A Symbol of Midland’s Aviation History Suspended in Time and Flight
Before there was Midland International Air & Space Port in Midland, Texas–before the area had a public airport at all — there was the Pliska Aeroplane. The Pliska Plane is the first airplane built and flown in Texas. It was built in 1911 by John Pliska, a blacksmith, and Gray Coggin, a chauffeur and auto mechanic. The plane has remained a symbol throughout the airport’s changes, WWII and development of the Air and Space Port.
Danny Winchester, Senior Project Manager/Design Engineer for the Aviation Team, said, “The Pliska Aeroplane provides a piece of the history of the Midland International Air & Spaceport from the Pliska Aeroplane in 1911, to Sloan Field until 1939, WWII as Midland Army Air Field and now the International Air & Space Port.”
Danny said that around 1907, the airplane was stored at a museum that travelers could easily walk to before the aircraft boarding concourse was added to the building. With the construction of the concourse, the plane was moved and put on display on top of a pole in the middle of the visitors’ center. Plaques were also made to tell the story of the plane’s history.
Danny said, “When the new terminal was built, we felt strongly that we needed to keep that in here. It was still a part of the history of this airport.”
Part of designing the new terminal was suspending the Pliska Plane from the ceiling with rigging to support it and to give it the illusion flight. The plane is 7.5 feet tall and 26.5 feet long with a wingspan of 33 feet. The weight of the plane without fuel and a pilot is 750 pounds.
“Although the Pliska Aeroplane is not heavy,” Danny said, “the method of suspending of the airplane had to be well thought through due to how fragile the original design construction of the airplane was, the age of the materials themselves and that this would be suspended over people.”
Volunteers from the West Texas Aerobatics Club, who originally restored and maintained the Pliska Plane, helped to decide how best to put the plane on display. A group of volunteers from the club and Abell-Hangar Foundation dismantled the wings of the plane, so it could be moved to its new location in the baggage claim area.
Four attachment points located at the axles of the three wheels were used to connect stainless-steel cable to the terminal roof steel trusses. These connection points allowed the airplane’s weight to remain on the wheels as it did on the ground. Scissor lifts were used to slowly raise the airplane into its final position before the cables were attached. The length of each cable was adjusted to achieve the stance of the airplane as it would be in flight.
“Everybody was a little concerned about whether [the rigging] was going to work,” Danny said, “but it’s been up for 17 years. It’s a focal point for a lot of visitors coming through the airport.”
Danny Winchester is a firm principal and senior project manager/design engineer for the Aviation Team. His experience beginning as a Resident Project Representative has been beneficial in handling challenges and building relationships with clients. During his 30 years with PSC, Danny has become an advisor and friend to the Midland International Air & Space Port, a leadership example among his peers and a mentor to young professionals.