In my January 2008 column, I wrote about Kansas City’s Dirigible Airline. A doomed enterprise of the Commercial Airship Syndicate, the 1919 airline would have been America’s first, and certainly its first dirigible airline.
From Kansas City, the route would include twice-weekly service to Coffeyville, KS, Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Ardmore, OK. The Syndicate’s pilot airship was a Goodyear Pony Blimp, which the company was preparing to fly to Fort Worth, TX, to “complete arrangements at the stations en route for proper landing facilities.” The regular “airliner” would be a “monster dirigible” having a cruising radius “equal to a trip across the Atlantic, with a capacity for 144 passengers.”
Chief pilot was Frederick Karl Gampper, Jr., a licensed airship pilot and engineer for Goodyear. Gampper’s credentials were impressive, with more than seven years’ experience. He supervised Goodyear’s airship operations and was the pilot for the Wingfoot Lake blimp.
Things were looking bright for the fledgling Syndicate, but mother nature would intervene. The night before the pilot trip, a windstorm destroyed the Syndicate’s Pony Blimp and its hangar. The company quickly disbanded.
But what became of Gampper? I checked all my sources, including the Smithsonian, Googled all the names I could think of, but came up blank.
Then, on July 13, an email arrived from Fred Gampper IV, grandson of the airship pilot and a resident of Arizona. He had seen the article and wrote that it had “provided additional information that I had not been aware of.”
After an exchange of emails, Fred Gampper told me that after the demise of blimp and hangar in Kansas City, his grandfather had been approached by Charles Ora, manager of the defunct Syndicate to help him start a similar dirigible airline in Denver. Apparently the remains of the Pony Blimp had been hauled to Denver, and Goodyear had agreed to repair the craft. In the same correspondence, Ora told Gampper “just as soon as we get started here, I will send the balance we owe you.”
According to Fred Gampper, his grandfather declined, and went to work as a wholesale salesman for H. D. Lee. “Over the next few years (he) settled down in Hiawatha, KS, his home town, got married, raised a family, and retired.”
Fred Gampper said that his grandfather had been approached by several airship entrepreneurs to work with them, including a company in Germany, but there is no evidence he took any of them up on their offers.
-- Ken Weyand