Billy Graham Center

Collection 441 - Paul Robinson. T2 Transcript

This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the oral history interview of Paul Robinson (CN 441 T2) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words have been omitted, except for any non-English phrases which could not be understood by the transcribers. Foreign terms which are not commonly understood appear in italics. In very few cases words were too unclear to be distinguished. If the transcriber was not completely sure of having gotten what the speaker said, "[?]" was inserted after the word or phrase in question. If the speech was inaudible or indistinguishable, "[unclear]" was inserted. Grunts and verbal hesitations such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. Readers should remember that this is a transcript of spoken English, which follows a different rhythm and rule than written English.

... Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence on the part of the speaker.

.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.

( ) Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.

[ ] Words in brackets are comments by the transcriber.

This transcript was made by Arnila Santoso and Paul Ericksen was completed in March 2004.

Click here to listen to an audio file of this interview (26 minutes)

Collection 441, T2. Continuation of interview of Paul Robinson by Paul A. Ericksen on March 27, 1991.

ERICKSEN: Okay, let's see you were saying that you had made your proposal [in 1946].


ERICKSEN: Now when you did your survey here in Chicago, how many different possibilities did you...?

ROBINSON: I visited seventeen airports in the Chicago area. I hadn't...have some of the notes that home that I made during the...and I just happened to read the other day, a list of the airplanes...airports that I visited and talked to the managers about. Some of them would love it. Some of them wouldn't have anything to do with it. Some of them wouldn't even believe it was true. I mean, all kinds of reactions from...from these airports. But we finally got together with the Elmhurst airport with George Edgecomb. And we built a hangar and [pauses]...and purchased some more airplanes as we needed them, because there was a tremendous demand for it. [pauses]

ERICKSEN: Now when Moody [Bible Institute] asked you to come out and set up the program, how did you go about leaving New York and...and coming here?

ROBINSON: Well, then...then when I...when I told them that I...that I would come and do it, we were renting a house in Mt. Morris, New York, in western New York. And so there was no problem there. You just moved out. And in the meantime I had found a place here in the Chicago area out in Itasca for a home. And that was a miracle, because then after the war there weren't any homes in this...there weren't any built to begin take care of the...of the military. So houses were hard to find. But the Lord led us and we found a nice place for the family. And...and it was only three miles from the airport, three or four miles, right there close. And then I would commute back and forth. I would...I had two or three different arrangements, but sometimes I would go in.... The...the classes...the aviation classes met in the aft...worked in the afternoon. So as soon as there were students who were on the list, as soon as they got their lunch, they jumped in the school station wagon and ran out to the airport. And we had three hours to work then. And we had...I forget if it was half-hour periods. And I would get in there and sit in that little cramped up Piper Cub [laughs] for three hours without even getting out [laughs] if they could get me out. [laughs] And we...'cause we had to...we had to have them back there. The station wagon had to leave in order to get back in time for dinner downtown. Of course, this is...we didn't do this forever, but this is the way we started out. In fact, when we really started out, but before we had a hangar, before we had anything, we brought the two airplanes that we...that he offered to...and I flew out to...I went out to Lockhaven, Pennsylvania, ferry them back out here. But the first one was...was two or three months ahead of the second one, because it was right after the war and they were...couldn't build them fast enough. And we were lucky to get an order filled at all. So I...I...I would [pauses].... Let's see here, where were we?

ERICKSEN: You were talking about when you first started and you were bringing the two planes.

ROBINSON: Oh yeah. Well, yeah, we brought the one plane out first and started our class. Our first class was (we didn't have a hangar, we didn't have a room) was under the wing of the airplane with three students and myself, sitting in the grass [laughs]...out in the grass under that wing of...of the [Piper] Cub. That was the first. Then we graduated. We got the next Cub in September.

ERICKSEN: Now this would have been '46 or '47?

ROBINSON: This is...this is still '46, still '46.


ROBINSON: And we...we didn't have a hangar, but we...we brought the other airplane. And then we went ahead and found that a Quonset hut would take care of us for three or four airplanes. So we built the hangar, got that going and by winter we were...we were pretty well set. As far as getting started was concerned. And then this group of students would come out every afternoon and...and back in time for [clears throat]...back in time for dinner. And then sometimes I would go in to...I had an office in downtown here in Chicago...

