The ABCs of Lowell History: U is for Up

The Lowell Area Historical Museum is offering a weekly feature to explore local history. This week, museum staff is telling us about an aircraft that was manufactured in Lowell in the mid-1920s. To learn more about Lowell history, visit the museum website to explore its collection of local artifacts and records.


Up in the skies above Lowell today, aircraft are commonly seen. Since Lowell has its own airport, and the Gerald R. Ford International Airport is not far away, this is normal. However, in December of 1925 and January of 1926, Lowell residents looking to the sky saw a very uncommon sight – a plane that had been manufactured right here in Lowell!

McCarthy Aeronautical Engineering Company Inc. of Detroit was organized in Grand Rapids and incorporated on May 12, 1925. In August the company filed Articles of Association with the Kent County Clerk, with George L. McCarthy as the majority stockholder. McCarthy had served in the Air Force, Sgt. First Class, Flying School Detachment during World War I. He lived in Lowell in the 1920 census, moving to Grand Rapids in 1921.

The airplane manufactured by the company was the Air Scout. It was commonly referred to as the ‘McCarthy Air Scout’. According to the article featured in Aviation Magazine on February 7, 1927 the Air Scout “was designed for use of organizations requiring speedy movement of light loads. The plane is strongly constructed, safe to fly and can be cheaply operated. It is especially suited as a medium for advertising, and for private flying.” The Air Scout was to make the Grand Rapids to Detroit trip in 75 minutes on four and a half gallons of gas, and would cost less than any similar plane, $1800.

The test flight in January 15, 1925 was made by C.D. Stinson, former Army pursuit pilot. McCarthy Aeronautical opened an airplane factory in the old Chase Furniture Building in Lowell in September of 1925, and production began. The factory was expected to produce five planes a day.

On December 3, 1925, George McCarthy made trial flights around town from the field on the Mange farm, just west of town on M-21.

In January, Sherman Gillespie flew a finished Air Scout plane from the factory in Lowell to Grand Rapids, 18 miles, gaining an altitude of 3,000 feet. As if this wasn’t newsworthy enough, he flew with the wall of one cylinder blown out owing to an engine failure.

What became of the plane and company is hard to find. The Michigan Manufacturer and Financial Record announced on February 6, 1926, that the factory had suspended operations. The same month a Detroit news article states that the manufacturing plant was in Battle Creek. In August of 1926 the Air Scout was shown off by George McCarthy as part of the Ford Commercial reliability tour. It isn’t known where the plane had been produced.

George McCarthy died in 1953, still working in aviation, for the Oliver Corporation. He was at the Boeing Aircraft plant when he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage.

The airplane bug had hit Lowell, and just under twenty years later, in November of 1944, members of the board of trade committee began looking for site for an airport. The ideal location was deemed to be adjacent to M-21. Nowhere was found.

In February of 1946 a committee was appointed by the Lowell Board of Trade. At their meeting William L. Hameln, of the state board of aeronautics, gave a report recommending the field that had been in use for take-off and landing for the past summer. It was decided that Richard Lampoon, who had been an army instructor for a year and a half, was to be the instructor. Guy Slocum would service the training planes and see that all planes and equipment are in excellent order at all times.

In March of 1946 C.H. Runciman and L.W. Rutherford bought the field recommended, 50 acres, to give to the city for an airport. Then in October of 1947, state aeronautical department inspectors designated the Lowell Airport a Class I airport. There were 1800 foot runways, a hanger for 3 planes, oil and gasoline facilities and restrooms. The state approved the field and operator for training under the GI Bill and classes were to start in a week.

Unlike the airplane factory, the Lowell City Airport is in operation today, and small airplanes are now a very common sight in the skies above.

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