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There is no biographical file for pilot Eller in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum (NASM), Washington, DC.

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LOUIS NORTH ELLER

Louis Eller was born October 1, 1896 at Buffalo, NY (some sources give his birth date as 1898). For some unknown reason his nickname was "Hod." The U.S. Census for 1900 places him in Buffalo (at age 2, suggesting the 1898 birth date is correct). He lived with his father, Louis H., his mother, Jessie, and his infant brother, Edwin (2 months). The Census for 1910 again places him at Buffalo, NY, age 12, living with his father and mother and brother now age 10. His father was the manager of a wholesale coal company.

L.N. Eller, National Guard Enlistment, 1917 (Source: ancestry.com)
W.N. Eller, National Guard Enlistment, 1917 (Source: ancestry.com)

 

I know nothing of Eller's early life and schooling in Buffalo. There is information about his early military service, however. According to his record of WWI service, left, he enlisted in the New York National Guard on July 14, 1917. The document, right, cites that enlistment, as well as his honorable discharge on December 4, 1917 to accept a commission with the National Guard.

The document below, right picks up where the one on the left leaves off and documents his activities during WWI.

 

L.N. Eller, Abstract of WWI Service (Source: ancestry.com)

 

On December 5, 1917 he was 19 years old. He served in France during the conflict from May 8, 1918 to July 29, 1919, and participated in several well-known initiatives, including the Somme Offensive and the Meuse-Argonne final battle. He was honorably discharged from the National Guard on September 18, 1920 to accept an appointment in the Regular Army.

From various newspaper accounts, Eller was married at least twice. The Gaffney (SC) Ledger of November 6, 1917 tells of his first marriage at age 21, below. This wedding occurred just six months before he deployed to France.

OFFICERS BRIDE. A romance which had its beginning in Buffalo, N. Y., was disclosed when Miss Frances Anna Lynch was married to Major Louis North Eller. The couple, accompanied by the bride's father, came to Gaffney Saturday, where they were married by Judge W. D. Kirby. - Major Eller is a popular young officer of Camp Wadsworth, Spartanburg, and the news of his marriage will be of interest to his northern friends.

I don't know how long this marriage lasted, but sometime in the late 1920s-early 1930s, Eller married Nerna Skidmore. They had three children, Louis N., Jr. (see below), Evelyn and Donald. I have little record of his military service during the 1920s. If you can help fill in the blanks, please let me KNOW.

Riverdale (IL) Pointer, March 21, 1924 (Source: Woodling)

 

In 1924, Eller was an actor in the film entitled "the Sky Trailer." The movie was featured in an article from the Decatur (IL) Review of February 1, 1924. There was solid Illinois connection with the film. It included aerial shots of Decatur, scenes shot at Scott Field, Belleville, IL, Chanute Field at Rantoul, and at Chicago and elsewhere. The film was declared by the U.S. Army authorities at the time, "...the greatest picture ever made showing the activities of the aviation division of the army." The movie consisted of five reels and a, "...total of 59,000 feet of film was taken at an expense of thousands of dollars."

A small advertisement for the screening appeared in the Riverdale (IL) Pointer of March 21, 1924, left. The presentation was billed as "America's First Air and Radio Drama."

Eller's fellow participants in the film were themselves well-accomplished. Frederick L. Martin was assigned as commander of the World Flight for departure during April, 1924. A month after this ad appeared, on April 30, 1924, Martin abdicated his leadership when his airplane crashed in Alaska early in the circumnavigation. See the link to Register pilot and World Flight participant Leslie Arnold for information, photographs and links about the World Flight.

Uncle Joe Cannon was a U.S. Congressman (R) and Speaker of the House in 1903. A.W. "Sen" Kaney was a radio announcer who, according to The New York Times of April 26, 1930, was the first to announce a night baseball game aired by the National Broadcasting Company. I can find no information about Mary Lee, Sweetheart of the Radio.

The New York Times, August 21, 1927 (Source: NYT)

 

According to The New York TImes of August 21, 1927, right, Eller, based now with the 118th Observation Squadron of the Connecticut National Guard, ferried an airplane and Assistant Secretary of War Hanford MacNider from Danbury, CT to Mitchel Field in New York. Eller's flight came after an earlier near miss for the Secretary.

And along the way, according to the Cattaraugus (NY) Republican of December 9, 1930 he was willed a sum of money by his aunt. Her estate amounted to $29,000, split four ways among Eller and other family members.

