is carefully researched and professionally written. He is knowledgeable and his writing is enjoyable and informative. Perhaps Delta's Flight Museum will encourage Captain Hoogerwerf to write the next update and approach him to consider the inclusion of my father’s involvement in Delta's early history.
I am including some additional personal recollection that references this time period. Odell Garrison, an early flying friend of dad’s, knew dad’s history with DAS. Mr. Garrison became an Inspector for CAA and later FAA. Frank Wignall knew dad then and also became a CAA Inspector and later a FAA Examiner. Mr. Wignall also knew that dad flew the initial passenger flight for Delta Air Service. I overheard conversations between my father, Mr. Garrison and Mr. Wignall, when they re-licensed dad’s aircraft for many years forward through the 50s and 60s.
Mr. Wignall also issued me my first FAA Commercial License in 1957 in Pensacola, FL. He handed me my new license and asked, “Are you Joe Greer’s boy?” I replied, “Yes, I am.” I was 22 and had completed Navy Flight Training. He also said “I knew you when you were five and your dad was flying for Delta out of Lakefront in New Orleans” (similar to Capt. Bennett). We talked for a long time. He remembered visiting dad at the Louise, MS airport during summer dusting seasons and re-licensing the Greer Flying Service dusters. I enjoyed the non-stop hangar flying when they got together. Occasionally, Mr. Garrison and Mr. Wignall stopped together to visit dad. I think all three rode behind loud engines for years. All three frequently talked at the same time and cupped a hand behind a good ear. Now, I understand. I learned a lot back then.
I met Jack McKee in 1970 when I was stationed at NAS New Orleans (1970 to 1974). He was about to retire. Dad had just passed away in 1969 in Lacombe, LA, which is just north of New Orleans. I knew that they were good friends and I went to see Captain McKee. We talked about my dad and what he remembered about Huff-Daland Dusters and Delta Air Service. Captain McKee knew my father well.
Some other people I also remember are Carter and Jo Haas. I stayed with them in New Orleans when Betty, my younger sister, was born. Ed Moore and Charley Wynn were others. They all knew dad and his aviation background.
Huff-Daland Dusters was the country’s First Commercial Crop Dusting Company. James Dorris Greer was the country’s First Commercial Crop Dusting Pilot. He flew for Huff-Daland Dusters Inc. and Delta Air Service from 1924 until 1943. After World War II, he chose to return to crop dusting rather than airline flying. He loved flying biplanes, stunt flying, the freedom of managing his own business and performing his own maintenance. I’ve heard him say, “I don’t mind riding my own engines. I do all the overhauls and maintenance.” He flew from 1922 until 1961 and quit logging flight time at 35,000 hours. This averages out to over 2 ½ hours of flight time per day.
I am proud of my father’s early aviation pioneering spirit and that at the age of 21 he built his first airplane. I am proud of his years with Huff-Daland Dusters and Delta Air Service. I am proud that he found income between dusting seasons through his involvement in early barnstorming, contests, aerial circuses and other jobs.
Mr. Woolman relied heavily on my father to maintain the dusters and keep the early dusting operation going. My dad took pride in his flying ability. He was experienced for his age when he was hired by Captain Harris and Mr. Woolman. He was at home and consistently precise flying a duster. Dad cherished his letters and early photos, especially the letters to him in Peru, sent by Mr. Woolman and their photos together. Dad’s favorite pictures and letters had been framed and were hanging in his office and on walls of adjacent rooms. I wish that I had the photo of my dad and Mr. Woolman in front of the Travel Air and the photo of both of them by the DAS School Fleet biplane, in which dad instructed students. There are photos of the students and the Fleet on the DVD. Greer also had a Fleet biplane that he flew at airport dedications and in which he flew passenger rides and performed stunting exhibitions including outside loops. My father flew the westbound legs of Delta Air Service first passenger flights on June 17, 1929 and was selected by Mr. Woolman to fly the Delta Air Service First Inaugural Flight from Monroe to Atlanta in June 1934.
He was a member of the “Quiet Birdmen” and was “Roasted” by them. My father was knowledgeable, experienced and an “Outstanding Aviator.” He was a 32nd Degree Mason, having gone “Scottish” and “York” Rites and also was a Shriner.
Most of all, he was a friend to many, and a kind and gentle father for all six of his children. I greatly admired, respected and appreciated him. I grew up, part-time, on two airports. I think that he was proud when I chose to fly and entered Navy flight training in 1955 and also when I was awarded the “Freedom Watch” for 1957 from a field of over 3,200 flight training graduates. The watch was presented by the National Society of the “Daughters of the American Colonists” in Washington D.C. I had rewarding aviation careers. I give my father credit for instilling in me this desire to fly and for my accomplishments.
I am proud of my heritage. I wanted to fly for Delta as my father had. I am proud to have been hired by A.W. “Art” Davis, of Delta, in 1966. My resignation from the Navy was denied until two years later. Mr. Davis continued postponing my class date several times until I finally reached Delta’s age limit. I was finally released from the Navy and then hired by Western Airlines. Western’s pilot age limit was one year older than Delta’s. I had a grand flying career with Western. Western merged into Delta in 1987. I am now proud to carry a Delta ID card.
This desire to fly passed through to our son. We are very happy that our son, Joe Greer, also has been flying for Delta since the beginning of 2000. I am equally proud of him and for him. He picked up his Grandfather’s flying ability and love for his family.
I have never met a man in my life that could get more done in a day than my father. He kept his saw in the log and didn’t worry about the chips. From what I have learned about Mr. Woolman, this industrious, “accomplishment-driven work-ethic” is a trait they both shared during tough times and later on in successful times. In the end, it seemed to me that flying dusters was the type of flying dad loved best into his later years.
I was always eager to visit dad and see what he had been working on, even in 1969, before he drowned in Bayou LaCombe, north of New Orleans.
Mr. Woolman and my father were nearly the same age. They maintained a long-term and lasting friendship and met early challenges together. Mr. Collett Everman Woolman passed away in 1966. My father, James D. Greer, passed away in 1969.
Thanks for reading!
Here are a few links to additional material on the Disc: