Crane, Carl Joseph (1900–1982)

By: Deolece M. Parmelee

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1994

Updated: August 17, 2016

Carl Joseph Crane, aviation pioneer and inventor, was born in San Antonio on October 20, 1900, the son of John Paul and Ida (Witmer) Crane. At age ten he witnessed the birth of aviation in Texas when, at Fort Sam Houston, Capt. Benjamin Foulois first flew experimentally the only airplane owned by the United States government, a pusher-type, twenty-five-horsepower Wright Brothers biplane. Crane studied at St. Mary's University, San Antonio, and the University of Dayton (Ohio), where he received the bachelor (1924) and the master of mechanical engineering (1934) degrees. After graduating from the United States Army Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field (see KELLY AIR FORCE BASE) in 1925, he spent two years with the First Pursuit Group at Selfridge Field in Michigan, and then for five years was a flight instructor at Kelly, Brooks, and Randolph fields in Texas. In 1929 he teamed with William C. Ocker to devise revolutionary flying systems and to write the world's first manual for instrumental flight, Blind Flight in Theory and Practice (1932).

On August 23, 1937, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, with assistance from G. V. Holloman and Raymond Stout, Crane made the world's first fully automated landing, for which he had designed the key instruments. He served in military aviation until 1949. During World War II he performed training and logistics duties in the United States, then served overseas with the Ninth Air Force and attained the rank of colonel. He was senior air officer with the Army Advisory Group in China, 1948–49. In more than sixty years as a pilot, Crane flew almost every experimental and production craft, from the earliest biplane to jet aircraft.

Among his more than 100 patented inventions were radio signaling equipment for use in aircraft trainers, which was licensed for use in the Link Trainer; the Navitrainer, designed with Colonel Ocker; the B-3 Drift Meter; the Gyro Panoramic Sextant; and numerous other navigational devices. He had inventions on the drawing board and patents pending when he died.

Crane was a member of the Daedalians and of the Institute of Navigation, a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and the holder of the Mackay Trophy, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and distinguished alumnus awards from both St. Mary's and the University of Dayton. In 1979 he (and Ocker, posthumously) received the Flight Safety Foundation's Pioneer Award. Crane married twice and had five children. He was a devout Catholic. He died on April 26, 1982, in San Antonio.

Carl J. Crane, Interviews by Maj. Gen. William Allen Harris, 1980, Oral History Program, University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, San Antonio. San Antonio Express News, September 15, 1979, April 28, 1982. San Antonio Light, April 28, 1982.

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Deolece M. Parmelee, “Crane, Carl Joseph,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 14, 2022,

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December 1, 1994
August 17, 2016