“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Memphis in Shelby County, Tennessee — The American South (East South Central)

The Omlie Tower

Vernon Cleophas Omlie (1895-1936) Phoebe Fairgrave Omlie (1902-1975)

The Omlie Tower Marker image. Click for full size.
By Steve Masler, October 18, 2015
1. The Omlie Tower Marker
Inscription. Vernon Omlie, a flight instructor during World War I, and Phoebe Fairgrave began barnstorming in the Midwest in 1921. They landed in Memphis a year later, married and opened the first commercial aviation company in Memphis. Mid-South Airways, Inc. offered charters, cargo transport, aerial photography, crop dusting, and flight training. The Omlies taught hundreds to fly, including the author William Faulkner and his brothers. The Omlies and the Memphis Aero Club leased a field at Woodstock and established the first airport in the Memphis area, Armstrong Field, in 1927, Mid-South Airways offered $60 roundtrip flights to Chicago. Charles Lindbergh landed at Armstrong Field on his nationwide tour after flying the Atlantic.

When Memphis Municipal Airport opened in June 1929, Mid-South Airways relocated to the new facility, part of the Curtis-Wright complex, with Capt. Omlie as chief pilot and operations manager. Vernon Omlie continued in that capacity until his death in a plane crash in St. Louis in 1936.

Phoebe Fairgrave Omlie, the first woman to obtain both a transport and a mechanics license was a champion air racer and the first woman to hold an aviation post in the U.S. federal government, a position she held for twenty years (1933-1952). She died in 1975.

In honor of these aviation pioneers, President
Omlie Tower image. Click for full size.
By Steve Masler, October 18, 2015
2. Omlie Tower
Ronald Reagan signed legislation in June 1982 designating the control tower at Memphis International Airport "The Omlie Tower."
Location. 35° 3.032′ N, 89° 58.933′ W. Marker is in Memphis, Tennessee, in Shelby County. Marker is on Jim McGehee Pkwy just south of Winchester Road, on the right. Touch for map. Marker is directly across from the control tower and in the airport cell phone parking lot. Marker is at or near this postal address: 2491 Winchester Rd, Memphis, TN 38116, Memphis TN 38116, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 5 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Graceland (approx. 2.4 miles away); Elvis Aaron Presley (approx. 2.4 miles away); Orange Mound (approx. 4 miles away); Calvary Cemetery (approx. 4.1 miles away); Oakville Missionary Baptist Church (approx. 4.1 miles away); Heiskell Farm (was approx. 4.2 miles away but has been reported missing. ); Tennessee Williams Play (approx. 4.3 miles away); Mt. Moriah Baptist Church (approx. 4.3 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Memphis.
Also see . . .  Phoebe and Vernon Omlie: From Barnstormers to Aviation Innovators. (Submitted on October 19, 2015, by Steve Masler of Memphis, Tennessee.)
Additional comments.
1. Phoebe Omlie
Phoebe Fairgrave
Phoebe Fairgrave Omlie image. Click for full size.
By Steve Masler
3. Phoebe Fairgrave Omlie
Omlie was a pioneer of flight. Born in 1902, the young Phoebe fell in love with flying, and, by 1920, she was touring the country with the Phoebe Fairgrave Flying Circus

She parachuted, danced on the wings, and hung by her teeth from planes. She set the record for a woman's parachute jump at 15,200 feet. Phoebe married her pilot, Vernon Omlie, in 1921. A year later, they literally landed in Memphis, and Phoebe became our own Amelia Earhart.

She was the first woman to cross the Rocky Mountains in a light aircraft and campaigned for Franklin Roosevelt by air in 1932. During the Second World War, Phoebe helped establish 66 flying schools, including one in Tuskegee, AL, that trained black pilots.

The Omlies were instrumental in getting the Memphis airport built. In 1982, the control tower was named in their honor. A new tower, 10 years in the making, went into service in June of 2011. It, too, was officially named the Omlie Tower.

Steve Pike is the Director of the Pink Palace. To learn more about all of our region's history, visit the Pink Palace Family of Museums.

Used with permission of the Memphis Pink Palace Museum
    — Submitted October 19, 2015, by Steve Masler of Memphis, Tennessee.

Categories. Air & Space
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on October 18, 2015, by Steve Masler of Memphis, Tennessee. This page has been viewed 202 times since then and 28 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on October 18, 2015, by Steve Masler of Memphis, Tennessee.   3. submitted on October 19, 2015, by Steve Masler of Memphis, Tennessee. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.
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