Wallace, Dwane Leon
Visionary/PioneerEnshrined 2013 1911-1989
Dwane Leon Wallace was born on October 29, 1911, in Belmont, Kansas, to Dr. Eugene and Grace Cessna Wallace, the couple’s second son. Eventually his younger brother Dean and sister Doreen would join Dwane and his older brother, Dwight.
Wallace was fascinated with airplanes at an early age and having an uncle, Clyde Cessna, in the airplane manufacturing business only fueled his interest. Ten-year-old Dwane was thrilled when Uncle Clyde took him for his first ride in an OX-5 Swallow biplane.
In 1929 Wallace enrolled in Municipal University of Wichita – today known as Wichita State University – one of only three colleges in the country offering a degree in aeronautical engineering at the time. In 1933 Dwane became the university’s first aeronautical engineering graduate.
The Great Depression hit hard, and in 1932 Clyde Cessna was forced to shut down his company. Wallace instead found work as an engineer for Walter Beech at the fledgling Beech Aircraft Company, located in a section of the closed Cessna Aircraft factory.
That same year, Wallace earned his pilot’s license, eventually adding a commercial license with multi-engine and instrument ratings.
In January of 1934, Wallace persuaded his uncle to allow him and his brother Dwight to reorganize the Cessna Aircraft Company. Clyde Cessna was named President while Dwane, at age 23, volunteered as General Manager. Dwight took on the position of Secretary-Treasurer.
1934 saw the development, helped by Wallace, of the C-34 Airmaster, soon crowned the world’s most efficient airplane. Wallace often piloted a C-34 in races to boost company fame and sales – and sometimes using winnings to meet the payroll.
Clyde Cessna retired to his farm in 1936, turning over the company reins to Dwane. As president, the determined 25-year-old engineer soon had the company creating high-quality, low-cost planes made on efficient assembly lines. Dwane’s talents went beyond the drawing board and race circuit – he also served as the company salesman and test pilot.
With the onset of World War II the company’s ability to produce rugged aircraft for the war effort positioned it well. In the early 1940s Wallace secured a contract for Canadian Air Force training version of the twin-engine T-50, and contracts from the U.S. Army Air Corps for the AT-8 Bobcat soon followed.
In September of 1941 Dwane married Velma Lunt. The couple eventually had four daughters, Linda, Karen, Diana and Sarah.
By war’s end the company had produced over 5,000 aircraft, models like the AT-17, JRC-1 and UC-78. The military production provided the company with financial stability and earned Cessna a reputation as reliable designer and manufacturer.
As peacetime approached, Wallace was already transitioning Cessna to meet the demand for new civilian aircraft. Its extensive line of new and improved models included the 140, 180 and, thanks to TV’s “Sky King,” the iconic twin engine 310, among many others. The 170, modified as the O-1, and the Skymaster as the O-2 were among other Cessna aircraft configured for military use over the years.
By 1958 the company was producing more light aircraft than all four of its competitors combined, eventually controlling 53 percent of the market. The Cessna 172 Skyhawk would eventually outsell every other light plane in the world.
By the late 1960s Dwane envisioned the need for a reasonably priced business aircraft, easier to maintain and operate than the new fast jets coming on the market. In 1968, Cessna stunned the aviation world with the introduction of the FanJet 500, named so for its two “fan jet” engines.
Once skeptical pilots were won over by its many advantages, sales proved Wallace’s instinct correct. Later re-named the “Citation,” the line would eventually dominate the global market, making Cessna the largest producer of business jets worldwide.
Wallace remained President of Cessna Aircraft until 1964, when he moved up to Chairman of the Board. In 1972, the company Wallace had rescued from bankruptcy became the first in the world to manufacture over 100,000 airplanes.
After 41 years Dwane Wallace retired from Cessna in 1975. He and Velma turned to philanthropic pursuits including establishment at Wichita State University of the Wallace Scholars Program for gifted engineering students. Nearly three hundred Wallace Scholars continue the legacy of Dwane Wallace in aviation and other sectors of industry today.
Dwane remained a senior consultant to the company he loved until 1983. On December 21, 1989 the “Quiet Giant of Aviation” passed away in Wichita, Kansas at the age of 78.
Dwane Leon Wallace was a visionary and pioneering leader of the aircraft industry. Tonight, we are pleased to welcome him into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.