OSHKOSH, Wis. – This summer, when 500,000 visitors stroll across AirVenture's Phillips 66® Plaza, filled with historic aircraft, military planes and other icons of flight, they will be taking in the 85-year-old legacy of one of aviation's pioneering companies.
Most of those aircraft fly because of inventions pilots take for granted today: refueler trucks, pressurized cabins, 100-octane avgas, anti-icing jet-fuel, multi-grade aviation lubrication and the controllable pitch propeller. And they were all pioneered by Phillips 66 Aviation.
This summer at AirVenture, Phillips 66 Aviation is celebrating its 85th year propelling aviation with high-performance fuels and a host of other inventions and programs designed to make flying more safe and convenient.
Historical photos will be on display at the Phillips 66 Aviation tent. There, Young Eagle Pilots can register for a chance to win rides in a historic Ford Tri-Motor, the model once used by Phillips Petroleum as its corporate plane. And on Wednesday, July 25, Phillips 66 will honor Young Eagles and their volunteers with its annual Aviation Leadership Award presentation.
It all started in 1927 with Frank and L.E. Phillips and their lightweight Oklahoma fuel. Today, Phillips 66 Aviation is the nation's largest branded aviation dealer network, with 870 fixed base operators and counting. The brand is known as much for its high-performance aviation fuel and lubricants as it is for its FBO business-building programs, relentless commitment to fuel safety, and its longtime support of the Young Eagles program.
Phillips "arrives" with a daring first
The flight path to becoming the land's largest aviation dealer network began with a daring first, something no pilot had ever done: race nonstop across 2,437 miles of merciless Pacific Ocean from a sun-bleached runway in Northern California to the white shores of Hawaii.
It took a dashing stunt pilot, a tiny, wooden-framed monoplane named the Woolaroc, and a tank of lightweight Phillips 66 fuel to win that epic 26-hour race, an event that took lives of one ill-fated crew. That day, Phillips 66 arrived as an aviation industry leader – on the foresight of founders Frank and L.E. Phillips.
Winning the Dole Race in 1927 was one of many firsts that have come to define the vision and legacy of the Bartlesville, Oklahoma-based company.
About the time Phillips fueled stuntman Art Goebel's "Woolaroc" monoplane – a feat that Charles Lindbergh called "the greatest" in aviation history – Frank and his brother introduced aviation's first refueling trucks.
Launching corporate aviation
Then, with a single plane Phillips Petroleum launched what became one of America's first – and, according to many industry pundits, finest – corporate aviation fleets. That single-engine Travel Air in 1927 was the beginning of a Bartlesville-based aviation fleet that by the 1950s was clocking more than 400,000 miles a year in a half-dozen corporate planes.
"I just told Frank Phillips that the company employees needed to use the planes more," explained Billy Parker, an aviation pioneer in his own right. "It's just good business. I told him if he were in the business of making bicycles, he would probably ride a bike. So, since he was in the business of selling aviation fuel, he would fly."
Led by Parker - who held the nation's 44th pilot's license – the flying Phillips' sales force crisscrossed the country building flagship FBOs and lasting relationships, while spreading the gospel of convenient corporate air travel. Phillips' flying sales force became legendary in the aviation industry.
"I think the first company planes I piloted traveled at about 59 miles per hour and the last plane I flew traveled at about 359 miles per hour," said Clarence Clark, Phillips' chief pilot for nearly four decades.
Breaking altitude records
But the Phillips fleet was more than a way to meet customers face-to-face. It was also the company's flying laboratory, used to test new fuel compositions and innovative equipment ideas.
In the mid-30s, Phillips' fuel and funds contributed to an audacious feat that forever changed aviation: Wiley Post's altitude-breaking flights. With his signature eye patch and cumbersome, oxygen-bearing, metal helmet, Post became known as America's first spaceman, reaching 50,000 feet and discovering the jet stream.
"(The spectators) saw, actually, a landing made with such skill that they could hardly believe their eyes," wrote H.B. Knoll, who witnessed one of Post's landings. "Post looked like a man from Mars in his stratosphere suit and demanded of student fliers who rushed to his plane, 'Get me out of this.' About 40 wing nuts had to be loosened before they could remove his helmet."
Other technology improvements followed, including the controllable-pitch propeller – giving aircraft a nearly constant efficiency over a range of airspeeds – and practical applications of the drag chute.
As World War II loomed, Phillips laboratories on the ground and in the air continued to polish aviation fuels and the refining process. At the time, 100-octane fuel was very rare. Phillips sent 17 researchers, technicians and pilots to Alaska for a date with Miss Volatility, an instrument-loaded Lockheed Loadstar, for months of real-world testing in some harsh environments.
"We wear so many clothes we look like bears," wrote Miss Volatility Crewmember W.C. "Dick" Reese from Alaska.
That research paid off. The company invented the HF Alkylation process, making full-scale production of high-octane gas possible. Fueled with 100-octane juice, Allied forces could outperform its Luftwaffe nemesis, while inspiring engine designers to build machines that could fly faster and farther.
Corporate aviation boomed after the war. But it took another Phillips invention to revolutionize business flight. In 1960, Phillips' chemists introduced the first anti-icing jet fuel additive, allowing pilots to fly to new heights safely, saving time and lives.
The company also introduced the first multiviscosity aviation oil, Phillips 66 X/C lubricant.
By 1975 Phillips 66 had been awarded its 10,000th patent, a testament to its research strength and promise.
Phillips 66 also leads the aviation fuels industry in cultivating the future of general aviation. More than 4,000 pilots have used the Phillips 66 Aviation Young Eagle Fuel rebate fuel to fly hundreds of thousands of youths.
Ingenuity persists as a hallmark of Phillips 66. The company recently launched a robust, online resource for fuel quality and safety, TrustedFuel.com, a readily accessible, comprehensive tool for line technicians and FBO managers. It was designed to support Phillips 66 FBOs and help the company deliver clean, dry, on-spec fuel every time.
Eighty-five years young and it's the same as it ever was for Phillips. The fuels, innovations and vision that helped win a legendary race during the summer of 1927 are still propelling aviation.
For more information, stop by the Phillips 66 Aviation tent at Phillips 66 Plaza during AirVenture.