Ralph Harmon Papers

Collection Summary

Title: Ralph Harmon Papers
Call Number: MS 2016-01
Size: 2.5 linear feet (3 boxes)
Acquisition: Donated by Ken Harmon, 2008
Processed by: JZ, 8-2015
Restrictions: Box 3 is restricted

Literary Rights

Literary rights were not granted to Wichita State University. When permission is granted to examine the manuscripts, it is not an authorization to publish them. Manuscripts cannot be used for publication without regard for common law literary rights, copyright laws and the laws of libel. It is the responsibility of the researcher and his/her publisher, to obtain permission to publish. Scholars and students who eventually plan to have their work published are urged to make inquiry regarding overall restrictions on publication before initial research.

Content Note

This collection documents Ralph Harmon's career as an engineer and executive with various general aviation companies, as well as his efforts during the late 1980s and early 1990s to call for tort reform with respect to product liability.

The collection is notable for records pertaining to Harmon's role as chief engineer of the Cessna Model 620, the company's first attempt to design and produce an executive jet during the mid-1950s; pertinent documents include project memoranda, model specifications, photographs, progress reports, news releases and press clippings, cost analysis records, and charts depicting various divisional workflows with respect to the 620's design and construction. Also present are brochures for various Cessna aircraft, as well as clippings and periodicals relating to aviation.

Of further interest are Harmon's writings pertaining to tort reform and product liability with respect to the aviation industry. An unpublished book-length manuscript and a speech Harmon delivered in 1994 address these topics at length.

Finally, the collection houses recordings of interviews Harmon conducted with former employees of aviation companies such as Beech, Mooney, Cessna, and Stearman, as well as presentations he delivered to aviation clubs. All recordings are on cassette tapes and provide a multitude of perspectives on local and national aviation history; some interviews have transcripts.


Ralph Mervin Harmon was born March 2, 1913 in Indianapolis, Indiana. While in high school, he began to design and build an airplane which was powered by a Ford Model A engine and eventually flown in December 1932. In 1939 he was hired by the Beech Aircraft Corporation as a draftsman, later becoming Chief Design Engineer and Assistant Chief Engineer.

In 1953 Cessna president Dwane Wallace asked Harmon to lead his company's effort in designing and building a business jet which could compete with the burgeoning executive transport industry. The end result, the Model 620, was finally flown in August 1956, but was eventually scrapped before production could begin due to high manufacturing cost.

From Cessna, Harmon went to the McDonnell and Mooney corporations, respectively, becoming president of the latter before retiring in 1971. Afterward, he acted as a consultant for aviation companies, championing tort reform with respect to the high product liability claims which had hurt the general aviation industry during the 1980s and early 1990s. Ralph Harmon died on December 6, 1994, survived by his wife Irene and their five children.

Detailed Description: Series Listing

Series 1 Box 1 FF 1-20, Box 2 FF 1 Aircraft. This series mainly consists of records relating to the development of the Cessna 323, which was renamed the 620 in the summer of 1954. Items of interest include model specifications, a project activation memo, cost analysis and budget data, promotional material, progress reports, workflow charts, photographs, news clippings, and business correspondence. Also present are brochures for other Cessna aircraft, aviation periodicals, clippings on Cessna and Dwane Wallace, and a CD containing two Word documents of chapters not used in Harmon's Birth of the Bonanza. Company records on the 620 are arranged chronologically; all other items are arranged by type.
Series 2 Box 1 FF 21-25 Tort Reform. This series consists of items pertaining to Ralph Harmon's advocacy of tort reform during the late 1980s and 1990s. Items present include a copy of his unpublished manuscript, Wrongful Death of an Industry, a speech given to the Texas Conservative Coalition in 1994, and meeting material from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) annual industry review for 1992.
Series 3 Box 1 FF 26-31, Box 3 Interviews and Speeches. This series consists of cassette tapes containing interviews conducted by Ralph Harmon with fellow engineers and aviation personnel who worked in various companies such as Beech, Cessna, and Mooney. Also present are recordings of presentations Harmon gave to aviation clubs. Items are arranged by existing numerical order.

