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Cool Things - Longren's Biplane

Longren  biplane

This biplane has ties to two early figures in Kansas aviation history.

This is the fifth plane built by Leonardville native Albin K. Longren, flown by him for one year and then sold to Philip Billard, a Topeka native who was killed in France while testing planes for the Allies in World War I.

Longren, with the assistance of his brother, E. J., and William Janicke, built an airplane in Topeka which was taken to a field southeast of the city for testing. On September 2, 1911, with Longren behind the wheel, it became the first Kansas-made plane to successfully take to the air (Wilbur and Orville Wright's famous flight was on December 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina).

Interior of Longren shop, Topeka, 1910s

Over the next few years Longren built additional planes and carried out flying demonstrations around the region. Plane No. 5 was built in 1914 and used the engine and radiator from the first plane. It was used by Longren for exhibition flights. His barnstorming earned him the nickname "Birdman." On September 24, 1915, Longren was taking off at the Dickinson County Fair Grounds in Abilene when a strong gust of wind caused the plane to crash shortly after takeoff. Longren was seriously injured.

Recovering from his injuries, Longren rebuilt the plane but sold it to Phil Billard, for whom he had built an earlier plane. Billard used Longren No. 5 for flights in the Topeka area until World War I. Following his death in 1918 it remained in the garage of the family home for 20 years. In 1938 Billard's brother Robert donated the plane to the Kansas Historical Society.

Albin and Dolly Longren with plane #5

Longren continued to make airplanes in Topeka until 1926, never quite able to make a success of his own company. He worked for other aircraft companies before dying in California at age 68 in 1950.

Longren No. 5 is known as a pusher type because its rear-mounted propeller pushed the aircraft. The speed of the plane was regulated by a pedal accelerator controlled by the pilot's right foot. To control attitude (orientation related to the horizon), the pilot leaned from side to side and moved the back of the seat. The wheel was for steering the aircraft.

Specifications:

  • Wingspan: 26 feet
  • Engine: Hall-Scott Type A-2, 8 cylinder, watercooled, 60 horsepower
  • Top Speed: 60 mph

This biplane is in the collections of the Kansas Museum of History, where it can be seen on display in the main gallery.

Entry: Cool Things - Longren's Biplane

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: November 1996

Date Modified: September 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.