Voices of Minnesota

Max Conrad and Early Winona Aviation Oral History Project


DATE: 1975-1977

INTERVIEWERS: George Bates, Barbara Nelsestuen, James Skree and LuAnne White

Max Conrad was born January 21, 1903, in Winona, Minnesota. He married Betty Biesanz in 1930 and died April 3, 1979, in Summit, New Jersey. He earned his pilot's license in 1927, operated the Conrad Flying School in Winona from 1927 to 1943, ran a charter flying service, barnstormed the rural Minnesota countryside, set many records for cross-country and overseas flights in light planes, was an executive pilot for the Minneapolis Honeywell company, and authored Green Water, a story of his Atlantic crossings. Conrad was cited by the Minnesota Legislature for heroism, named Pilot of the Year by the National Pilots Association in 1969, and received the First Eagles of Aviation Award in 1979.

This project includes interviews with friends and associates of Max Conrad and members of the Winona community. Each interview includes a brief biographical sketch and current employment or retired status of the narrator, reminiscences of flight training, early piloting, and associations with Max Conrad. Specific subjects discussed include the Conrad Flying School (1927-1943); earning a pilot's license in the 1930s; Max Conrad's athletic abilities, mechanical genius, flying skills, and integrity; barnstorming and the popularity of "air rides" during the Depresson; anecdotes of accidents and near-accidents with early small planes; early direction-finding devices and introduction of insturment flying; destruction of the flight school in 1943 by fire; the Winona Flying Club; the influence of World War II on private and commercial flying; the Winona Navy V5 school, ferrying planes overseas; the China-Burma-India Air Transit Command; Conrad's family responsibilities, his affiliatons with Minneapolis Honeywell and General Mills, and his accomplishments and honors including the renaming of the Winona Municipal Airport to Conrad Field.

LENGTH OF INTERVIEWS: 8 hours 27 minutes

TRANSCRIPTS: 286 pages