Frye, John “Jack”
PilotEnshrined 1992 1904-1959
Jack Frye was born March 18, 1904 in Sweetwater, Oklahoma as John William Frye, but went by “Jack.” It was this down to earth attitude which, throughout his 36 years in the airline industry, enabled him to coordinate the minds of such men as Donald Douglas and Howard Hughes to fulfill the terms of his motto, “Safety, Passenger Comfort, and Schedule.”
Frye was a founder of the Aero Corporation of California that formed Standard Airlines in 1927, a major airmail transporter. Standard was consolidated with Western Air Express to form Transcontinental & Western Air (TWA) in 1930. Frye became president of TWA after his famous letter to aircraft manufacturers calling for the development of a safer, more efficient aircraft. A budding engineer, Donald Douglas, responded with the DC-1, DC-2, and other DC models.
Jack Frye, noted for his business acumen, was an excellent pilot. Frye set numerous records beginning with a commercial aircraft altitude record in 1929 of 22,680 feet. In 1934, President Roosevelt ordered all air mail contracts to be canceled because of airline inefficiency. In a defiant gesture, Frye flew from Los Angeles in the new DC-1 to Newark Airport in a record transcontinental time of 13 hours, 4 minutes. Because of this flight, mail contracts were awarded back to the airlines. He set and broke the transcontinental speed record three times
Under Frye’s leadership, TWA was known as a “pilot’s airline”. He took the lead in exploring high-speed, high-altitude, all weather flying. This research led to the development of the Boeing 307 “Stratoliner”, the first fully pressurized passenger aircraft.
In 1939 TWA, like most of the industry, was in dire financial straits. Frye convinced Howard Hughes to purchase the majority of TWA stock. With Hughes’ support, Frye continued TWA’s technological development. In 1944 TWA received the first of the new Lockheed 049 “Constellation” series, which Frye and Hughes piloted on a record breaking flight across country on April 17, 1944.
Frye resigned from TWA in 1947. He became president of General Aniline and Film Corporation until 1955 when he formed The Frye Corporation to develop a rugged tri-motored airplane for use in underdeveloped countries.
Jack Fry’s talents came from recognizing the genius in others and putting it to use. His personality was genial and disarming, but he had the backbone of a fierce competitor which made him a catalyst that pushed the airline industry toward the future.
Frye died February 3, 1959 in a car accident in Tucson, Arizona exactly 33 years to the day after his founding of Standard Air lines. He was originally buried in Tucson but now is at rest in Wheeler, Texas.