The Strunk Glider (1906)

When Orville and Wilbur Wright made their first flight at Kittyhawk in 1903, Raymond and Herbert Strunk were school kids, but the flying bug bit them hard. The two boys were sons of Mr. and Mrs. Arnold Strunk.

The design was by cut-and-try methods. The first glider that the two boys built had a bamboo frame from fish poles, and was covered with light muslin, stitched and tacked to the frame. The framework of subsequent models were made of hand-sawed light pine.

Herb and Ray then took the gliders and had them ski down the bluffs near Shakopee. In the summertime, the gliders were towed by a rope pulled by Dr. Smith’s Rambler touring car.

When Herb and Ray were involved in the glider, many friends visited and watched and participated in the flying of the glider. One of them was Charles “Speedy” Holman, who later became a famous pilot.

Charles W. “Speed” Holman (Dec. 27, 1898 – May 17, 1931) was a stunt pilot, barnstormer, wing walker, parachutist, airmail pilot, aviation record holder and airline pilot.

Charles Holman was raised on a farm in Minnesota, not too far from Shakopee. Speed Holman raced motorcycles under the nickname “Jack Speed,” and later when doing daredevil parachute jumps in a flying circus, his father was amazed to find that Jack Speed was his son. In return for a promise to never jump again, his father bought him his first airplane. Speed broke the promise and also broke the airplane.

His name became a household word, and when the newly organized Northwest Airways looked for its first pilot, they hired Speed. He became operations manager and pioneered air mail routes across Wisconsin and into North Dakota. In 1928, Holman set a world record of 1,433 consecutive loops in an airplane in five hours over the St. Paul Airport.

His airline career was punctuated by wins in national air races, including the prestigious Thompson Trophy Race in 1930, part of the National Air Races in Chicago, where Holman set a looping record that stood for many years; he visited every corner of the state, lobbying cities to build airports; he was considered one of the country’s top aerobatic pilots; and every fragment of his life was spectacular.

Such was his death during an impromptu aerobatic performance at the dedication of the Omaha Airport in front of 20,000 spectators. He was 32 years old. His funeral was the largest in state history, with 100 thousand persons turning out along the funeral route and at the cemetery.

Holman Field, St. Paul Downtown Airport is named in honor of Speed Holman, as was Holman Street in St. Paul, Minnesota. Holman is also inducted in the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame.

And it all happened because Charles W. Speed Holman watched as the two Strunk brothers, Herb and Ray, learned to fly a glider in Shakopee, Minnesota!

(Some information from The Shakopee Story by Julius Coller II, 1960. “A Tribute to Speed Holman” by George Smedal, Popular Aviation, July 1931, pp. 21-22)

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