Industry innovator leads charmed aviation life

April 4, 2013

Ronald Alexander

Ronald Alexander’s charmed aviation life—which includes flying for the U.S. Air Force and Delta Air Lines, creating several aviation-related companies, collecting and restoring antique aircraft, and founding the Candler Field Museum—are among the reasons he will be one of three inductees into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame on April 27.

Alexander, an AOPA member since 1963, took his first flight at age 14, and earned his private certificate by age 17. He credits joining the Civil Air Patrol right after that first flight for getting him involved in aviation. “CAP does a great job with young people, and the love of flying I developed there has kept me going for more than 50 years,” he said.

Alexander flew for the Air Force for five years, including a one-year combat tour in Vietnam, and earned two Air Medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross. Delta Air Lines hired him in 1969, where, during his 33-year career, he served as a flight instructor, check pilot, and the chief pilot for the carrier’s restored DC-3 airplane. He has accumulated more than 24,000 flight hours and has flown nearly a dozen aircraft types.

Alexander owns and flies a J-3 Cub, a DC-3, a Waco YMF-5, and a Stearman Cloudboy 6L. He is also an avid collector of antique aircraft, working to ensure that they are maintained in airworthy condition so they can be enjoyed by the public. His DC-3 is still regularly flown to events where it is on display.

While flying for Delta, he founded the Alexander Aeroplane Company in 1979, which came from a need to find suppliers of materials for aircraft builders and restorers. “The first aircraft I ever restored was a Boeing Stearman, and when I was working on it, I had a hard time finding parts and supplies in the Atlanta area, and found others with the same problem,” he said. “So I sat at my kitchen table and created a catalog with the supplies needed to restore aircraft. We were filling a need that existed.”

Alexander also created the SportAir Workshops program to teach aviation enthusiasts about aircraft building and restoration. “This was a natural offspring of my supplier company created after our sales people were inundated with questions on how to use the products we were selling,” he said. “This was back in the 1980s, when aircraft restoration wasn’t as popular and there weren’t a lot of places to learn about building and restoring aircraft. We thought if we taught customers the proper use of supplies, they’d also buy from us. It was a great marketing tool.”

He sold the Alexander Aeroplane Co. to Aircraft Spruce and Specialty Co. in 1996 and sold the SportAir Workshop business to the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) in 1999.

Alexander is currently focused on developing the Candler Field Museum, created to document the history of the original Atlanta airport, originally named Candler Field, located at the Peach State Aerodrome outside of Atlanta. “I wanted to create a museum to focus on the history of the Atlanta airport, which was opened in the 1920s, at the beginning of commercial airlines,” he said.

The museum will include a history of Candler Field and feature period aircraft and costumes as a way to get people, especially younger ones, interested in aviation. “We will focus on educational programs that will bring in local school groups, along with organizations like EAA’s Young Eagles, and CAP,” he said.

The Candler Field Flying Club is also on the premises, said Alexander. “We have a scholarship program that allows those 16 or older to do work in the museum and for the flying club and in exchange, earn credits that help them toward the hours needed to get a private certificate,” he said.

The museum currently has about 200 members who support it, said Alexander. “We also earn money through a restaurant we operate at the airport, along with hangars that we rent,” he said. “We’re also looking for corporate donors, like Delta and Coca Cola, which both have ties to Candler Field.”