Longren Airplane Company
On a warm, late summer afternoon in 1911, three men rolled a large wooden airship into the middle of a hayfield southeast of Topeka. They made a brief inspection, started the engine, and held firm as the ship shook and pulled against their grip. One of the men climbed into the pilot’s seat, signaled the release, and lifted the ship on her maiden voyage. Rising but two feet from the ground and covering a distance of 200 feet before descending, pilot Albin K. Longren made the first successful flight of a Kansas-made airplane.
Following this test on September 2, 1911, Longren, brother E. J. Longren, and mechanic William Janicke repeated the testing with increasing competency before sharing their success with the public. For the eighth flight, amidst onlookers, Longren completed two circles over the field at 200 feet and covered six miles. They christened the biplane Topeka I.
“It was the best one yet,” Longren told the Topeka Daily Capital. “There wasn’t a time that I didn’t feel I had the bird under my control. I’m glad now to let the people of Topeka know what I’ve built.”
Longren had spent several years planning and five weeks constructing his airship. An automobile businessman in Clay Center, Longren was inspired to build a flying machine when he witnessed a flight exhibition. In July 1911 his team rented the second floor of a building on Quincy Street in Topeka and began to construct a large biplane. He kept quiet news of his invention. To maintain secrecy, the team dismantled the aircraft and transported it in a truck to the test site.
“I didn’t want to make a lot of noise until I knew what I could do,” Longren said.
Topeka I was equipped with a rear pusher propeller, steering wheel, and three-wheel landing gear. The pilot regulated speed with a right foot pedal accelerator. To adjust the plane’s attitude or pitch, the pilot leaned from side to side and moved the back of the seat. To conserve weight, Longren selected lightweight materials – spruce, ash, bamboo, and wire cables for bracing. The wings were covered with rubberized Goodyear aeroplane fabric. The new biplane was 39 feet long, 625 pounds, with a 32 feet wingspan, and powered by an 8 cylinder, 60 horsepower Hall-Scott engine.
The September 6, 1911, issue of the Topeka Daily Capital described Longren’s first public flight. “He seemed in perfect control of his machine and the planes glided along through the air as smoothly as if they had been resting on the ground. There was not a ripple in the pathway, the craft cut through the sky, the turns were made in veteran style and the second circle was completed before Longren dropped lightly to the ground.”
“After the machine leaves the ground all thought of anything but making a good flight leaves me,” Longren said. “You see I’ve wanted to do this so long that now it is possible I can’t think of anything but doing it.”
With the success of Topeka I, Longren promoted his aircraft on barnstorming tours. The Topeka factory, mostly funded through Longren's barnstorming income, was the first successful aircraft manufacturing firm in Kansas. A. K. moved his aviation company to 1401 North Winfield in Oakland, near the family home at 1333 Arter. There he began to design The New Longren. Due to his passion for perfection, Longren worked long hours designing and preparing for the plane's production. His new plane, Model AK, entered production in 1921 and was available by mail order. Designed for the individual owner, it was innovative and sturdier than earlier models; its wings folded to fit in a garage; it could be towed behind a car. The New York Times featured a photograph of A. K. filling the plane at a service station.
By May 1923, the factory had produced 21 planes. Limited funding and too few sales led to the company's close in 1926. Longren spent the next 20 years as a consultant for other manufacturing companies. Longren died in California at the age of 68. The only surviving example of his work is a pusher-type biplane built in 1914, once owned by fellow Topeka aviator, Philip Billard. The plane is now on permanent exhibit at the Kansas Museum of History.
Longren died November 19, 1950, in California at the age of 68.
Entry: Longren Airplane Company
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: January 2010
Date Modified: March 2013
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.