Within the Albuquerque International Sunport lives a tribute to the history of New Mexican aviation, the beautifully restored 1914 Ingram/Foster Biplane.
Purchased and added to a thriving collection of art in 1987, the biplane is the only surviving creation of Jay Ingram and Charles A. Foster, a Ford dealer and exhibition flyer respectively who, together, contributed greatly to the history of flight in the southwest.
Ingram’s imagination was sparked by Foster’s fantastical stories of flight, which led him and Foster to make a pact and eventually form the Pioneer Aeroplane Exhibition Company. Pusher biplanes were easily built; the duo had one assembled and fully functioning within six months. After that plane proved successful, they built four more biplanes and displayed them throughout several southern states between 1914 and 1916.
As the novelty and awe of aeroplanes wore off, the company lost its popularity and the planes lost their efficiency. By 1916, only one biplane remained and, after being disassembled and carefully packed, it was stored and forgotten for 70 years.
In 1968, an airplane restorer by the name of John Bowden offered to purchase the biplane from the Ingram family and, after his offer was accepted almost two decades later in 1986, had all of the crates moved to Lampasas, Texas, where he lived. Upon finding the biplane in almost mint condition, he carefully pieced it together and wasted no time in selling it to the Albuquerque Museum and City of Albuquerque Aviation Department in 1987.
Regina Chavez, the art programs manager for the airport at the time, recalls what it took to get the biplane up and running.
“(We had to) build and redesign a new base on it and then load the plane,” said Chavez. “We didn’t really do restoration as much as we did conservation; instead, we stabilized any deterioration on the plane. It was my job to make sure that the plane was well cared for.”
The plane has become “quite a jewel” in the existing Sunport Art Collection, she added.
“The plane is one of a kind — it’s 98% original, it’s irreplaceable and it’s the most original of any biplane of that era in the world.”
The plane is so invaluable that the Smithsonian Museum offered a blank check to the city in hopes of adding the plane to its collection, according to current public relations and marketing manager, Daniel Jiron.
The plane is among approximately 113 pieces of art within the Sunport collection to have been nominated into the top ten collections of airport art in the USA. Voting for the award ends on Nov. 11.