John Livingston was born in 1897, in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He became famous in the late 20's and 30's as a race pilot in both cross country and air show pylon racing. He entered 64 races, coming in first in 41, second in 19. His Ford transcontinental and Sid Grauman trophies and awards are on display at the Waterloo terminal and the Cedar Falls Historical Society. A picture history adorns the walls of Livingston General Aviation Terminal in Waterloo.
Like Livingston Seagull, John's passion was speed and perfection - always trying to get two or three more miles per hour out of the 130 mph airplanes being developed after World War I. He was early to experiment and develop reduced-drag fairings for the wing roots, wheels and fuselage. His first "wheel pants' are in the Smithsonian Museum. John had dropped out of high school to spend his time racing and fixing motorcycles - a hobby to which he could apply and develop his natural mechanical aptitude and ability.
John had bought the first Model 110 Monocoupe NC501W made by the Veli Motor Car Co. in Moline, Illinois in august 1930 - raced it in the Chicago and Cleveland air races - won so many races that he made himself and the Monocoupe famous. He took it to Lambert Monocoupe Co. in St. Louis in 1932 and had them clip 10 feet off the wingspan to reduce drag. He also had the engine replaced with a Warner 145 horsepower - increased the speed from 160 to over 200 miles per hour. There were only seven clipped-wing models made out of a total of 771 produced. Twenty Monocoupes are still flying by owners who get together at a "fly in" on 3 year intervals at Creve Couer Missouri. Johns' original 501W is being restored with a 185 horsepower Warner by an America West captain "in memory of Johnny Livingston". Lindberg's personal Monocoupe is hanging in the terminal at Lambert Field in St. Louis.
John was a member of the "Caterpillar Club" - being forced to bail out of a Cessna experimental race plane. He was the president of the OX5 club, limited to pilots that had flown a plane powered by a 90hp OX5 WWI engine - and founder of the Waterloo Hanger of Quiet Birdmen (QBs).
He was hired in 1920 by a Waterloo businessman and his pilot to keep the OX5 90hp water-cooled V8 engine running on a WWI surplus airplane. One day, alone in a fast taxi test, he became airborne and flew around the field. He had taught himself to fly! He was hooked on flying. He accumulated six hours of solo before the owner and pilot became aware of it.
John traveled all over the country entering air races and shows acrobatics and "dead stick" spot landings gave him an opportunity to show and develop his unusual "feel" for the stick and control of the airplane. John was no daredevil. He was a risk manager, who through careful preflight and preparation reduced the risk of flight to an acceptable level. John flew Waco biplanes in his early years. He became the chief test pilot for Waco. He and his brother "Bite" were Waco and Taylor Craft distributors at one time.
After World War I, John saw the future of aviation growing rapidly out of military airplane observation and gun platforms into something useful in the public and business arena. He became the manager of Midwest Airways with instruction and charter flights out of fledging grass airfields in Fort Dodge, Waterloo Iowa, Monmouth and Aurora, Illinois. For publicity pictures he liked to be dressed in a business suit and tie.
John taught his younger brother Adrian (Bite) to fly. Bite became a "touch" pilot on his own and the business manager of the partnership. As partners they operated the Chapman Airport, a grass field 3 miles east of Waterloo in the 30's and early 40's. During World War II, they were given a contract by the Army Air Corp to organize and operate a flying school to teach preflight and solo cadet pilots, after ten hours of instruction. With fifteen instructors, they soloed over 1500 cadets in three years' time.
John suffered a heart attack in the air at age 76 while test flying an acrobatic home built Pitt Special for a friend. He landed - took five steps from the cockpit and died on the tarmac - what a way to go!
After Wright, Curtis, and Lilenthal it was John Livingston, Charles Lindbergh, Jimmy Doolittle, Roscoe Turner, Wiley Post, Amelia Ehrhardt, and others of their era, in the 20's and 30's, who made the public aware of aviation and its potential. They were the second generation of aviation pioneers for which we can all be thankful and eternally grateful.
- H.D. (Ike) Leighty
John Livingston was an inspiration for the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull - "to Johnny Livingston who has known all along what this book is all about." - Richard Bach 1970
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