We’re back for another edition of the Wednesday Who. This time, we’ll be talking about a lesser-known figure in aviation, though no less important than anyone else.
The name? Bert Mooney, founder of Butte Aero Sales.
Bert Mooney started flying in 1919 in Los Angeles, California, although he did graduate from Butte Central High School in 1920. Per the Montana Standard, after graduation, he started taking flying lessons from a flight instructor named Jack Lynch, who had coincidentally also given lessons to the future aviator, celebrity, and tabloid star by the name of Charles Lindbergh. Although Butte didn’t have a terminal yet, it was using a dirt track called Marr Field for flying lessons and private planes.
Eventually, Mooney received his pilot’s license, and soon thereafter qualified as a commercial pilot. Founded in 1927, National Parks Airways, a Utah-based aviation company specializing in air mail, hired Mooney to fly between Salt Lake, Utah, Butte, and Great Falls, Montana. 1927 was also the year Butte’s airport opened, which at first was called Butte National Airport.
Mooney more than proved his worth to National Parks Airways, even becoming the first person to fly airmail into the notoriously dangerous Yellowstone National Park. Both Yellowstone and Butte’s airports are at an elevation of at least 5000 feet, plus mountains ranges nearby add even further perils to pilots. With Mooney’s expert flying skills, he was hired as the Chief Pilot for Western Air Express (later Western Airlines, which was then merged into Delta Airlines), which gobbled up National Parks Airways in 1937.
Mooney continued with Western Airlines as a pilot until his retirement in 1960. When he died in 1972, Butte’s airport was renamed Bert Mooney Airport, in honor of his dedication and service to the Southwestern Montana community, as well as for his extensive career heading both airmail and passenger flights in the region.
According to the Montana Standard, regarding the treacherous Butte terrain, Bert Mooney once said,
“If you can fly out of, around, and back into Butte, you can fly just about anywhere.”
That ambitious spirit must have run in the family. Indeed, his wife Hanna had also received her pilot’s license, and all four of their sons became commercial aircraft pilots.
*National Air Derby, 1927, C. Owen Smithers Photograph Collection Image 21.019.06. [Acc. 2014.204], Butte-Silver Bow Archives, Butte, Montana.