By Mike Eckles
Raymond J. Ellis was born in the Perry County town of Adona, Ark. After graduating from Oklahoma A&M, he taught high school science for three years. He went to work for the Pure Oil Company in 1933.
In 1935, he went to work for the Vaughn Oil Company of Muskogee, Okla., and received his pilot's certificate on Oct. 11, 1938. In the late thirties, the United States stared on a program to build its air arm. After receiving his commercial, instrument and instructors rating, his career in aviation was sealed.
In 1939-40, the Civilian Pilot Training program was just getting underway. Arthur W. Hays, a Muskogee businessman with interest in Arkansas was trying to run the University of Arkaznsas CPT program during the summer of 1940.
Ray Ellis was asked to come to Fayetteville in September and take over the fall program.
On Oct. 1, 1940, Ellis founded the Fayetteville Flying Service. Ellis brought with him his young bride, Sallye Margaret Chadwell. They were married March 25, 1939.
During the war years, Ray provided flight training under the CPT program. In 1943, it started its 10 hour introduction course for the Army Air Force. This course was given to Aviation Cadets attending the College Training Detachment at the University of Arkansas. Some 2,774 cadets completed this training without a personal injury accident.
After the war years, Ellis' interests were directed toward the selling of aviation to northwest Arkansas and the state. He was instrumental in the development of several airports in northwest Arkansas, including Harrison. At the same time Ellis also acted as airport manager at the Fayetteville airport. Under a lease agreement with the City of Fayetteville Ellis leased certain airport facilities, provided operational aviation and airport services, and carried out all the duties and obligations of airport manager. During this period, Fayetteville Flying Service also conducted an ROTC Flight Training program that trained many young Arkansans for careers in the Air Force.
Ellis was successful in selling the airplane as a business tool. On April 11, 1946, the first shipmentof baby chicks came by air into the area when one of Ray Ellis' planes landed with 5,000 New Hampshires at the Springdale airport consigned to Tyson's hatchery at Springdale. The baby chick business and aviation were off and flying in northwest Arkansas.
With the establishment of "FEEDER AIRLINES" by the Civil Aeronautics Board in 1946, Ellis decided to start an intrastate airline. In 1946, the Arkansas Corporation Commission granted Ellis permission to operate Arkansas' first feeder airline. On August 10, 1946, at 7:30 a.m., South Central Air Transport, SCAT, departed Fayetteville for Little Rock via Fort Smith and Hot Springs. In a converted Cessna UC-78 twin-engined aircraft, SCAT made history by becoming the first feeder airline in Arkansas.
On Sept. 1, 1953, the first flight of Scheduled Skyways Cessna 195 departed Fayetteville's Drake Field en route to Little Rock's Adams Field with Ellis as pilot. Ellis had seen the need for such a service for several years as he had been flying people connected with the University and other businesses on an almost regular basis to Little Rock. This commuter airline started by Ellis prospered and provided dependable scheduled air service to and from northwest Arkansas, going from a four-seat Cessna 195 to a 17-seat Beech 99. In 1972 a group of investors bought the airline and started the expansion that made it one of the outstanding commuter airlines and the second oldest in the nation. Ray and Sallye Margaret stayed with the new owners for a year and then retired. Ray continued with the operations for two years as a consultant, but after some 40 years in aviation and more than 20,000 hours, he left flying activities behind.
In addition to many honors bestowed on Ray Ellis in his business and civic work these stand out: president of the Fayetteville Rotary Club, president of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce. In 1969 he was appointed by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller to fill an unexpired term on the Arkansas Aeronautics Commission. In 1971 Governor Dale Bumpers re-appointed him to serve a full five-year term. During 1972 he served as chairman of the commission. In 1982 Ellis was inducted into the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame in Little Rock.