ERICKSEN: At the [Moody Bible] Institute?

ROBINSON: the Institute, I had an office there too. And so I would...I would come out to there sometimes on the train from Itasca the morning. And then I'd have all morning to work there. And then in the afternoon I would ride back out and...or my wife would come over to pick me up or something because it was re...right close, because I'd...I'd be out there. I'd go out in the station wagon.

ERICKSEN: Now you said your first class there were three students...

ROBINSON: One airplane.

ERICKSEN: ...and yourself and one airplane.


ERICKSEN: Now by the time students were coming out in the car, in the station wagon, how...I'm trying to get a feel for how the size of classes grew. How did.that...?

ROBINSON: Well, I couldn't do mo...I couldn't do more than.... Let's see. How many could I do in three hours? Six flights? Did I have three hours?

ERICKSEN: Now you said they were half-hour ses...sessions?

ROBINSON: Half-hour sessions. [pauses] Yeah, they were half-hour sessions. [pauses] And...and...and so there would be, I don't know, five or six students. But we...we'd give them all half hour apiece.

ERICKSEN: And how long a program was their training?

ROBINSON: Well, then this initial tried [?] that never...never materialized was about fifty hours...

ERICKSEN: Okay, so when in your other interview...

ROBINSON: ...of flying.

ERICKSEN: were in there you were talking about the fifty-hour wonders...

ROBINSON: Yeah, and that's when they get...

ERICKSEN: ...those were students who had....

ROBINSON: ...that's when they get their licen...their private license, and then they were supposed to be able to go. But boy, the more we saw the less we realized that they could never more...any more ready for the jungle than flying without an airplane.

ERICKSEN: So when they were finished with their program what they would be was a missionary who could fly?

ROBINSON: No. There was so much...there's first there's all what we call dual instruction, where the instructor would be the first eight or ten hours it would take of dual, when...when the student would get in with me. Then as they gradually soloed out we had to have another airplane because I wanted to keep giving dual while the students are getting this solo work done. And...and...and that's...that's the way it was done. So that we could keep two airplanes going [clears throat] and me, because I was the only instructor. [laughs]


ROBINSON: But we really worked.

ERICKSEN: ...what they would end up with...was that fifty hours of flying time?

ROBINSON: That's fifty hours of flying time, yeah.

ERICKSEN: Okay. And how long a time period would it take them to accumulate those fifty hours? Was it a whole year or...?

ROBINSON: Well, of No, it was...depended a great deal on the weather. [laughs] You couldn't fly [clears throat] time schedule...we went out. So it would take [clears throat]...well, the way they did it, a half an hour a day. [clears throat] Some were soloing out, I think, before Christmas. Then it was pretty catch as catch can during the winter, yeah. [pauses] So spring, however, they were...they were coming along, and we were...we...we were getting more airplanes. We got a Piper Cruiser and then checking students out of those airplanes or keeping them.... [pauses] But the initial shot was...was the fifty-hour program. They would take about that long. That's what we would schedule. With weather like it is, you wouldn't always meet that schedule, but [laughs] that's the way it was set up.

ERICKSEN: Now when did the emphasis in the program at Moody change?

ROBINSON: When exactly did we change? '47 we had...or '47, '48, we bought two more airplanes. And then I guess we had...had a couple more, '40...'40...'48, '49. We just kept...we had enough airplanes to keep people flying.

ERICKSEN: So you were able to expand.

ROBINSON: Yeah. And then in 1950, and that [pauses] 1950 [pauses] we...we knew before 1950 that we were going to have to leave Elmhurst airport, because it had been designated as a part of a power line that went right straight [laughs] across the middle of it. So there was no...but we knew ahead of time that we were going to have to move. And...and there was an Art Kraft [?], a fellow who bought another airpo...another airport in Wood Dale four miles north of us, about four miles north, and I was...talked to him about the possibility of getting together.

ERICKSEN: This was a Christian fellow?

