TEditor's note: The
title of official Oneida County Airport will soon switch from the airport in
Oriskany to the Griffiss Business and Technology Park in Rome, making this a
good time to look at our area's airline history. This is another in an
It was an Indian airline right from the start. Not in ownership, of course,
but in the way the airline was marketed, including its name, Mohawk
It all began in 1945. Cecil S. Robinson, a man with many businesses, used
airplanes to perform aerial mapping, part of a contract he had with the
But when Robinson wasn't mapping, the airplanes sat outside his one hangar
at Ithaca airport, an airport, by the way, that operated only during
daylight hours. Like many airports of the time, Ithaca airport was not
equipped with landing lights.
Robinson got into the airline business pretty much by accident. Robinson, in
pursuit of other business interests, often flew to New Jersey's Teterboro
Airport. People in Ithaca and the surrounding area wanted to get to New York
City and Teterboro was only a few miles from Manhattan. So they hitched
rides with Robinson.
Robinson was a smart businessman and you didn't have to hit him over the
head with a good idea. He bought a Fairchild F-24, a high wing airplane that
carried one pilot and three passengers. Thus began Robinson Airlines, a
division of Robinson Aviation.
But it took more money than Robinson had in order to buy more airplanes and
equipment. Part of the financing came from the Grange League, a farmer's
cooperative, also headquartered in Ithaca, a company needing to get its
officials to places faster than a car could do it.
(Just as Robinson Airlines name would change, so too did the Grange League's
name, which became Agway.)
Robinson Airlines, still headquartered in Ithaca at the time, soon connected
the upstate New York cities of Utica-Rome, Albany, Elmira, Syracuse,
Rochester, Buffalo and Binghamton to Newark Airport and thus New York City.
Robinson called it the "Route of the Air Chiefs." That slogan was painted on
the sides of Robinson's airplanes, which, starting in 1947, were twin-engine
DC-3s. "Route of the Air Chiefs" was quite appropriate considering that
Robinson Airlines was flying over what was once the home of the Iroquois
Confederacy of Nations.
Also painted on the side of Robinson's fleet was a stylized head of a Mohawk
Indian chief, a logo that would last until the end of the airline.
The third pilot hired by Robinson Airlines dropped out of law school at
Cornell to take the job. His name was Robert English Peach. Because of him,
the airline took-off, literally and figuratively.
Peach changed the name of the airline to Mohawk Airlines, added routes,
added airplanes, added employees and eventually grew Mohawk into the biggest
regional airline in the U.S.
As a mascot, Peach hired "Li'l Moh," a Mohawk Indian boy named Lynn Smith
from the Onondaga reservation. "Li'l Moh" was used in airline advertising
and appeared in tribal attire at Mohawk Airlines promotional events. "Li'l
Moh" was the only living trademark in the airline industry.
And all of Mohawk's 24 Convair 240 twin-engine Cosmopolitans were named
after Indian tribes. Names painted under the pilot's windows included Air
Chief Oneida, Air Chief Onondaga, Air Chief Seneca, Air Chief Erie, Air
Chief Cayuga, Air Chief Manhattan, Air Chief Tuscarora and Air Chief
The Indian identity of Mohawk Airlines disappeared in 1972 when the Route of
the Air Chiefs merged into Allegheny Airlines.
Long before that happened, though, Mohawk Airlines had moved its
headquarters from Ithaca to Oneida County Airport in Oriskany.
Joe Kelly is the editor and publisher of The Boonville Herald & Adirondack Tourist and