Wilbur Cooper Magli

Excerpt from “Forever in Sumpter” by Earhart Mueller

The first person to own an airplane in the township of Sumpter was Wilbur Cooper Magli. An intelligent youth, he graduated from the Prairie du Sac High School in 1928. Wilbur’s first ride in an airplane was taken in 1924 when a “barnstorming” pilot landed in the field opposite the C.C. Steuber farm west of Prairie du Sac. Many of the high school students went to see the marvel, including Harold Thoelke, Aaron Steuber, Clarence Padrutt and Wilbur. It was Wilbur who had both the money and the “nerve” needed to “go up” in the two-winged mechanical bird. Wilbur climbed boldly into the passenger seat, strapped himself in and they were off. Higher and higher they went and the boys watching from the ground were sure that this was the last they would see of Wilbur. However, they landed safely a short time later and Wilbur was a convert for life.

He was no doubt also influenced by a plane purchased by Edwin Accola in the fall of 1927 and kept in a hangar on the C.C. Steuber farm.

Wilbur started taking flying lessons and in the spring of 1928 he purchased his first plane, christening it “Alexander Eaglerock.” A fellow high school graduate seeing Wilbur in Cliffie’s Restaurant said, “l hear you bought yourself a plane?” “l sure as hell did” replied Wilbur jauntily.

He spent the summer of 1928 giving air tours at the Wisconsin Dells. This was the beginning of a life of flying for Wilbur and he spent several summers barnstorming in the Midwest. One time he gave his father Ferdinand Magli a ride and Mr. Magli was delighted to see the Sauk prairie with its varied fields and roads from the air. Wilbur, however, never gave his father another ride, not wishing any harm to befall him.

One time in September of 1931 Wilbur was forced to land in a clearing in Ontario, Canada, due to visibility problems due to the fog. While waiting for the fog to clear Wilbur spied a bear cub in a nearby tree, and another playing on the ground. He tossed the later cub into the cockpit despite the tiny ball of fur biting and clawing for freedom. He wanted to take the other cub also, but decided to get going. Just as he was taking off the mother bear emerged from the underbrush and started for the plane. The captured cub became a great companion for Wilbur and a favorite of all the spectators on cross- country hikes, who usually took care of the feeding. Wilbur named the cub “Dinah” and she became famous as the flying bear cub for she went wherever Wilbur went.  In late October of the following year it was necessary to sell Dinah as he was taking passengers to Florida who did not seem to care for her company in the two-passenger plane.

At about that time Wilbur helped with the search of a down plane in the Baraboo Bluffs. At another time when his plane was new, Wilbur flew low over Bert Hyer’s oats field and blew down a row of oat shocks, which was not appreciated.

Wilbur did much flying commercially. Six months into 1935 were spent in Texas, the Rio Grande Valley and Mexico. While there he carried passengers, did exhibition flying and took motion pictures. He carried fishing parties to their islands in the Gulf.

In 1938 Wilbur worked for the Abrams Aeria Survey of Lansing, Michigan piloting a special aeria mapper plane, accompanied by an aeria photographer. Aerial mapping was valued at $18.00 a minute with six miles of pictures taken a minute, at a height of three miles in the sky, the plane traveling at a cruising speed of 180 miles per hour. Aerial mapping was only done when the weather was perfect which was only 4-5 days a month, for visibility had to be ten miles. Wilbur explained that aerial mapping was just like plowing a field. “You must keep a straight furrow to get good pictures, usually flying from north to south and not deviating from the line more than 100 feet or so.”

 In time Wilbur secured a job as an airline pilot with the American Air Lines from Nashville, Tennessee to Washington D.C., a position he filled for over fifteen years.             In1943 he became a member of the Million Miler Club and had flown more than 4,000,000 miles for the airline. Wilbur moved to Franklin, Tennessee where he owned and operated a horse ranch where he pursued his lifetime hobby of horses.

Wilbur married Miss Nellie Boyd and they had four children. This was his second marriage for he had married early in life and had a daughter Yvonne Magli. Wilbur died of leukemia on September 10, 1955 having achieved the rank of airline Captain at the time of his death.