ROBINSON: No, no he was the owner and operator of that little airport.


ROBINSON: But it had hangars. It had a lot of things that...oh boy, we would be in...of course, nothing like we've got now. But then it was great. So we worked out a deal with him, a lease deal. I think we bou [clears throat]...bought all our gas and oil from him, and things of that kind. We worked out a...a feasible situation. [clears throat] And that was in 1950. We moved from Elmhurst Dale in 19...summer of 1950. And then we took it from there. By that time I had...oh, I had another flight instructor. I had hired one of our...well,, he wasn't one of our graduates. He was a graduate of Spartan, but a Christian fellow.

ERICKSEN: What was his name?

ROBINSON: Stockley, Bob Stockley.


ROBINSON: Yeah, I think so. Yeah.

ERICKSEN: So then there were two of you.

ROBINSON: Then there were two of us for awhile. And then we had...then there was that needed so much more dual instruction that we engaged another fellow, who was back from the service, Ernie Frost. He was there for a few months and helped us out. And then just before we were getting ready to move, I needed an...really an airport manager. I...I couldn't manage the whole thing, take all the responsibility, so we...we got a hold of a chap [?], Paul Wertheimer, who [pauses]...who was a former instructor in the Air Force. And he also had an airport of his own in Ohio for a few months or years, but a fine Christian man. he...he...I think he came over Wood Dale with us. I think he had already joined the staff...

ERICKSEN: At the time of the move.

ROBINSON: the time of the move. I's a little hazy, but it's...that's pretty close. I can remember some of the dates. And then we were...then in the meantime we were hiring some maintenance personnel. We ha...we...we hired Dick Holstein. We hired [pauses, pounding in background], oh, I forget who all. Well, at any...any rate, we didn't have any shop over at Elmhurst, but of course, at Wood Dale had a nice shop and a nice classroom and...and....

ERICKSEN: So the shop would be for...?

ROBINSON: Maintenance...

ERICKSEN: Maintenance.

ROBINSON: ...of our...our own maintenance. That's all.

ERICKSEN: How would you handle it over at Elmhurst?

ROBINSON: Well, you'd just have to do it out in the cold [laughs] in winter weather. It wasn't very good, but we adjusted. We adjusted. So then we were at...we stayed at Wood Dale for, boy, I forget how long it was. [pauses] Dates, I should have marked down. I have a hard time with dates.

ERICKSEN: Well, that's something we can check on...dates we can nail down after the tape is off.

ROBINSON: Yeah, I suppose you could. But it was [pauses] was fifteen or twenty years, I think. [laughs]

ERICKSEN: Now it sounds like...from the number of students it sounded like you were expanding your program pretty quickly.


ERICKSEN: I take it that students were responding to the...the op...the possibility of learning...


ERICKSEN: ...aviation.

ROBINSON: [pauses] Yeah, there was quite...there were quite a few that were.... Then, of course, the farther we went and the more advanced we were in it, the more people were interested mission aviation.

ERICKSEN: Now I think you said in your interview with John Wells [Collection 528, audio tapes T6 and T7] that there were a number of other Bible schools that also had aviation programs.

ROBINSON: Uh-huh, they...they advertized them in their catalogs, and...and I'm not sure how many own their own aircrafts. They'd go out to the local airport and make an arrangement with the personnel out there, the management and the instructional staff out there. Now and then there would be a student who would be an instructor from somewhere. I think some of them did that. So that they could at least say they had an aviation program and they did. I...I don't know how...I never heard that they produced too many pilots, but they...they certainly tried.

ERICKSEN: Now this would have been the same kind of thing that Moody was doing at that point?

ROBINSON: Oh no. Moody's unique in that it's the only school in the world that ( did I state that?)...only school in the world that [pauses]...where you could get professional [pauses]...oh, I better...I better not try it.

ERICKSEN: Professional training?

ROBINSON: But we were...we are...and are still unique in that respect. And I've got to look that up somewhere.

ERICKSEN: Let's just, maybe for an example...let...let's take someone who would've gone to one of these other Bible schools and take someone who had gone to Moody. What would be the difference in what they would end up being trained to do?

