The WALCO Airboat

In 1912, Chicago, Illinois was one of the leading aviations centers in America. There was much activity at two of the local airfields, Clearing and Cicero as well as the Chicago area in general. One of the most important events in aviation, The Gordon Bennett Trophy Race was held in Chicago. The aviation community had established itself at being able to fly over ground, Interest had spread to promoting events at flying over water. In conjunction with an air meet scheduled in Chicago in1913, organizers decide to add an event for hydroplanes (planes that could land and take off from the water).

The event was termed the Great Lakes Reliability Cruise competition. It was sponsored under the auspices of Aero & Hydro magazine. The magazine had only recently changed their name from Aero to Aero & Hydro.

The Great Lakes "Reliability Cruise" was organized for the week of July 8--the course followed the 900 mile shoreline from Chicago to Detroit via the Straits of Mackinac. It was heralded as the biggest competitive aerial event of the year.

Most of the pilots who had taken up the practice of flying over water were on the entry list - a total of fifteen names. Max Lillie was among them.

Maximillian Theo Liljestrand (1881-1913) was born in Sweden and after graduating from an engineering university and serving in the Swedish navy, he emigrated to the United States in 1904. After he became an American citizen he changed his name to Max T. Lillie. Lillie first went to work for an engineering and construction firm in St. Louis, Missouri, and later he established his own business, Lillie Construction Company. In July of 1911, Lillie and Andrew Drew, a local newspaper reporter and aviation enthusiast, formed the Pioneer Aeroplane and Exhibition Company. Soon Walter Brookins joined the group and it was Brookins that trained Lillie to fly. Lillie made his first short solo flight on October 23, 1911, and received his license, No. 73, five days later. That fall, Lillie bought out the Pioneer venture and took the aircraft south for flying exhibitions. He settled in Atlanta, Georgia, where he started a flying school and established a base for his winter flying operations. The following spring, Lillie shipped north to Cicero Field, Chicago, where he made his headquarters for the active 1912 summer season. Among his successful students was Chance Vought and Katherine Stinson. Besides teaching, carrying passengers, and exhibition work, Lillie also carried authorized mail on several occasions. On September 14, 1912, he flew for his Expert Pilot License. His license was the No. 1 Expert Aviator Certificate issued in the United States. During the winter of 1912-1913, Lillie moved his school first to Kinloch, Missouri and then further south to San Antonio, Texas. In the 1913 summer flying season, the Lillie School was again based at Cicero. Lillie had made more than four thousand flights and carried over seventeen hundred passengers without a major accident.

Together with E. R. Armstrong, an authority on aerodynamics and an aircraft designer, and Adam F. Weckler, one of the foremost builders of speed boats in America, Max Lillie designed a flying boat meant to carry three passengers and the pilot. In February of 1913, Lillie announced the formation of the Weckler-Armstrong Lillie Corporation which was to manufacture the tandem airboat which was first called the WALCO Aerohydroplane. This was soon soon shortened to WALCO hydroplane and then the to the easier WALCO Airboat.

Lillie’s plan was to use the Great Lakes Reliability Cruise competition to introduce his design to the marketplace. He hoped to win the event or make a good showing and then market the airboat and a smaller two seater (pilot and passenger) version. He planned to have both models represented in his flight school. These models were to have double controls for instructor and student. He also planned to build a flying boat station on Lake Michigan to service his customers and the market in general.

The controls were to be of the popular Deperdussin type. The engine to power the four seat model was to be purchased from the B. F. Sturtevant Company of Boston, Massachusetts. The following is a report on the engine from Aero Hydro:

The BF Sturtevant Company today successfully concluded the tests of one of its six cylinder 70 - 80 horsepower aviation motors ordered by the Weckler Armstrong Lillie Company of Chicago for their Great Lakes cruiser The motor was subjected to a most severe test in that it ran continuously under full load for live hours at a speed in excess of 1,600 revolutions per minute The tests were witnessed by Albert Adams Merrill of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and ER Armstrong of the Weckler Armstrong Lillie Company and were from every point of view entirely successful. During the run of five hours, the brake horsepower developer never fell below 80 the average being 82.0 The total oil used during the test was 13 quarts or one quart over three gallons. A total of 47.5 pounds of gasoline was used per hour approximately 8 gallons per hour which is less than 0.6 pounds per horsepower hour. A remarkable feature of the run was the uniform torque of the motor. The pressure on the scales did not vary a half pound throughout the test. Upon the completion of the trial the motor was shipped to Chicago where it will immediately be installed in the air boat entered by the Weckler Armstrong Lillie Company in the Great Lakes flying boat cruise

From Aero & Hydro April 19, 1913

In April all focus was on the 80 horsepower version for the race. Lillie entered the necessary forms in April 1913 showing him as the pilot. De Lloyd Thompson was registered as the pilot for the smaller 50 hp two seater which was to have a Gnome engine.

Close to a century later, an Argentinean artist by the name of Claudio Luchina, who liked to build from scratch models of "out of the ordinary aircraft" under the name of Gabriel Stern, used the plans above to build a model of the two seat tandem WALCO Air Boat. It was displayed along with other models at the 2009 International Plastic Modelers Society Convention. The model generated some new interest in the WALCO Airboat. pictures of Luchina's model follow -