Louis Eller landed twice at Tucson. His first landing occurred Wednesday, April 6, 1932 at noon. He was solo in the Boeing P-12-B he identified as 30-31. He was based at San Antonio, TX and this day was eastbound from Yuma, AZ to El Paso, TX. As an aside, Eller was a new father. His first son, Louis N. Eller, Jr. (who died young on March 6, 1976 in San Antonio) was born January 30, 1932.

Eller's second landing at Tucson was on Monday, August 1, 1932 at 3:00PM. This time he carried two passengers in an unidentified, twin-engined Martin B-3A light bomber. His passengers were fellow Register signer Captain C.C. Nutt , and Lt. G. Steele. They were based at San Antonio and were flying eastbound from San Diego, CA back to San Antonio.

San Antonio (TX) Light, January 28, 1934 (Source: Woodling)
San Antonio (TX) Light, January 28, 1934 (Source: Woodling)

 

A couple of years after his last landing at Tucson, Eller was among a group of pilots at Kelly Field, TX who were assigned to work with a class of other officers to learn the new instrument landing system that was being rolled out to military bases around the country. The San Antonio Light of January 28, 1934 documented that program, left. Notice the participation by fellow Register signers Henry Clagett and Lester Maitland. The history behind this key rollout is an interesting one.

First, let's be clear about what instrument flight and landing is. It was defined then, as it is now, specifically, as a flight from takeoff to landing that is performed by the pilot's sole reference to cockpit instrumentation alone, without reference to ground-based features or landmarks. Of course, some qualifications apply.

First, pilots must have received training on how to perform instrument flight, and they must follow a specified program of refresher training to keep their skills sharp.

Second, the correct, calibrated instrumentation must be installed in the cockpit, and calibrated radio navigation transmitters must be installed on the ground.

Third, there are minimum visibility standards for takeoffs and landings. For example, for takeoff the pilot might be required to work within a measured 1/4 mile lateral visibility and a measured cloud ceiling of 500 feet. And for landing, an 800 foot ceiling and one mile lateral visibility might be specified.

L.N. Eller Obituary, San Antonio Express, March 16, 1951 (Source: Woodling)

 

Minimums are variable from airport to airport, depending on geographic conditions. Visibility aloft, however, can be anything, including flying in solid clouds with no visibility in any direction. Today the rules and procedures for instrument flight and pilot competence are well-established, and there are many pilots aloft around the world right now that are flying what are called "instrument flight plans."

But someone had to perform the first true instrument flight. Who and when did the first person successfully fly an airplane from the ground, navigate through the air, and return safely to Earth by reference to cockpit instruments alone? Many people who know something about the subject will say Jimmy Doolittle, in September, 1929. Please refer to his link to find out why this is technically not the best answer.

The best answer is Albert Hegenberger, on May 9, 1932. He flew the first SOLO instrument flight as defined above, IN FOUL WEATHER. Please direct your browser to Hegenberger's link for a complete discourse, with linked references, on the veracity of his first performance.

Fast forward another two years and the Army was actively rolling out blind flying concepts via formal training programs for its pilots. One Register pilot, Robert Henderson, was actively involved, as a civilian instructor, in training Army pilots in blind flight. Please visit his link (scroll about half-way down the page) to learn the details of his role in instructing military pilots on the east coast. It was Henderson who stated in a letter to his wife, "This blind flying is great stuff and enlarges your area of operations many times." Civilian and commercial flight operation soon got on board to learn instrument flight skills. Since the late 1930s, flying has been a lot safer and more practical because of these skills.

But I digress. Eller retired from the military at age 42, on May 31, 1939 with a disbility he acquired in the line of duty. He died twelve years later on March 14, 1951 in Seguin, TX. Interestingly, his passenger back in 1932, C.C. Nutt, died about a year later.

I do not know if Eller's disability contributed to his relatively young demise. The San Antonio (TX) Express of March 16, 1951 published his obituary, right. One of his pallbearers was fellow Register pilot Elmer Adler. Note the newspaper has Adler's middle initial wrong. It should be "E." for Edward.

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THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 10/08/15 REVISED:

 
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I'm looking for information and photographs of pilot Eller and his airplane to include on this page. If you have some you'd like to share, please click this FORM to contact me.

Thanks to Guest Editor Bob Woodling for taking the lead researching this page.

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