Penn's aviation innovator

Scheie and Mountbatten

Photo credit: University Archives

Hugh Laussat Willoughby was known as a bit of a high flyer in his years as a Penn undergrad. A superb athlete, he became Penn’s first broad-jump champion by soaring 18 feet-3 ½ inches at an 1876 track meet. He gained more widespread fame later in life, though, as one of America’s most famous aviators and airplane designers.

A mining and geological engineering major while at Penn, Willoughby (1856-1939) began tinkering with airplane design as early as the 1890s and, by 1908, held 14 different patents. His work even caught the attention of Wilbur and Orville Wright, who drafted Willoughby to serve on the support team for their famous first flight in North Carolina. Later, Willoughby would go on to found Willoughby Aeroplane Company and, through the years, saw his designs put to use by such famed aviators as Henri Farman, Louis Paulhan and Roger Jannus, as well as the Wright brothers. Willoughby is pictured here with the last plane he ever designed, which he dubbed “The Grey Goose.”

For more on this and other notable moments in Penn history, go to the University Archives web site at

Originally published on June 7, 2007