Ira Oris Biffle – First Lieutenant, United States Army

Ira Oris Biffle See also Ira O. Biffle

  • Sex: Male
  • Born: September 14, 1886
  • Place: Patton, Bollinger County, Missouri
  • Married: Alice DeNormandie
  • Died: April 7, 1934
  • Place: Wesley Memorial Hospital, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois; he is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.
  • He left Patton, Missouri, ca. 1908.

The following account of his life and death is from the Bollinger County Banner Press.

“It became known here this week that the man who taught Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh to fly, and who died penniless and almost blind in Chicago a few days ago, was none other than Ira Biffle, native of the Patton community, and well known in Fredericktown and Madison County. A sister, Mrs. I.D. Francis, lives at Marble Hill now.

Biffle, then a mere youth, left his Bollinger county home about 24 years ago to go out into the world and become one of America's “first pilots,” and numbered
among the most famous aviators of the age among his pupils.

Biffle, as a mere boy, was a queer character, and was scarcely understood either by members of his family or by his friends. He was uncommunicative, and after leaving this vicinity seemed to have no desire to keep in touch with family and friends. For several years his health has been failing, and in recent months he has been nearly blind.

At the height of his career, he is said to have accumulated more than $100,000, but died in abject poverty. Penniless and nearly blind, the once famous aviator passed away after suffering from nephritis (an infection of the kidney) and a heart ailment. With him as the end came was his wife. Shortly before his death he groped for her hands and mumbled, “I'm afraid I can't make it.” His friends had moved him to the
hospital a few weeks ago when he was found, almost penniless, in a public hospital.

Colonel Lindbergh, on learning of his former instructor's plight, was among the first to aid him.

Mr. Biffle was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Valentine Biffle of near Patton and spent his first 18 years on the family farm. He left 24 years ago and had been heard from only at intervals since that time.

As early as 1915 he became a skilled pilot, and was known as a leading aviator when planes were “crates.” Mr. Biffle first went to Lincoln, Nebraska, and became an expert at handling planes, which were also known then as “sky coffins.” He was an instructor and an early air mail pilot. Lindbergh, in his book “We”, referred to Biffle as “the most hard-boiled instructor the Army ever had during the war.”

He became a member of the Army Air Corps at San Diego when it numbered but four persons. It was while Mr. Biffle was at Lincoln that Colonel Lindbergh first appeared for flying lessons. The veteran aviator's comment later was that  Lindbergh was a queer looking kid. He first appeared at the field without a
change of clothing, wearing a leather jacket, a pair of kahaki pants, a shirt and cap. He was a darned good student–intelligent, quick, and nevry, much above the average.”

According to his death certificate, his last residence was at 7460 South Vincennes in Chicago. It gives his birth place as Centralia, Illinois. I'm assuming this is in error because it also give Centralia as the place of birth for both his parents. He was employed by C.H. Wallgreen just prior to his death. The death certificate also lists Oakwoods Cemetery as the place of burial (April 10, 1934); it has been assumed he was buried at Arlington Cemetery (Section 17, Grave 22,625) in Washington, D.C.


  • AR United States Army
  • VETERAN SERVICE DATES: Unknown – 07/23/1917
  • DATE OF DEATH: 04/07/1934
  • DATE OF INTERMENT: 07/14/1934

April 7, 1934

Chicago, April 7. Ira Biffle, one of the oldest aviation instructors in the country in point of service, and whose former pupils included Charles A. Lindbergh and other prominent fliers, died this afternoon at the Wesley Memorial Hospital. Mr. Biffle, who was 44 years old, had been suffering from a heart ailment for some time.

Conscious to the last moment, the veteran pilot's final words were: “I'm afraid I can't make it.” During the weeks he was visited by friends at the hospital, he recalled his twenty years in aviation. He flew as a pilot in the Army Air Corps in 1914 and later served as an instructor on the army field at San Diego. He was forced out of aviation by failing eye sight in 1930.

Mr. Biffle said he first knew Lindbergh in 1922. He was a pilot for the government at Lincoln, Neb., and Colonel Lindbergh impressed him with his desire to learn to fly. Mr. Biffle said that after six hours of instruction, the future idol of the air made his first solo flight. Colonel Lindbergh contributed $50 to the fund raised to transfer his former teacher to the private hospital.

From the New York Times, April 8, 1934.
Chicago, April 7, 1934

Ira Biffle, pioneer American aviator and the birdman who taught Charles A. Lindbergh how to fly, first encountered the now famous colonel in Lincoln, Neb., in 1922. Ray Page, another aviator, introduced the two. Lindbergh had a check for $400, which he said his mother had given him for flying lessons. Biffle was to get half the $400 for lessons.

At one time, Mr. Biffle's flying proclivities netted him a fortune of $100,000. In the days when he was Corporal Ira Biffle, he was one of only four enlisted men in the United State Army Air Corps. As early as 1915, according to David Behnke, president of the Air Pilots Association, Mr. Biffle was “a fine pilot” in the crude Wright and Martin planes of that early aviation day.

Mr. Biffle's companion in those days was Jimmy Coyle, who was later killed while teaching an aviation pupil. Mr. Biffle also was one of the first government air mail fliers and is said to have taught more persons in the United States to fly than any other aviator. Army air service officers abound in the list of his students.

His first flying was done in 1914, he recalled from his hospital bed. His parents had died when he was 10 years old. The World War came and Mr. Biffle became a flying instructor at the San Diego field. It was in November 1922 that Lindbergh flew his first six hours' solo flight under Mr. Biffle's direction. Later, Mr. Biffle came to Chicago and flew the air mail between this city and Omaha. Later he “barnstormed” for a year, but he never did much “stunting.”

It was in 1919 that Mr. Biffle enlisted public confidence in Uncle Sam's air mail by flying a cargo of 600 pounds of mail in a non-stop flight from Chicago to Cleveland after a fellow pilot had sacrificed his life in the attempt. In 1928 and 1929, Mr. Biffle piloted a Sikorsky amphibian plane purchased by a drug concern.

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