Sherman Mills Fairchild's outstanding contributions to aviation begin during World War I when he develops an improved aerial camera on his own. Unfortunately, the war ends and the army air service loses interest in it. This experience leaves a lasting impression and in the future, whenever he undertakes any development, he first establishes a business organization behind it.
Consequently, in 1920 he forms the Fairchild aerial camera corporation to develop his remarkable aerial camera with a between-the-lens shutter. When Billy Mitchell sees it, he eagerly orders it used to record his famous battleship bombing tests, - - - and it later becomes the standard of the army and navy. Meanwhile, Fairchild takes his camera aloft to take 100 photographs that are pieced together to produce an amazing aerial map of Manhattan island. It is the true beginning of the aerial mapping industry.
In 1922 Sherman forms Fairchild aerial survey of Canada, and soon proves the great value of aerial timber surveys. Meanwhile, after producing a giant aerial map of New York City, he also forms Fairchild aerial surveys to handle the growing American aerial mapping business. Soon after Fairchild becomes a director of IBM in 1925, he joins the board of Juan Trippe's colonial air transport company. He also acquires rights to the ingenious caminez engine, and establishes a company to perfect it.
It is now that Fairchild realizes his biplanes are inadequate for accurate aerial mapping, and forms Fairchild airplane manufacturing corporation to develop a better plane. The result is an advanced monoplane having a heated cabin and offering excellent visibility. After film star Gloria Swanson christens the first model, one is used to accompany Lindbergh on his triumphal tour of the nation. Another helps save Juan Trippe's infant Pan American Airways by flying the first load of international airmail from key west to Havana. Among later improved models is the "City of New York" used in a-record-setting flight-around the world, - - - and the "flying telephone booth" used to test new aircraft radio systems.
The success of these planes leads to Fairchild becoming the world's largest manufacturer of cabin monoplanes. Panagra uses Fairchilds in regular service over the towering Andes, while Richard E. Byrd and Bernt Balchen make the first flights over Antarctica in their "stars and stripes." Later, Fairchild's improved model 71 finds wide use in Alaska and Canada, as well as by the military for cargo and photo work. Soon after his newly-created Fairchild engine corporation begins work on the "Ranger" engine, Sherman acquires interest in the "superplane." He also buys into the West Indian Aerial Express operating between Cuba and Puerto Rico and, in exchange for this important holding, is elected a director of Pan American Airways.
1929 turns out to be a fateful year as Fairchild's companies are the nucleus around which the powerful aviation corporation is formed. The huge holding company also includes many airlines, taxi services and training schools. Meanwhile, Fairchild purchases controlling interest in the Kreider-reisner Aircraft company and integrates its excellent aircraft into his line. He also forms Fairchild Aircraft Limited to produce aircraft in Canada. Suddenly, the stock market crashes and aircraft sales plummet. Fairchild valiantly struggles to keep alive the development of a 10-passenger airliner, while the aviation corporation staggers from losses in its airline operations. In the end, Fairchild
saves himself by developing a parasol monoplane that promises safety and easy maintenance. When he introduces the Model 22, it is proclaimed "the queen of the parasols" - - - and remains his favorite the rest of his life. Simultaneously, the versatile Model 24 is introduced to meet growing military, commercial and private owner needs. Sherman also acquires rights to the "ranger" engine and forms the ranger engineering corporation to perfect it. Meanwhile, his Canadian firm produces the super 71, called "the best air freighter in Canada."
During these years, Fairchild's cameras continue to dominate the field. One is used in the flight of the explorer ii balloon - - - and
proves conclusively that the earth is round. In addition, Fairchild introduces a radio direction finder used by Albert Hegenberger in his
award-winning blind flight work, - - - and an advanced radio compass used by Howard Hughes in his record round-the-world flight. Also his "baby clipper" amphibian sees service along the Amazon river. In addition, his company develops the duromold process of molding
components of wood and plastic. The process is first used in the model 46, powered by the new 12-cylinder "ranger" engine. Then, in a move to strengthen his operations, Fairchild forms two new independent companies - - - Fairchild engine and airplane corporation -and Fairchild aviation corporation. Within a year he is back on top of the private aircraft industry.
As war clouds gather in Europe, Fairchild's PT-19 becomes one of the first practical low-wing primary trainers and, after Pearl Harbor,
more than 8,000 will be used by Allied pilots. Meanwhile, Fairchild builds the advanced AT-21 gunnery trainer using the "duramold" process and a "ranger" engine. The war also brings an urgent need for his C-82 "packet" used in dropping paratroopers, - - - towing gliders - - - and transporting armored vehicles. During the war, Fairchild cameras document millions of square miles, of axis-held territory prior to the invasions. Later, the "Lark" anti--aircraft missile - - - and the "Petrel" anti-submarine missile help defeat the Japanese in the Pacific.
With the return to peace, Fairchild's C-119 "Flying Boxcar" is ordered into production and 1100 will be built under the Mutual Defense
Act. It serves as the workhorse of the United Nation's cargo fleet during the Korean war. Then, in 1953, Fairchild begins production of
the C-123 "provider" transport. Meanwhile, the 1950 brings diversification to Fairchild as its Divisions produce a midget submarine, - - - missile jet engines, -cockpit cooling systems, - - - assemblies for b-52 bombers, - - - and also, the widely-used "Friendship" airliner goes into service in 1958.
Among the most significant 1959 developments is the planar process, which leads to Fairchild becoming a major producer of semiconductor devices. By the early 1960's, Sherman has successfully converted his corporations into an important aerospace organization, as the national focus shifts to space exploration. The Fairchild-Stratos corporation, formed in 1961, builds meteroid detection satellites for NASA. Later, Fairchild cameras are used in the Apollo missions to provide the first precise photography of the moon's surface. Acquisitions in the 1960's include Hiller Aircraft producing jet-powered helicopters - - - and Republic Aviation producing the F-105 "Thunderchief" used in Vietnam.
In the following years, Fairchild programs specialize in solar
cells for satellites, - - - in modifying and repairing aircraft damaged
in Vietnam, - - - in converting "flying boxcars" into gunships, - - - and producing components for 747 airliners - - - and F-14 fighters.
There is no doubt that Sherman Mills Fairchild had a truly remarkable and rewarding career, - - - a career that began with building a better
aerial camera - - - and over the next fifty years included an unbelievable diverse number of interests, - - - a career as an entrepreneur that resulted in outstanding contributions to aeronautics and astronautics.
Nothing characterized Sherman Mills Fairchild more than his continuing interest in technology. It was this fascination with new
ideas -- with what he simply termed "ways to do things better" -- which led to his outstanding contributions to the progress of aviation over a
span of five decades.
A few months before his death at the age of 74 in March, 1971,
the Smithsonian Institution honored him on his fiftieth anniversary as a
leader in the aviation industry. The list of inventions and technical improvements introduced by Fairchild during those years is long and
varied. His aviation interests encompassed aerial photography, aerial mapping, aircraft design, engine development and airframe manufacturing processes. He also was one of the founders of Pan American and American Airlines.