Mike Steffen, Tony’s Flight Instructor

Mike Steffen was Tony’s flight instructor when he learned to fly at Burgard Vocational High School in the early 1930s while attending night classes. The two developed a pretty unique relationship and remained good friends throughout my father’s aviation career.

“In 1928, Mike was one of the first tenants at Buffalo Airport, where he sold and serviced airplanes and conducted a flying school.” courtesy Buffalo Courier-Express, February 12, 1967

Tony graduated on February 26, 1935, after enrolling in Burgard’s three-year evening vocational aviation course. He continued his employment at Curtiss Aeroplane & Motor Company in Buffalo as a mechanic until purchasing his Gardenville Airport property in 1938.

Tony standing in front of Burgards Eaglerock powered by the upgraded Kinner K-5.

I am not too familiar with the history of Burgard, other than what my father acquired in his collection. However, that recently changed when I received my monthly WNY Aeromail newsletter, #55, from Ron Ciura, the reporter. In that newsletter, Ron shares some history of the Elm/Burgard Flying Club provided by Paul Faltyn, a Burgard Grad and Curator of the Niagara Air Museum. Click the link button below to read a document outlining the Flying Club with its inception in 1927.

If you have trouble with the provided link above, you can download the 1927 Burgard History document below.


May 30, 1933, is Tony’s first logbook entry flying dual instruction with Mike Steffen in Burgards Eaglerock biplane, NC-6323, powered by a Kinner K5 engine. Tony flew for 45 minutes on his first flight, and I can only imagine his excitement!

On September 7, 1933, Tony piloted his first 5-minute solo flight and finished his training for an additional 25 minutes of dual time with Mike Steffen on that day, continuing to build hours in Burgards Eaglerock. Tony continues to acquire solo time, and on October 13, 1933, he flys a full solo flight.

Tony received his Amateur Pilots License on October 14, 1934, with just over 55 hours logged of total flight time. He focuses on the required classroom study to complete the Burgards aviation course, although he dreams of getting back in the air after graduation. As I mentioned earlier, his hard work and determination pay off, and Tony graduates on February 26, 1935.

He continues his flight training with Mike Steffen, starting on April 20, 1935, adding additional hours in his logbook flying solo in the Eaglerock. Tony received his Private Pilots License on July 8, 1935, and flys his first passenger from Buffalo to Niagara Falls three days later, on July 11, in the Eaglerock. His logbook doesn’t state who his first passenger is, but I’m guessing it was either his mother, father or brother Victor.

Tony’s first night flight is on October 13, 1935, in the Eaglerock, departing the Buffalo Airport at 5:30 pm and returning at 6:50 pm, bringing his total logged hours over 76 hours since he started flying. His first logbook of the nine that I have covered from May 30, 1933, to June 27, 1938, with a total flight time of 228 hours and 30 minutes. Only 14 hours and 50 minutes were dual time!

I discovered an article that my father saved featuring Mike Steffen printed in the Buffalo Courier-Express, dated February 12, 1967. It’s terrific writing to a fascinating person, and I highly recommend downloading a copy for yourself!

Tony Riccio, a P-47 Test Pilot

Tony Riccio wearing a leather flight jacket with his Republic photo identification pin.
Tony Riccio wearing a leather flight jacket with his Republic photo identification pin.

Tony had heard that Republic was hiring for test pilots to fly their newly developed P-47 in the summer of 1942, and he knew that he couldn’t let this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity pass by. Two years have gone by since he first opened his Gardenville airport, and he felt this could be financially beneficial to expand his business. Could the airport survive without him, Tony thought to himself. It must, he later concluded, and began to make arrangements so the airport would remain operational while he was away.

Tony found out that he needed to complete a flight check before submitting an employment application to Republic. On December 9, 1942, he met the requirements through a test flight in a North American AT-6 trainer at the Romulus Army Air Field in Detroit, Michigan. Tony flew for 1 hour and 45 minutes with an instructor, and upon landing, he receives his certificate to fly a P-47!

Tony's logbook.
Tony’s logbook.

