Pioneer Aviator A.F. Bonnalie

“My first flight was in a glider Nov. 1 1911 off a hill south of Twin Peaks in San Francisco which was built by about ten students calling themselves ‘The [Polytechnic] High School Aero Club.’
– extract from “Brief Biography” written by Allan F. Bonnalie, Rear Admiral, USNR (ret.) 

Aero Club flight

San Francisco Polytechnic High School Aero Club, with glider in flight, c. 1911. Cyanotype (Box 77, A.F. Bonnalie papers, Coll. 5859)

Allan Francis Bonnalie was born in Denver in 1893 and grew up in San Francisco. While attending Polytechnic High School in San Francisco, he joined a group of students who built and flew gliders and airplanes. Bonnalie put his experience as a pilot to use in World War I.  He joined the U.S. Signal Corps and served with the British Royal Air Force in 1917-1918.  He maintained his connection with the military for most of his life.  In 1925 he joined the United States Naval Reserve, retiring in 1953 with the rank of rear admiral.

BSA

Boeing School of Aeronautics, 1930s (Box 76, A.F. Bonnalie papers, Coll. 5859)

The glider, a Farman type with box tail had a rudimentary undercarriage aelerons, elevator but no rudder.  The control surfaces were not adequate so shifting of the weight of the pilot was necessary as well.  The glider was somewhat larger and heavier than the ordinary shifting weight control type and was towed aloft by ropes, manned by about 8 of the members…Most flights were made on Saturdays, sometimes Sundays but usually the glider was damaged before the first day was over and it took hours after school the next week to get it ready for use on the following Saturday.”
– extract from “Brief Biography” written by Allan F. Bonnalie, Rear Admiral, USNR (ret.) 

Bonnalie BSA

Experimental glider constructed at Boeing School of Aeronautics, c. 1931 (Box 76, A.F. Bonnalie papers, Coll. 5859)

Since the commercial aviation industry did not exist when Bonnalie left the Signal Corps, he worked as a mechanical engineer for the Southern Pacific Railroad.  He returned to aviation in 1929, when he began work at the Boeing School of Aeronautics. The school, based out of Oakland, California, Airport, designed and built experimental aircraft.

Aero Club ground

Polytechnic High School Aero Club, San Francisco, with glider on ground. c. 1911, cyanotype (Box 77, A.F. Bonnalie papers, Coll. 5859)

In 1938, Bonnalie joined United Air Lines Flight Operations, Western Division.  During World War II he served with the U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics.  When he rejoined United Airlines in 1945, he became president and general manager of United of Mexico, Lineas Aereas Mexicanas, S.A. (LAMSA).  LAMSA was sold by United in 1953 and Bonnalie became director of United’s flight training program in Denver, Colorado, until his retirement in 1958.

Bonnalie LAMSA

Bonnalie as president and general manager fo LAMSA, c. 1950 (Box 74, A.F. Bonnalie papers, Coll. 5859)

Post-retirement, he made several trips overseas for the U.S. Foreign Operations Administration (FOA) to advise foreign governments on aviation matters.  Bonnalie also served on United Airlines Pilot System Board of Adjustment to resolve grievances arising from pilot contracts.

BSA glider

Bonnalie in charge of the ground school at the Boeing School of Aeronautics, 1930s (Box 74, A.F. Bonnalie papers, Coll. 5859)

– Claudia Thompson, Processing Manager

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