Charles Babb, Date Unknown (Source: Heins)
During the 1930s, Charles H. Babb was a well-known used
aircraft salesman in business at Grand Central Airport,
Glendale, CA. Image, right, shared by Andy Heins.
the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register as a military pilot once
on January 27, 1926. He stayed overnight, departing the next
morning at 8:30. He carried as passenger one Sgt. Butler.
They flew in aircraft number 25-345, a Douglas O-2. They
listed as their home base Rantoul, IL, and they arrived from
San Diego, CA eastbound back to Rantoul.
He became a significant member of the international flying
network of the era. He did business
as Babb International Aircraft Brokerage, 1140 Airway (I've also seen 1007 Airway), Glendale,
CA, and later as Charles H. Babb Co. with offices on the
east coast as well.
As a major sales/brokerage firm, many of the airplanes that
passed through Tucson passed through his hands on their way
to their owners, either as new or used aircraft (for example, NC2875).
Later, he supplied aircraft for the Spanish Civil War.
San Bernardino County Sun, August 10, 1940 (Source: newspapers.com)
Babb was friendly with George
Westinghouse. He knew
Paul Richter, and during
Richter's split with TWA in the late 40s, this cordial exchange
of letters occurred.
He posed with the camera-shy Howard Hughes, left, in front
of a Lockheed Vega, date unknown.
Hughes purchased and modified a Lockheed twin-engine transport for a round-the-world flight. After the flight, Hughes commissioned Babb in 1940 to broker the airplane to the British for war service. The sale was documented in an article that appeared in the San Bernardino County Sun, August 10, 1940, right.
Babb has a fair coverage at ancestry.com. The 1900 U.S. Census, his first, placed him at age 1 living with his father, Andrew (age 75) and mother, Louisa B. (24) in Irving, Oregon. Two older brothers lived with him. His father's occupation was coded as "Farmer." He owned the family farm. Babb's name was coded as "Clay."
By the 1910 Census, Louisa was divorced and living on the Irving farm. Her last name was now coded as "Young" and she had two additional children aged 4 and 3. Charles (11) and his brothers' last name was coded as "Bawb." The 1920 Census placed the family living in Santa Clara, OR on a farm. The brothers all worked the farm, with Babb coded as a farm laborer.
At age 19, Babb was registered for the draft on September 12, 1918. His registration card is below. We learn that he had blue eyes and brown hair. Note mention of the loss of his right hand "and other defects." These injuries to his arm, hand and jaw were the result of a hunting accident.
Charles Babb Draft Registration, September 12, 1918 (Source: ancestry.com)
Van Nuys News (CA), October 27, 1927 (Source: newspapers.com)
Despite his injuries, Babb married Hester Evelyn Drew of Wilder, ID on October 8, 1923. They were married in Canyon, ID. He also learned to fly and became well-known in southern California circles. By 1925, he was Secretary, Southern California Chapter National Aeronautic Association. His duties as secretary were numerous, among them organizing meetings and air races. The article at left, from the Santa Ana Register (CA), October 27, 1927 describes one such meeting.
The 1930 Census placed him (age 30) at 822 1/4 N. Hayworth Avenue, Los Angeles. He lived with Hester E. (28). They rented their home for $45 per month. Babb's occupation was coded as "Department Manager" at an "Aviation Company."
By 1940, Babb and Hester had moved to 3028 Ingledale Terrace, Los Angeles. That neighborhood today on Google Earth is one of modest whitewashed homes with xeric landscaping. They still rented, but their rent had gone down to $35 per month. This Census recorded that both Babb and Hester had enjoyed one year of college. Babb's occupation was coded as "Broker" for "Aircraft."
An immigration for dated February 2, 1941 documented his travel from Mexico City, Mexico to Los Angeles, below.
Immigration Form, February 2, 1941 (Source: ancestry.com)
XA-BKQ was a Douglas DC-2-172, S/N 1408, manufactured in March 1936. It was initially flown by TWA registered as NC14978, then Pan American before moving to Mexico where it wore XA-BKQ and XA-GEE. Note the full listing of the Mexican crew.
Oakland Tribune December 11, 1936 (Source:
Babb's company was at one time incorporated in Arizona with
offices in many other major U.S. cities as well as in Europe
and Latin America. Aircraft flown by many famous aviators
(including Register pilots Howard Hughes (above), Amelia Earhart and Wiley
Francisco Sarabia) were purchased from Babb. Some sources
list him as Charles H. Babb and others as Charles E. Babb.
The former is correct.
Other than news and magazine articles, not much has been formally
published about him. His Web presence is sparse. However,
as of early 2007, this link was
established at the San Diego Aerospace Museum featuring a new
collection of Babb's business and family history, images and
artifacts donated by Babb's son, who was six years old when he died. The text describing the collection is below at the **.
C.H. Babb Grave Marker, 1952 (Source: findagrave.com)
I found information that suggested that Babb was once an Air Corps pilot (an "Ace"). This was hard to reconcile, given that his draft registration at age 19, above, listed his handicaps from the hunting accident. The fact that his showed up in some news articles with the title "Captain" adds to the confusion.
