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Bird’s eye view: Pilot Ed Wilson led aerial tours for prospective Cape residents

By Cj Haddad - | Sep 18, 2020

Pilot Ed Wilson in recent days. PROVIDED

No one had a better view of Cape Coral before it became the Waterfront Wonderland than Ed Wilson.

Thousands of feet in the air, it was Wilson in the cockpit with a representative of the Rosen brothers in the early 1950s when he first laid eyes on what would eventually be Cape Coral.

The Rosens, with thoughts of creating a new city bubbling in their minds, sent a gentleman to Florida who contacted Wilson to pilot him over an area near Fort Myers Beach. It was on the way back that the two spotted a large chunk of land that piqued their interest. The Rosen’s representative dropped a few coins out of the plane in hopes to later find where it had landed. While Wilson is not quite sure if they ever found that money, the Rosens certainly found an abundance of riches, because those coins were dropped over what would become Cape Coral.

“They wanted me to take them down and show them some land in back of Fort Myers Beach — they wanted to build a city,” said Wilson. “It wasn’t much good. On the way back, we came up towards the river and flew over the riverfront and they looked down and saw it and really liked it. They wanted to take pictures of it and of course, we did. You didn’t see a big piece of land; you saw trees.

“They threw some money out of the window and said, ‘We’re going to walk back and find the money.’ I said, ‘You probably won’t find it,'” Wilson joked.

From there, the Rosens started developing and Wilson continued flying, taking every and anyone involved with the development and beginnings of Cape Coral over the area.

“I flew every day, all day long,” Wilson said. “It was unbelievable. We took everybody flying.”

At one point, part of the process of buying a home in Cape Coral was to take things in from a higher perspective.

“You’d look at (the plot you wish to buy) from the air,” Wilson said.

Each time Wilson took off, the more and more he saw Cape Coral starting to come together. Wilson estimates he piloted more than 1,000 trips

“The Rosens wanted to come here and build a city on waterfront property, that was their desire — and I made that desire come true,” said Wilson. “A lot of hard work went into it, year after year.”

A lot of hard work came with a little bit of fun for Wilson, including one time where he brought a baby alligator in his plane to bring across the river, caveat being he didn’t mention the third passenger to his copilot. Once in the air, Wilson decided to let his buddy in on their company.

“It was a little alligator — but it scared the hell out of him,” Wilson joked.

Wilson worked with the Rosens for a decade, helping lay the groundwork for what is now a city of approximately 200,000. He also helped found Lee County Mosquito Control in the early 1950s, along with T. Wayne Miller, which was greatly needed to rid insects from land being developed in Cape Coral.

“We were desperate to kill the mosquitoes because we sold all of that land and people were coming down to live here but they couldn’t because the mosquitoes were too bad,” Wilson said.

They would use Cessna airplanes, and later DC-3s, to go over different areas and treat for mosquitoes and insects.

Wilson has been enthralled with aircrafts his entire life. He lived in the Atlanta area near an airport shortly before moving to Fort Myers and as a kid remembers watching planes take off and come in by his house –eyes wide and imagination piqued.

He lived around the corner from Page Field as a youth and even worked at Buckingham Airfield. He bought his first plane out of high school (he graduated from Fort Myers High School in 1948) and fixed it up enough to get the bird in the air. Wilson said he had flown even before he graduated and owned a plane of his own.

“People had airplanes and I wanted to fly, and they wanted people to fly with them,” Wilson said with a smile. “I would fly every chance I got.”

Shortly after high school, Wilson was drafted into the military and while he was not a pilot during the Korean War, he worked on planes as an aircraft mechanic — a pretty good one at that.

“They considered me pretty valuable because I could tell anybody anything about the airplane they were trying to fix,” Wilson said. “I was the go-to mechanic.”

Wilson served two years then returned to Southwest Florida and continued with his passion for aviation.

Pilots license in hand, he began to teach others how to fly (he estimates more than 1,000 taught) and created Fort Myers Airways with eventual father-in-law George Allen in 1953.

It was shortly after creating Fort Myers Airways that he was contacted by the Rosens and played an instrumental role in the Cape Coral’s infancy.

Fort Myers Airways remained in business for 45 years until the county forced them out of Page Field in February of 1998. They were a family-owned and operated fixed based operation offering all five facets of general aviation: maintenance, instruction, charter, refueling and hangaring.

“We were involved with everything to do with airplanes,” Wilson said.

He is proud of the role he played in Cape Coral’s inception and said he cherishes the memories of flying over Southwest Florida land, all while creating bonds and friendships.

In March of 2018, Wilson was bestowed the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, the highest honor the Federal Aviation Administration can give a pilot. The award recognizes individuals who have exhibited professionalism, skill, and aviation expertise for at least 50 years while piloting aircraft as “Master Pilots.”

A plaque with historical photos of Wilson, along with his award, are displayed at Page Field today, where he has coffee almost every morning and is a welcome face.

He and his wife Jackie have been married for 63 years and live in Fort Myers.

 

— Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj

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