Tony’s last flight at his Gardenville Airport is on February 7, 1943, in a Taylorcraft model D airplane with a 65 hp Franklin engine. He finished a long dual-time lesson with one of his students for a total of 3 hours and 30 minutes under the Civilian Pilot Training program.

Tony standing in front of a P-47 in full flight gear!
Tony standing in front of a P-47 in full flight gear!
Tony would accumulate many flight hours from this cockpit!
Tony would accumulate many flight hours from this cockpit!
Tony's logbook.
Tony’s logbook.

Tony’s first test flight for Republic is on February 23, 1943, in a P-47-C warplane with a 2000 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800-21 “Double Wasp” twin-row 18 cylinder radial engine. The plane’s registration number is 16650, and he flew for 55 minutes from Republic’s base in Farmingdale, Long Island, New York.

On March 1, 1943, Tony test piloted his first P-47-D, ship number 16864, for 55 minutes.

Tony ready to start the engine of a P-47. Clear!
Tony ready to start the engine of a P-47. Clear!

Let’s stop for a minute and think about how Tony must have felt on this day. At the beginning of February, he last flew a Taylorcraft airplane and is now test piloting a P-47 warbird, all 8 tons of her glory, pushing it to its structural limits with speeds above 400 mph at 30,000 ft. I consider this a life-changing event, almost an enlightenment of one’s self-being, that I know Tony cherished throughout his life and was very proud to share his experiences. I remember him telling me stories of flying the P-47, and I was the most popular kid during “show and tell” at grade school when he let me bring photos of him in his flight gear and the P-47. He even let me bring in his leather flight helmet and goggles one day, but I’m sure he was concerned about its safety because that opportunity never came up again.

One of Tony's many logbooks.
One of Tony’s many logbooks.

P-47 Racer 4 (photo courtesy usaaf-noseart.co.uk)
P-47 Racer 4 (photo courtesy usaaf-noseart.co.uk)

I found a fascinating entry in Tony’s logbooks while researching his flight time in the P-47. On April 6, 1943, he only flew two P-47’s that day, but the second one, he recorded ship number 28079 as “Racer #4.” I was intrigued by this. With a little research, I believe this to be a War Bond Plane used as a promotional airplane for Republic to generate civilian revenue to offset production costs and salaries. It seems to be a popular option used by other manufactures during the war, and I knew nothing of it.

A signed photo by Tony and the other test pilots in his squadron.
A signed photo by Tony and the other test pilots in his squadron.

Tony Riccio

Tony Riccio in a three piece suit, 1930s.
A very determined young man, 1930.

From the hundreds of pictures that I have of my father, Tony, I decided to assemble a short timeline to better illustrate his life but not bore you with an extensive family photo album. I have chosen the most relevant ones starting with him as a young man until his passing in 1976. I’ve divided the photos into seven pages, with about ten on each page.

Tony Riccio sitting in the pilot's seat of an Alexander Eaglerock biplane.
Tony in the pilot’s seat of an Alexander Eaglerock.
Tony Riccio wearing his leather flighting jacket, helmet, and goggles.
Tony in his new leather flight jacket, helmet, and goggles.

I hope you find this interesting as much as I do and can’t help but think about the thousands of hours of flight time he accumulated throughout his lifetime.


Tony Riccio standing next to an Alexander Eaglerock, A-15, owned by the Burgard Vocational High School.
Tony is building up his flight time in an Alexander Eaglerock, A-15, owned by the Burgard Vocational High School, where he received his aviation diploma on February 26, 1935. A Kinner K-5 radial engine powers this airplane and is easily recognized by the shape of the cylinder heads.
Tony Riccio piloting an Alexander Eaglerock, A-15, on takeoff.
Looking good Tony! Nice and steady.
Tony Riccio and his flight instructor talking about a flight lesson while sitting on the wing of an Alexander Eaglerock, A-1.
Tony, on the left, going over a flight lesson with his instructor. The airplane looks to be an Alexander Eaglerock, A-1, from the rounded shape of the front fuselage.
Tony Riccio's aviation diploma from the Burgard Evening Vocational High School dated February 26, 1935.
Tony’s aviation diploma, graduated on February 26, 1935.