Van Nuys News (CA), August 10, 1948 (Source: newspapers.com)
Regardless, Babb used his inside
contacts to build his aircraft brokerage empire based mainly
on the acquisition and sale of surplus military airplanes.
The news articles above and left gives a sense of how lucrative the market was for used aircraft. After WWII ended, Babb built his organization into a major
selling aircraft to airlines and governments worldwide.
The American Aviation Daily, in 1948, published Babb's quest
for older aircraft to build a collection to be used for exhibition
purposes. He had acquired a 1912 Curtiss Pusher, and a de
Havilland once used for passenger work. He was still looking
for, "...a razorback Fairchild of the type flown by
Cy Caldwell for Pan American on its first route, and a Sikorsky
Charles Babb Wife #2, Blanche Babb (source: SDAM)
Born in Eugene, Oregon January 30, 1899, Babb died of a heart
15, 1952 at the age of 53. His and his wife's grave marker is above right. Note that her name was Blanche, right. He married Blanche in 1945. Babb's friend Jimmy Doolittle gave the bride away. There is a color photograph of the wedding at the SDAM linked in the left sidebar. I have no photographs of Hester. Babb's obituary from the Ottawa Journal, November 17, 1952, is below.
Babb Obituary, Ottawa Journal, November 17, 1952 (Source: ancestry.com)
A couple of other
articles say the Babb Co. was purchased by the Atlas
Corporation in October of 1952. It was later sold to Linden
(of Linden Trucking and Air Freight) in 1957 for $10 million
There is rumor that Babb
purchased the tooling, spares and rights of manufacture for
the Stinson L-5 Sentinel some time in the early 1950's when
the military started phasing out that aircraft. Can anyone substantiate
or defeat this
Below, courtesy of Tim Kalina, is an artifact that is probably related to Babb's business. It is a holiday greeting card probably sent to clients.
Holiday Card, Front, Charles Babb, Date Unknown (Source: Kalina)
Mr. Kalina says about a possible date for his image, " I'd reckon the late 1930s, judging by the paint scheme on the DC-3. The twin stripes on the tail are what the TWA DC-3s carried and these entered service in late 1937 or early 1938."
Note the deckled edge. Inside the card...
Holiday Card, Inside, Charles Babb, Date Unknown (Source: Kalina)
Thumbnails of Babb from the SDAM (cited, left sidebar). He poses with Wiley Post at right.
Charles Babb Collection
The Charles Babb Collection was donated by his son, Charles Jr., who was only six years old when his dad died in 1952. There are two photograph albums of airmen and historic events, many family shots and inscribed portraits of famous aviation executives, numerous news clippings and a box of documents supporting the patent for the hinged nose cone for cargo planes.
Pioneer Aviation Broker Kept 'em flying.
By John Patrick Ford, Archive Volunteer
Charlie Babb was well known as the "flying junk man" a moniker he did not like. However, that was his business. Keeping older model aircraft in the sky with his large stock of used planes, replacement parts and overhauling services.
"There's a buyer for everything," Babb was quick to tell someone who thought he was crazy to buy up scrap parts from the major aircraft factories. His headquarters at the Grand Central Airport in Glendale allowed Charlie to have close personal links to the heads of Lockheed, Douglas and Northrop where he was often seen picking through discarded aircraft parts and making offers to haul away the junk.
A major part of Babb Co. business spanning the years 1928-1952 was the used aircraft market. Flying magazine ads during those years have lists of about every type of private aircraft made from early World War I Jennys to the popular Lockheed Vega. Charlie's friendships with Howard Hughes, Donald Douglas and Reuben Fleet put him up front in the aviation market in the 1930s. His used aircraft business boomed as war clouds gathered in Europe and training craft were in demand.
As a pioneer pilot in the post-World War I period, Babb was challenged to overcome a disability from a hunting accident as a youth. The loss of his right arm below the elbow and some facial disfiguration, forced Charlie to make a career decision to overcome lack of physical skills with brain power. He was known as an excellent pilot and marksman. Frequent hunting trips to the Artic area in his favorite PBY aircraft joined him with celebrities like Wiley Post and Will Rogers. Charlie's mentors in his pioneer aviation days were Eddie Rickenbacker, Richard Byrd and Jimmy Doolittle, the latter friend almost a father figure.
Besides horse-trading in the aircraft business, Babb was an accomplished engineer who designed the cargo plane nose cone that opened for loading. His patented mechanism was used extensively by military aircraft during World War II. Patent infringement issues are still pending for collection of royalties. Another business was called the Big Fan that provided frost control for agriculture. Babb saw the potential when a friend sought his help during a freeze, and they used a reverse prop P-38 engine to blow air over the orchard and saved the crop.
The Charles Babb Collection was donated by his son, Charles Jr., who was only six years old when his dad died in 1952. There are two photograph albums of airmen and historic events, many family shots and inscribed portraits of famous aviation executives, numerous news clippings and a box of documents supporting the patent for the hinged nose cone for cargo planes. The collection is open for view at the library and archive of San Diego Air-Space Museum in Balboa Park.
UPLOADED: 02/21/06 REVISED: 03/01/06, 03/09/06, 10/08/06,
03/04/07, 09/30/07, 08/24/11, 09/21/14, 11/19/17