Maximillian Stupar was born on Sept. 23, 1885 in Metlika, Slovenia, where he learned the delights of flying kites. Even after his parents uprooted Max from the empire of the Hapsburgs to South Chicago, that joy never left him. He followd the exploits of Octave Chanute, another transplanted European (from France) who had found a home in Chicago and had developed an interest in kites.
Max was inspired by Chanute's building on the landmark glider expereiments of Otto Lilienthal, a German, to write Progress in Flying Machies (1894). This book was the bible of aeronautics. Max’s book, some glider experiments he attempted in the dunes of Indiana, Miller Beach , during 1896, and in Dune park during 1897, provided the design for the Wright brothers' first airplane.
But while Chanute and the Wright brothers were becoming aeronautical icons, Max managed to elude celebrity. In 1902, as the Wright brothers also experimented with gliders, Max began his own experiments. Instead of taking off from the dunes of Kitty Hawk, Max leaped from the tops of houses, barns, low hills, and slopes of South Chicago.
Max Stupar, atop of a Baltimore Avenue building, prepares to launch himself in one of the gliders he built circa 1908.
His gliders sometimes reached the awe-inspiring altitude of 300 feet. Some neighbors demanded the kid be given a saliva test. Then, like Octave Chanute, Max moved his experiments to the sands of Dune park, which led in 1908, to his construction of his first airplane. The plane cracked up before Max could test it properly.
Undeterred, Max patterned a plane after the one Louis Bleriot had used to fly the English Channel. He made a test flight to Milwaukee, lifting the hydroplane from the waters of Sandy Beach at 95th and the Big Lake the following year. That plane also had a short life, ignominiously plowing into Chicago's first airfield, Cicero Field at 22nd and Cicero.
In 1910, he opened the Stupar Aero Works in South Chicago, then sold it in 1912 to the Chicago Aero Works for a one-third ownership, and a position as chief engineer. Between 1912 and 1916, Chicago Aero built 30 airplanes and introduced the Stupar Tractor Biplane, the first biplane to use an enclosed fuselage and tractor propellor.
With a glowing resume that proclaimed Max an aviation pioneer, he left South Chicago, in 1916, to join the Standard Airport Corporation in New Jersey.
With America's entry into World War I Max returned to Chicago as a member of the inspection service for the new U.S. Air Service, and then went to Buffalo, and finally Washington, D.C., as assistant chief of wood inspection for airplane construction.
Throughout the war, and until 1922, airplanes were made almost exclusively of wood, the so-called "stick and wire" construction. Max knew more about that than just about anybody, having worked closely with several South Chicago lumber firms. He also authored a book entitled "Wood Technology," as he drifted farther away from the cockpit.
After the war, Max became an engineer with the G. Elias and Brothers Lumber Co., which was just getting into aircraft design. In 1927 joined Curtiss Airplane. He stayed with Curtiss until 1939, as chief of the estimations department, in which post he originated the definitive advanced system of airplane cost estimating.
When war started again in Europe during 1939, not only did Max help develop the modern method of assembly-line airplane construction, he became liason between the government and the aircraft industry, flying all over the country in the process.
On Nov. 27, 1941, near the Dayton field named of the Wright Brothers, Max fell to the earth for the last time.