Breckenridge Texan

Stephens County Chronicles: Aviator Earl Akin injured, stunt man killed in 1920 plane crash on Walker Street

Stephens County Chronicles: Aviator Earl Akin injured, stunt man killed in 1920 plane crash on Walker Street
July 09
11:21 2023

By Jean Hayworth/Breckenridge Texan

On Aug. 14, 1920, Earl Akin, a gifted pilot of airplanes and gliders, and his friend David Fox, another gifted aviator and stunt man, took a flight up over Breckenridge and subsequently crashed in the middle of downtown Breckenridge. The crash killed Fox and severely injured Akin, according to a newspaper article dated Aug. 16, 1920.

Jean Hayworth

Earl Akin was a well-known glider designer and pilot of airplanes in the 1920s over Stephens County. He was best known throughout the United States as a designer and builder of gliders, and according to his obituary on the Find A Grave website, he was the first person to mark off the site of Stephens County Airport in the early 1920s – for a place to take off and land his handmade aircraft – and, as a result, he was often referred to as the “Father of Stephens County Airport.”

Born in Stephens County, south of Breckenridge, in 1895, Akin was interested in flying from an early age. According to his obituary, “At the age of four years, Akin did not even known what an airplane was but he was building some sort of apparatus that would enable him to understand the flight of birds. He built wings of turkey feathers and attempted to take a flight off the barn roof.”

He graduated from Breckenridge High School in 1915 and attended Texas A&M for three years, according to the local history book “Stephens County: Much to be Cherished.” Akin learned to fly at the New York Training School during World War I, the Breckenridge American article about the 1920 crash said. After the war, Akin came back home and purchased an engine in Dallas and then came back to Breckenridge and built an airplane around the engine. Akin had tremendous mechanical skills, way above the average mechanic. Once he finished building the plane, he flew it all around and over Stephens County and often took Breckenridge residents up for a flight.

Akin’s real love was designing, building and flying gliders in the skies over Stephens County. He was noted as the first glider pilot to be pulled by an airplane at the Stephens County Airport, which took the glider much higher in the air and then released it to glide in the various air pockets. Prior to that flight, gliders were hooked to a car or truck and then the driver raced down the runway and then released the glider, which only got about 200 feet above the ground. Gliders pulled by an airplane could fly much higher and do all kinds of aerial acrobatics, for which Akin was well known.

This picture of Earl T. and Eula May Akin is included with their family’s history in the book “Stephens County: Much to be Cherished.”

On that August day in 1920, Akin was flying with David Fox, who was working as a tool dresser for the Jamison brothers in Breckenridge, after being discharged from the U. S. Army. Fox was an experienced aviator with Army training and was a pupil of Locklear, from whom he learned many stunt maneuvers as another aspect of flying, according to the newspaper article. His father was working in Breckenridge in the oil field and that is how he ended up coming here after his Army discharge.

On that particular day, the two avid pilots were going up for a flight to allow Fox to practice and perfect his stunts, which included walking on the wing of the plane. A crowd watched from the ground in awe of the daredevil stunts performed by Fox.

Later, Akin said, “Something struck me on the head and I was temporarily knocked out.” At the time, Akin thought it might have been the shoe of Fox, as he climbed back into the cockpit from his wing-walking stunt or something fell out of his pocket that went flying around or it could have been a bolt from the plane that was jarred loose.

Whatever it was, it temporarily knocked Akin out. When he came back to his senses, the plane was in a steep bank around the Stephens County Courthouse directly below him, which is what the crowd below in the downtown area of Breckenridge observed, the newspaper reported. The only thing Akin said that he had time to do was “to bank the plane further, with the wing tilted toward the ground, and land on Walker St.,” to the shock of those on the ground. Akin said later that he thought the wing would absorb most of the shock of the crash landing and hopefully save them from serious injury.

Akin survived the memorable crash in the center of the downtown area. The crowd below scurried for cover away from the crashing plane. As the plane soared to earth, it clipped the newly installed telegraph and telephone lines recently installed. The airplane landed one block west of Breckenridge Avenue, at the courthouse intersection, at the corner of South Court Avenue and Walker Street. It was a miracle that there were no cars or trucks driving through that area of Breckenridge at the time.

As the plane crashed to the ground, the plane’s wing telescoped over on top of the two aviators and pinned them in the plane cockpit, the newspaper article described. The impact threw Akin over on top of Fox, which may have saved Akin’s life. Dozens of men quickly ran to the downed plane to help rescue the two fliers. It took 10 minutes to extricate Akin’s mangled body, with him bleeding from the mouth and other innumerable cuts. It took at least another five minutes to rescue the lifeless body of Fox, who never showed any signs of life. Both men were rushed to Breckenridge’s Emergency Hospital as quickly as possible, where Fox was pronounced dead shortly before midnight. Further examination of Akin revealed he had a crushed thigh, a broken leg, broken ribs, fractured shoulder, and a fractured skull. Several teeth were knocked out and his tongue was cut severely. Additionally, Akin had several fingers broken and innumerable bruises and contusions. Initially, the odds of Akin surviving from the crash were not too good, according to reports of the accident.

Earl Akin and David Fox crashed an airplane in downtown Breckenridge in 1920. No one in the crowd was injured, but Fox was killed in the crash and Akin was severely injured. (Photo courtesy of Cleve Humphreys via Chad Ezell)

From the very start, however, Akin was alert and totally rational. The missing teeth and the laceration to his tongue caused problems for him to communicate. As soon as he could talk, he explained his recollection of events prior to the crash, from his perspective in the cockpit.

Despite his many injuries, Akin survived the plane crash in the center of the downtown of Breckenridge and it was a long recovery for him at the home of his sister. Once he did recover, Akin was back designing and building gliders and flying them over Stephens County.

The family’s write up in the Stephens County history book says that while he was recuperating in Mineral Wells, Akin met Eula Mae Estill, and they were married a few months later. They moved to Bryan, so that he could return to his college studies, and in the ensuing years had two children, Earlene and Glenn. They also lived in Washington, D.C., where Akin did research in the U.S. patent office, before returning to Stephens County in 1925.

That 1920 plane crash didn’t cause Akin to give up on flying. Many residents of the county continued to enjoy a ride in Akins’ airplane over Stephens County, and he continued to perfect more aerial acrobatics in the gliders he designed. Akin’s interest in flying continued until his final days; according to his obituary, he was working in his shop in Fort Worth just days before his death in 1994 and had been planning to attend the Breckenridge air show that year.

Breckenridge photographer Basil Clemons took this photo that he titled “Earl Akin’s Picture Ship, Breckenridge, Texas” in 1937. (Photo courtesy of the Basil Clemons Photograph Collection at the University of Texas at Arlington Libraries,


Jean Hayworth is a columnist for the Breckenridge Texan, writing about the history of Breckenridge and Stephens County. Originally from Pennsylvania, she’s lived in Breckenridge since 1975. Hayworth is a veteran of the U.S. Navy, as well as a former school teacher and newspaper reporter/editor/columnist. She also works part-time for the Swenson Memorial Museum in Breckenridge. Click here to read more about her and the beginnings of this column.



Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Support The Breckenridge Texan


Title of the document Sign up for our
Click Here
Verified by MonsterInsights