“He Taught Lindbergh How to Fly”
William Avera Winston is remembered in Wendell, North Carolina as the man who taught Charles Lindbergh how to fly. Bill Winston’s grandparents were Dr. Thomas H. Avera and Barthemia S. Avera of Wendell. The Averas lived in a three-story house on the corner of Robertson Pond Road and Edgemont Road. Dr. Avera was a large land owner in that area. His office was across from his home. The Avera’s home still stands on Robertson Pond Road; however, his office is no longer there.
Dr. Avera had a daughter named Lizzie. She married John C. Winston, a native of Louisburg, North Carolina. The Winston’s moved to Louisburg and had a child. William Avera Winston was born in May, 1896. He graduated from Louisburg High School in 1913. In 1914 the Winston’s moved to Eagle Rock, North Carolina. Bill’s father, John, ran a general store in Eagle Rock for a time and also farmed. Lizzie Winston was a petite, pretty woman who was always immaculate in her appearance. On the other hand her husband John always had a disheveled look. Miss Lizzie was very active in Hephzibah Baptist Church. She attended church every Sunday and was active in missionary circles. Her husband John did not attend church.
Bill Winston was a very well rounded individual. He loved to hunt and fish, read, and play the piano. His mother said that Bill’s interest in flying started in 1903 when the Wright Brothers made the first flight at Kill Devil Hills, N.C. After that he became engrossed with a series of articles in St. Nicholas Magazine that showed pictures of aeroplanes. His mother, Lizzie, told that Bill made a glider when he was a child. When he grew into a young man, he was tall and reported to be “quite handsome.
While living in the Wendell area, Bill attended Wake Forest College for a while and then transferred to the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Bill Winston joined the army in 1917, and by 1924 he was a Master Sergeant in the Army Signal Corps. In 1924 he was stationed at Brooks Field in San Antonio, Texas as a flight instructor. During one of his training cycles, Winston was assigned 7 cadets for flight training on a “Jenny.” This was a two-place, open tandem-cockpit biplane that had been used during World War I. One of the cadets was a Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh felt fortunate in having Master Sergeant Bill Winston as his instructor. Sergeant Winston was reputed to hold the record for flying time in the Army at that time with close to 3,500 flying hours. Lindbergh already had flying experience before he joined the army. He had been flying older “Jennies” as he accumulated more than 300 flying hours and 700 barnstorming flights. Despite this, Charles Lindbergh felt that the army training was very tough. Lindbergh stated, “Barnstorming had made me a skillful pilot, far more skillful that my Army instructors in selecting and operating from ‘strange fields’ for instance. Military training taught me precision and perfection of flying techniques.” In other words, he knew the basics of flying before he came. The Army made him a more accomplished pilot. He attributed his becoming an accomplished pilot to MSG Bill Winston.
On May 20-21, 1927 Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly solo, non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean. A reporter from the Raleigh News & Observer found Bill Winston playing checkers in the back of a Lebanese hot dog stand in Wendell, North Carolina on the day Lindbergh’s flight left for Paris. The reporter asked Winston how it felt to have taught the hero Charles Lindbergh how to fly. Bill was very shy about his hand in helping Lindbergh become an accomplished pilot. Bill Winston showed the reporter some of his scrap books about his flying career. Bill said of Lindbergh, “he was a likeable chap, never trying to impress that he knew it all, always eager to learn.” He continued that since he had some flying experience, “I let him fly by himself the first time we were up. It was easy to see that he was a natural flyer.” At the end of the interview Winston said that he knew he would be “razzed” by his army buddies when the article came out in the paper how a Bill Winston taught Charles Lindbergh how to fly.
At the time of the interview Winston has just lost his job when the Philadelphia Transit Company went out of business. He told the reporter that he planned on “going in on commercial aviation in earnest” because he saw a great future in that field.
Bill soon got his wish when he joined the Curtis Flying Service as National Director of Flying. In 1933 he joined Pan American Airlines as a pilot and stayed with them for 15 years. As a pilot for Pam Am he flew over 3,000,000 miles. He was one of the first pilots to cross the Atlantic Ocean over 100 times. Bill Winston was the pilot who flew the bodies of Will Rogers and Wiley Post back to the United States after their fatal Alaska plane crash in 1935.
Bill Winston was a very accomplished pilot. According to local legends, one time he flew a plane so close to him parent’s home that he damaged the chimney of the house. His mother, Miss Lizzie, refused to have the chimney repaired.
Bill married Katherine Caroline Cosby in 1919. They had 2 daughters—Elizabeth A. Winston, born in 1926 and N. Merrie Winston, born in 1928. Later he married Elizabeth Riebel of Columbus, Ohio. He died in Miami, Florida on August 25, 1948 at age 52. He was survived by his wife Elizabeth and his two daughters, Mrs. Elizabeth Bullock of Richmond, Virginia and Ms. Merrie Winston of Miami, Florida.
Bill Winston had a very impressive flying career. He helped bring aviation from its infancy to the modern commercial entity we know today. His most famous achievement was that he taught the most famous airplane pilot of all times how to fly. We salute you!
Interviews with Mary Lee Rhodes Craft on 1-23-2003 and Ervin Privette Jr. on 2-3-2003. Lindbergh by A. Scott Berg.
“Northeastern North Carolina Stories” from The Connector, newsletter of the Tar River Connection Genealogical Society in the summer 2004 issue
The News & Observer, May 22, 1927 and August 26, 1948.
Wiley Post was an American aviator who was the first pilot to fly solo around the world.
Will Rogers was an American cowboy, comedic, humorists, social commentator, vaudeville performer, and actor. He was the best known celebrity in the 1920’s and 1930’s. One of his famous comments is, “I never met a man I did not like.”
If anyone has any additional information on Bill Winston, please contact the Wendell Historical Society so that we may update this information
by Ray Hinnant – July 20, 2011 Revised August 26, 2013