Detailed Description: Box and Folder Listing

Series 1 ‒ Aircraft

Box 1FF 1Model 620, Proposed Model 323 program, 1953-1956
Box 1FF 2Model 620, Budget and man-hours binder, 1953-1957
Box 1FF 3Model 620, Annual Report and press release, 1954
Box 1FF 4Model 620, Photographs, 1955-1956, n.d.
Box 1FF 5 Model 620, Cessquire, "The 620 Story," and press release, 1956
Box 1FF 6Model 620, Cost Analysis and Substantiating Data, 1956
Box 1FF 7Model 620, Brochure, specifications, and progress report, 1957
Box 1FF 8Model 620, Project Activation Memo, 1957
Box 1FF 9Model 620, Project Activation Memo ‒ Engineering Section, 1957
Box 1FF 10Model 620, Model Specification, 1957
Box 1FF 11Model 620, Status report, 1957
Box 1FF 12Model 620, Report on estimating engineering time for new project, 1957
Box 1FF 13 "Value Per Mile" brochure n.d.
Box 1FF 14Brochures, Various Cessna planes, 1961, 1970-1971, 1978
Box 2FF 1Golden Eagle 421 and 421A brochures, n.d.
Box 1FF 15Annual Report for Cessna, 1961
Box 1FF 16Clippings, 1954, 1956-1958, 1990, n.d.
Box 1FF 17Periodicals, Cessquire, 1960
Box 1FF 18 Periodicals, Flying Annual & Pilots' Guide, 1970
Box 1FF 19Table on comparative aircraft manufacturing costs, 1960
Box 1FF 20CD of two unused chapters on James McDonnell and William Lear for Birth of the Bonanza, n.d.

Series 2 ‒ Tort Reform

Box 1FF 21Correspondence, 1988-1995, n.d.
Box 1FF 22GAMA industry review material, 1992
Box 1FF 23Wrongful Death of an Industry, 1993
Box 1FF 24Speech to Texas Conservative Coalition, 1994
Box 1FF 25Notes, n.d.

Series 3 ‒ Interviews and Speeches

Box 1FF 26Tape 1: Ted Wells, interview conducted 4/15/1990 (has transcript)
Box 1FF 26Tape 4: Glen Stearman, interview conducted 1990
Box 1FF 26Tape 5: Side 1 ‒ Alec Odevseff, interview conducted 4/17/1990; End of side 1 and all of side 2 ‒ Leroy Clay and Virgil Fisher, interview conducted 4/17/1990
Box 1FF 27Tape 6: Leroy Clay, interview conducted 4/18/1990
Box 1FF 27Tape 7: Dale Westfall, interview conducted 11/4/1989
Box 1FF 27Tape 8: Side 1 ‒ M.G. Lease, interview conducted 4/15/1990; End of side 1 and all of side 2 ‒ Alec Odevseff, interview conducted 4/16/1990
Box 1FF 28Tape 9: Jack Melenric, interview #1 conducted 9/12/1989
Box 1FF 28Tape 10: Jack Melenric, interview #2 conducted 9/12/1989
Box 1FF 28Tape 12: Don Trompler, interview conducted 10/2/1989
Box 1FF 29 Tape 13: Presentation, Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association meeting in Kerrville Texas, 10/14/1989
Box 1FF 29Tape 14: Presentation, Wichita Women's Aeronautical Association, n.d. (almost all of side B is blank)
Box 1FF 29Tape 15: Presentation, Western Bonanza Society Talk, January 1988
Box 1FF 30Tape 16: Speech and Q & A session [copy 1], Twin Bonanza Association, n.d.
Box 1FF 30 Tape 17: Speech and Q & A session [copy 2; this recording is superior to copy 1], Twin Bonanza Association, n.d.
Box 1FF 31Tape 18: Stories of Mooney aviation as told by Ralph and Ken Harmon, 7/25/1989
Box 1FF 31Tape 19: Further stories of Mooney and Beech aviation as told by Ralph and Ken Harmon, 7/25/1989