Chuck Doyle’s journey

chuck_doyle.jpg

If you went to the Minnesota State Fair in the ’60s, chances are you saw skywriting for the first time. Or maybe you saw the biplane pulling an advertising banner over Memorial Stadium at a Gopher game. That was Chuck Doyle at work.

Chuck died today in St. Cloud. His son, Chuck Jr., penned a tribute to him which crossed my cubicle and I’m pleased to share it with you.


Charles Peter “Chuck” Doyle was born to be a pilot and stuntman. Impressed with Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 solo flight to Europe, Doyle talked his father into taking him to the Minneapolis Airport where he was given an air ride in a Navy trainer. In his teens, Doyle owned a Harley Davidson motorcycle and cut classes at Washburn High School to ride to the airport and hang out. In the summer after his junior year, he offered to trade the motorcycle for flying lessons, but instead was given work helping to rebuild airplanes. He soloed in an airplane that summer and borrowed money to purchase his own Travel Air biplane. During the 1933 fall homecoming football game at the high school, Doyle buzzed the field and was promptly dismissed from school. He would finally graduate from Washburn in a colorful 2002 ceremony!

At the airport, Doyle earned a living working on airplanes, selling tickets for barnstormers, and performing daredevil stunts. In 1935, Doyle made his first parachute jump at the Minnesota State Fair and towed his first aerial banner for Griffith Shoe Polish. He had learned the fine art of skywriting from local veterans and rigged his plane to fulfill local Pepsi Cola assignments. In addition to the flying, Doyle also began to take part in other thrill show events at fairs and celebrations across the country, performing such stunts as driving his motorcycle through burning board walls, head-on auto crashes, crashing airplanes through ‘houses’ built within fairgrounds, as well as climbing from his speeding motorcycle to an airplane by means of a rope ladder hung from the airplane. He used his motorcycle and ramps to jump over cars long before Evel Knievel was born. Despite the spectacular lifestyle, Doyle was never injured.

During WWII, Doyle worked briefly for Northwestern Aeronautical Corporation in St. Paul, building gliders that were used by the Army to land troops behind enemy lines. Despite having no college education, he was hired by Northwest Airlines in January of 1942 after Pearl Harbor as a training instructor and taught at Rochester, Minnesota. When Northwest was contracted by the Army Air Transport Command, he was assigned to fly Northwest transports in Alaska, making flights as far out as the Aleutian Islands.

Following the war, Doyle bought war surplus aircraft, flying, restoring and racing them at Reno NV. Many of his airplanes found their way into museums, including three in the Air Force Museum at Dayton, Ohio, and a Curtiss Pusher aircraft that hangs in the MSP Airport’s Lindbergh terminal. Doyle’s airline career with Northwest continued until his retirement at age 60 in 1976 after 34 years, but his flying career wasn’t over. From his home airstrip in Apple Valley, Doyle continued to sky-write and tow banners. The airstrip’s signboard heralded “UFOs Welcome.” He owned and flew dozens of aircraft and had his hand in many Minnesota aviation projects, including the publishing of a Minnesota aviation history book.

When the City of Apple Valley condemned his property for a highway right-of-way, Doyle moved his planes to Fleming Field in South St. Paul. He knew everybody in aviation and lived flying and restoring airplanes every day of his life. Both Chuck Jr. and Brian were taught to learn to fly by their father and are pilots and continue the family’s tradition for the love of aviation Shannon would fly only with her Father but respects their love for flying.

  • GregS

    Wonderful story, Bob!!!

    Is he the guy who we would see writing across the sky in Saint Paul? I loved this!!

    Someone would point into the sky and you would see a sharp white letter forming….. then another letter would slowly form while the first letter gently began to decay.

    It was like “Wheel of Fortune”, trying to guess the word before he wrote it!!

    What a great life he must have had!!

  • Michael J. Koskovich

    Chuck Doyle was a close personal friend of my parents, NWA Capt. Joe Koskovich (Ret. 1980) and my mother Muriel. As a result of this friendship, I had the pleasure of knowing Chuck since early childhood. He was one of the many, and certainly one of the most colorful of the NWA aviation pioneers that I was so fortunate to grow up with as mentors and role models. Chuck Doyle was a most amazing character that I shall never forget until the day that I too shall take that final check and fly West.

    Capt. Mike Koskovich

    Atlas Air B-744

  • Cheri Bell Steinbronn

    My family and I had the great pleasure of living next door to the Doyles in Apple Valley, MN. I have wonderful memories of spending many days and nights at the Doyle house. I have since moved to Georgia and was saddened to hear of Mr. Doyle’s passing. He is a legend in my mind, and obviously was to many Minnesotans and those in aviation.

  • Jack Proebstle

    My mother and I first met Chuck at the Flying Cloud air show in the mid-1990′s. As we walked past him he noticed an ALASKA hat I was wearing and asked about it. We became involved in a conversation that led to the discovery that he and my dad were C-47 pilots employed by NWA and assigned to the Air Transport Command in Alaska during WWII. Tragically my dad was killed when his plane clipped an uncharted mountain near Mt. McKinley. Chuck remembered the crash but only vaguely remembered my dad. He became involved in the aerial search for the plane that was located 4 days after the crash. Chuck was one of the most interesting people I have ever known with stories about flying Bob Hope to USO shows, crashing his motorcyle through flaming barriers at the State Fair, and recovering and rebuilding an early NWA mail plane only to lose it in a squabble with “friends” at Fleming Field, So St Paul. He started and later sold Doyle International Airport which I believe he said was near Apple Vally. I hope his fabulous collection of memorabilia is preserved in honor of Chuck and his wonderful accomplishments.

  • Don Benysek

    Hi Chuck, I remember visiting you at SGS and you trusted me to fly a lil black pup to your daughter/son-in-law to their home near Lakeville ? I remember they lived in a beautiful development that had a ‘grass runway’, and both were employeed by NW airlines. I hope everything is going great for you, please take care and if you have time I’d love to hear from you.

    Warm regards,

    Don Benysek

  • Gayland Hokanson

    On our way out of the Minneapolis airport last week to RDU we were in Concourse G and saw Doyle’s 1910 Curtiss pusher hanging from the ceiling. My wife and I were at the attempted recreation of the first flight at Kitty Hawk in 2003 and I’m aware of the pantent infringement litigation the Wright Brothers had against Curtiss’s ailerons vs their wing-warping. They were both ingenious inventors and it was obvious from the ailerons on that bi-plane that Curtiss just expanded on wing-warping and simplified it. Curtiss’s ideas won out but wing warping has come full circle with high speed jet fighter. The more things change the more they stay the same.

    Gayland Hokanson

    Minneapolis