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Pliska, John Valentine (1879–1956)

Julia Cauble Smith Biography Entry

John Valentine Pliska, early airplane builder, son of Frank Joseph and Maria Anna (Lesak) Pliska, was born in Tyne, Moravia, on December 6, 1879. He was an apprentice in the blacksmith and carriage shops of his father in Europe. He also attended a balloon and glider school in Bavaria while serving in the Austro-Hungarian army. After immigrating to Texas with his family in 1896 and settling in Flatonia, he worked in his father's blacksmith shop and on farms in Central Texas. In 1903 he started to Mexico by train to seek his fortune. When the train stopped in Midland, he got off to look over the local blacksmith shop. He offered to help with the repair of a windmill. C. C. Slaughter watched him work in Greasewood Smith's blacksmith shop and hired him to work on his nearby ranch. On October 12, 1905, Pliska became a citizen and returned to Flatonia, where he married Louise Hundle. The couple moved to the ranch. Pliska and his brother-in-law, John Hundle, bought a blacksmith shop in Midland in 1907. In that shop, he shoed the horses of Gen. John J. Pershing when the soldiers were on patrol nearby.

In 1908 Pliska began planning to build an airplane, and by 1909 he was gathering materials for its construction. A Wright Brothers Model B plane landed in Midland on a cross-county flight in 1911. Pliska viewed it with great interest and later intensified his efforts to complete his own plane. He was aided by Gray Coggin, a local automobile mechanic. When his plane was completed in the spring of 1912, he flew it over the Polo Grounds at the headquarters of the Quien Sabe Ranch, southeast of Midland. The plane was underpowered, however, and flew only for fifteen-minute periods, although he spent $1,500 on its engine. The open-cockpit craft, made mostly from buggy and windmill parts, had a 33-foot wingspan and a 27.5-foot fuselage; it was 7.5 feet high. But Pliska substituted cheaper canvas for more expensive balloon silk on the wings of his biplane, making it less airworthy. Later in 1912 the craft hit mesquite trees on a flight and was dismantled to save the cost of maintenance and to allay the fears of Louise Pliska for her family. Over the next forty years, Pliska continued to work as a master blacksmith in his Midland shop, and his family of seven children grew to adulthood. Arteriosclerotic heart disease forced him to retire in 1952. He died from a cerebral embolism on July 28, 1956, in Midland. His plane remained in storage above the rafters of his blacksmith shop from 1912 until 1962, when his children donated it to the city of Midland. It was restored by local members of the Experimental Aircraft Association, with the advice of the Smithsonian Institution, for display in the terminal of Midland International Airport.

Dallas Morning News, August 17, 1989. Midland County Historical Society, The Pioneer History of Midland County, Texas, 1880–1926 (Dallas: Taylor, 1984).


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

Julia Cauble Smith, “Pliska, John Valentine,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed April 19, 2021,

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October 19, 2016