Born in 1907 in Nebraska City, Nebraska, Lea Abbott was a pioneer airman, logging over 31,000 hours during his flying career while piloting all manner of aircraft, from fabric-covered biplanes to commercial jet airliners. His desire to fly began when, at 7 years old, he witnessed the brief flight of a Curtiss Pusher at a Nebraska fairground. After completing a year of classes at the University of Nebraska, his interests turned to aviation and he learned to fly in Kansas City in 1930.

While in Kansas City, he became an aircraft repairman and gave flying lessons, but soon joined a group of Texas barnstormers. As a barnstormer, his signature maneuver was to stop his engine at the end of his performance and place his hands outside the airplane, making his hands visible to the crowd. Then, while controlling the airplane with his knees, he would perform a loop and land in front of the crowd. Once during this maneuver a wing came off his airplane while inverted, and Abbott parachuted out of the airplane, injuring one of his legs on a fence post as he landed.

By 1933 Abbott was giving flying lessons from Love Field in Dallas, Texas. There he recorded early morning weather conditions to the weather service by making flights to 18,000 feet to make his readings – with no oxygen apparatus on board…and for no pay. Soon he began flying passengers and mail from Dallas to Houston for Long and Harmon Airlines. Long and Harmon Airlines had secured the subsidy for air mail route AM-15 formerly operated by American Airlines. Using a Ford Trimotor and several single-engine airplanes, the airline flew mail and passengers throughout south Texas.

In January 1935, Long and Harmon was purchased by Braniff Airlines, for whom he became a pilot for the next twenty-eight years until his retirement as a senior pilot in 1962. While with Braniff, Abbott had the opportunity to fly many of the early airliners, including the pioneering Douglas airliners and the early Boeing jet airliners.

In 1979 Abbott purchased a replica of a Curtiss Pusher. He flew it in airshows for the next ten years dressed in open-cockpit attire which included a leather helmet, goggles, silk scarf, vest, flared knickers, and strapped boots.

Lea Abbott was honored during the “National Aeronautic Association Salutes America’s Pioneer Airline Pilots” ceremony in August 1976, and is an honoree on the National Air and Space Museum’s Wall of Honor.

Abbott died at age 93 in McKinney, Texas, from complications from a stroke. He was survived by two sons, Ned and Paul, and a daughter, Mary Lea.

Recent Submissions

  • Guide to the Lea Abbott Papers, 1907-2000 

    Hinshaw, Randall P. (2018-07-17)
    Lea Abbott was noted as a pioneer airline pilot for Braniff Airlines, active member of Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), and exhibition flyer. This collection contains archival material collected by him pertaining to his ...