Reed Leroy Vowles (1903-1985) - Piloted Experimental Plane that Became a Glider
Reed Vowles signed the Oakland Register about six months after his April 1929 experimental flight which brought him brief national notoriety. It took four years for its inventor, Joaquin Abreu, to design, patent and work with the Aeronautical Engineering Company to build the detachable plane. Upon hitting a lever, the engine and gas tanks dropped out and the plane became a glider. Reed Vowles was selected as the demonstration pilot based on his reputation as one of the best and most daring pilots in the San Francisco Bay Area. Thousands watched the “safety” airplane land on Sunday April 28, 1929. At an altitude of 5,000 feet, Mr. Vowles detached the lower part of the plane containing the fuselage and engine, dropping them onto what is now Crown Beach in Alameda.The glider flew for about 15 minutes, and then headed to Alameda Airport. However, to avoid a throng of onlookers the pilot swerved the plane upon landing, nosing it into soft ground and damaging a wheel. Despite being heralded in newspapers throughout the United States for its potential for safe landings and quick re-fueling for long flights, the invention never took off.
Prior to coming to Oakland, Mr. Vowles was chief pilot of Lassen View Airways flying Eagle Rock planes in Redding, CA. In early November 1929, Mr. Vowles signed the Oakland register, twice bringing Eagle Rock planes from Sacramento to Oakland for D. Dolan. Mr. Vowles taught flying at the Oakland Airport and in 1934 married Dorothy Saunders.In 1935, the Oakland Board of Port Commissioners directed the Port Attorney to file an action in court to prosecute claims against Reed Vowles and the National Aircraft Builders Association.
In August 1938, the Vowles hosted a meeting of the Zonta Club1 at their new garden fireplace in Kensington, CA. The couple had one son, Reed Vowles, Jr. According to the 1940 U.S. Census, the Vowles both worked at an art shop in downtown Berkeley.
Reed Vowles’ World War Two draft card shows him working in Berkeley at the Hall-Scott Motor Company, (manufacturer of gasoline engines for rail, marine, trucks and airplanes since 1910), in 1942. During World War Two Hall-Scott reached its peak employment making engines for the U.S. military.
Reed Vowles died from a heart attack in April 1985 at age 81.
1Formed in 1919, Zonta International still exists as an international organization to empower women.