When Francis and Russell Halligan set out to build their plane, they did it all by the seats of their pants.
Years later, the brothers recalled that they didn’t use blueprints or any other type of plans. Instead, they tested their ideas with models and then proceeded to build the real thing.
A good number of people around Beardstown figured the brothers would eventually kill or at least maim themselves, but somehow the pair managed to avoid serious injury.
Sometime in the early 1930s, the Halligan Plane made its longest flight. As with most of their tests, this one was conducted at the Beardstown High School football field sometime after midnight to avoid the possibility of injuring the curious. With Russell in the cockpit, the Halligan Plane stayed aloft for two to three minutes, rising a few feet off the ground.
Abruptly, the brothers quit testing it, turning their attention to models for both experimentation and sale as toys. They even secured a patent (number 2,308,916) on Jan. 19, 1943, for one of their models. While some models were powered by rubber bands, others featured tiny gasoline engines manufactured by the brothers in their workshop.
Beardstown attorney Milton McClure lived with his mother and grandparents at 1308 Jefferson St. during world War II while his father was in the Navy. The Halligan home and workshop were across the alley. One warm summer night young McClure was awakened by a sound. Peering out of a window in the back of the home, he saw a car in the alley and some men walking around the Halligans’ workshop.
Alarmed, McClure ran to tell his mother that men were trying to burglarize the Halligans’ workshop. The police were called and soon arrived. Shortly thereafter, an officer came to tell McClure’s mother what had happened. The mysterious men were from the military and had come to see the Halligans and their plane. Since this was a military matter, McClure and his mother were warned never to speak of the incident. Most likely, the men were officers from Wright Field or Patterson Field in Dayton, Ohio.
In addition to the U.S. military, the Halligan Plane and their various experiments attracted the interest of many American aviation officials, the British and French governments and even Ralph Budd, president of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad.
The brothers’ aeronautical interest was not limited to planes. In their later years, the brothers acknowledged that they were working on a “silent invisible radar repellant.” They claimed their discovery would make planes virtually invisible to the eye and silent.
With the help of the Air Force, the Halligan Plane was displayed at the Illinois State Fair in 1971. It was donated to the EAA Air Museum sometime in 1976, when the museum was in Hales Corners, Wis. The museum is now called the EAA AirVenture Museum, located in Oshkosh, Wis.
Sometime in the 1980s, the Halligan Plane was scrapped for reasons not indicated in EAA AirVenture Museum records. The museum does have the plane’s two propellers, as well as a collection of Halligan correspondence, photographs and newspaper clippings.
Next week: Milton McClure gets a Halligan model.