Charles H. Babb – Aviation Pioneer

Recently, I put out a query for assistance locating a Charles V. Babb who was involved in an article and picture I had come across on eBay. With the help of one of our members I now have the answer and it is a wild trip of who’s who in America.

First off, Charles’ middle initial is H, not V as the article I found had claimed. He also didn’t live for very long in New York and instead came from Oregon. So, finding him was virtually impossible if not for one clue. He was involved in Aviation in the 1930s. This one fact separated him from a multitude of Charles Babbs and kept him from falling into anonymity.

So, let me introduce you to the real Charles Harding Babb:

During the 1930s, Charles Harding Babb was a well-known used aircraft salesman in business at Grand Central Airport, Glendale, CA. Charles became a significant member of the international flying network of the era. He did business as Babb International Aircraft Brokerage in Glendale and later as Charles H. Babb Co. with offices on the east coast, Quebec, Europe & Latin America.

As a major sales/brokerage firm, many of the airplanes that passed through Tucson passed through his hands on their way to their owners, either as new or used aircraft. Later, he supplied aircraft for the Spanish Civil War (Source: San Bernardino County Sun, August 10, 1940).

Howard Hughes purchased and modified a Lockheed twin-engine transport for a round-the-world flight. After the flight, Hughes commissioned Babb in 1940 to broker the airplane to the British for war service. The sale was documented in an article that appeared in the San Bernardino County Sun, August 10, 1940.

At age 19, Babb was registered for the draft on September 12, 1918. We learn that he had blue eyes and brown hair. Note mention of the loss of his right hand “and other defects.” These injuries to his arm, hand and jaw were the result of a hunting accident. Despite his injuries, Babb married Hester Evelyn Drew of Wilder, ID on October 8, 1923. They were married in Canyon, ID. He also learned to fly and became well-known in southern California circles. By 1925, he was Secretary, Southern California Chapter National Aeronautic Association. His duties as secretary were numerous, among them organizing meetings and air races.

 

The 1930 Census placed him (age 30) at 822 1/4 N. Hayworth Avenue, Los Angeles. He lived with Hester E. (28). They rented their home for $45 per month. Babb’s occupation was coded as “Department Manager” at an “Aviation Company.”

By 1940, Babb and Hester had moved to 3028 Ingledale Terrace, Los Angeles. That neighborhood today on Google Earth is one of modest whitewashed homes with xeric landscaping. They still rented, but their rent had gone down to $35 per month. This Census recorded that both Babb and Hester had enjoyed one year of college. Babb’s occupation was coded as “Broker” for “Aircraft.”

Aircraft flown by many famous aviators (including Howard Hughes, Amelia Earhart, Wiley Post, and Francisco Sarabia were purchased from Babb and he regularly posed for pictures with many of them. He used his inside contacts to build his aircraft brokerage empire based mainly on the acquisition and sale of surplus military airplanes. After WWII ended, Babb built his organization into a major international “holding company,” selling aircraft to airlines and governments worldwide.

Born in Eugene, Oregon January 30, 1899, Babb died of a heart attack November 15, 1952 at the age of 53.
Charles Babb Collection

The Charles Babb Collection was donated by his son, Charles Jr., who was only six years old when his dad died in 1952. There are two photograph albums of airmen and historic events, many family shots and inscribed portraits of famous aviation executives, numerous news clippings and a box of documents supporting the patent for the hinged nose cone for cargo planes.
Pioneer Aviation Broker Kept ’em flying.
By John Patrick Ford, Archive Volunteer

Charlie Babb was well known as the “flying junk man” a moniker he did not like. However, that was his business. Keeping older model aircraft in the sky with his large stock of used planes, replacement parts and overhauling services.
“There’s a buyer for everything,” Babb was quick to tell someone who thought he was crazy to buy up scrap parts from the major aircraft factories. His headquarters at the Grand Central Airport in Glendale allowed Charlie to have close personal links to the heads of Lockheed, Douglas and Northrop where he was often seen picking through discarded aircraft parts and making offers to haul away the junk.

A major part of Babb Co. business spanning the years 1928-1952 was the used aircraft market. Flying magazine ads during those years have lists of about every type of private aircraft made from early World War I Jennys to the popular Lockheed Vega. Charlie’s friendships with Howard Hughes, Donald Douglas and Reuben Fleet put him up front in the aviation market in the 1930s. His used aircraft business boomed as war clouds gathered in Europe and training craft were in demand.

As a pioneer pilot in the post-World War I period, Babb was challenged to overcome a disability from a hunting accident as a youth. The loss of his right arm below the elbow and some facial disfiguration, forced Charlie to make a career decision to overcome lack of physical skills with brain power. He was known as an excellent pilot and marksman. Frequent hunting trips to the Artic area in his favorite PBY aircraft joined him with celebrities like Wiley Post and Will Rogers. Charlie’s mentors in his pioneer aviation days were Eddie Rickenbacker, Richard Byrd and Jimmy Doolittle, the latter friend almost a father figure.

Besides horse-trading in the aircraft business, Babb was an accomplished engineer who designed the cargo plane nose cone that opened for loading. His patented mechanism was used extensively by military aircraft during World War II. Patent infringement issues are still pending for collection of royalties. Another business was called the Big Fan that provided frost control for agriculture. Babb saw the potential when a friend sought his help during a freeze, and they used a reverse prop P-38 engine to blow air over the orchard and saved the crop.

The Charles Babb Collection was donated by his son, Charles Jr., who was only six years old when his dad died in 1952. There are two photograph albums of airmen and historic events, many family shots and inscribed portraits of famous aviation executives, numerous news clippings and a box of documents supporting the patent for the hinged nose cone for cargo planes. The collection is open for view at the library and archive of San Diego Air-Space Museum in Balboa Park.

Source: https://dmairfield.com/people/babb_ch/index.html
Dossier 2.1.38, UPLOADED: 02/21/06 REVISED: 03/01/06, 03/09/06, 10/08/06, 03/04/07, 09/30/07, 08/24/11, 09/21/14, 11/19/17

 

 

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