ROBINSON: [pauses] Well.

ERICKSEN: I think you at Bob Jones. I think you mentioned that they had some sort of aviation program.

ROBINSON: I didn't mention Bob Jones. I didn't know...I guess they...I guess I knew they did.

ERICKSEN: What would have someone taking an aviation track end up being able to do?

ROBINSON: Well, this was what was in this paragraph that I wrote: the difference between [pauses]...between [pauses]...between giving it full-time to professional training.... It would be quite, quite advanced in some ways. Quite advanced. [pauses] And, of course, we had full-time.... I think at one time (maybe not quite that now) we had sixteen instructors and twenty-three airplanes. And we had gotten rid of as many as we could. We haven't gotten [laughs] rid of very many. But they're expensive and we tried to hold it down all we can...


ROBINSON: meet the demand. [pauses] I'd like to show you that paragraph. I should have brought...brought it if I could find it.

ERICKSEN: Well, maybe you could bring that next week?

ROBINSON: Uh-huh, maybe I could.

ERICKSEN: [pauses] Now something that you referred to. There was a meeting of some sort with mission leaders.

ROBINSON: Well, there was the point in...during the first pre...pre...pre-Wood Dale, during the...where we started in [clears throat], and then in ' '47 or '4...'48, might even have been '49, right in that...that there, Doctor [Will H.] Houghton [president of Moody Bible Institute.... Well, I talked to him and we were...what we wanted to know is what the demand would be. Would...would...would mission boards be interested the service if we could provide it. And so we tried to get some kind of a idea of the market that we had for the product. And...and....

ERICKSEN: The product being a trained aviator?

ROBINSON: Yeah, yeah. And [pauses]...oh, and Dr. Houghton called this meeting of not, well, mission leaders, but not necessarily the president, although in many cases at the meeting there were personnel, but others that...that had to do with transportation, communication. And we found there's quite a few of those that was pertinent to our...and would like to see this done and not like to see this done. And that was...that was done. We had that meeting at Moody for a couple days, and I think it was significant. I'm pretty sure it was.

ERICKSEN: And I take it that the outcome of the meeting was that Moody decided to go in the direction of providing...

ROBINSON: Well, yeah, that had a lot to do with the...with the decision. We came to the place where we found that we had to do it all the...the way. I mean, complete training after...after the theological work was...was behind. But...but full-time training now, of course, with a sophistication that is demanded of flying today. [pauses] I don't know how many hundreds of hours they put in, but it's [puases]''s professionally done. And...and [pauses] I don't know...I just...I just can't remember how...they stated...they stated it quite well.

ERICKSEN: Now thinking back to that meeting with all the mission leaders, what...what you remember what the things were that they wanted and the things they didn't want? How did they react?

ROBINSON: Well, they all wanted the transportation [clears throat], and...but as to how to provide it, whether through an agency like a board like MAF [Mission Aviation Fellowship], or the missionaries own their own personal planes, or the mission owned the plane and they fly for them. was that sort of thing that was...was decided. And it came out that we decided that if it was...if it was necessary we'd have to go the whole way. We'd have to set up a school with...with maintenance training in it, that is the mechanical part. And the mechanics are just as important to the program as the flying. And now we...we're...we're tr...we're training professional maintenance personnel, technicians that [pauses]...that [pauses].... Yeah, and it was...and, of course, some people thought one way and some people thought another. But we came to the conclusion that if it was going to be done [coughs], and that it be done right, and not just a little bit here and a little bit there, catch as catch can, which is in many places that I knew of. Now I don't know much they're doing now. But was that sort of thing. And we decided that we'll go the whole way. And the...then we went for the personnel and the equipment and the move, and...and....

ERICKSEN: I think this is a good place to stop.

ROBINSON: Yeah, I'm....

ERICKSEN: So let's do that.

ROBINSON: Yeah. I'm...I'm sorry. I...I'm just hoping you can dig something out of that, but.... It's not the [laughs] way I like it. It's not the way I wanted it.


ROBINSON: But I guess that's part of getting old. [coughs]

ERICKSEN: Thank you.

ROBINSON: Yeah well, you're....


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