September 16, 1921: Aviator "Five Dollar Frank" Thomas Born

Frank Thomas

Aviator Frank Thomas was born at Lansing in Fayette County on September 16, 1921. Known by the nicknames “Flying Frank” and “Five Dollar Frank,” he flew charter trips, guided sight-seeing tours over the New River Gorge, gave flight lessons, searched for downed aircraft with the Civil Air Patrol, spotted forest fires, and did just about everything else connected with aviation.

In 1946, he almost single-handedly built Fayette Airport, which he owned and operated. Weather permitting, he took up one of his planes every day.

By the late 20th century, Thomas had also become an author, a poet, an artist, and a philosopher. His 1978 book, It Is This Way with Men Who Fly, is a fascinating and very personal history of West Virginia aviation. The legendary pilot was a colorful figure in the rise of New River tourism, best known for his $5 tours of the gorge. He kept going well into his 70s. At an age when others had retired, he said he loved flying so much that he hated to leave the field at night.

“Flying Frank” Thomas died in 2001 at age 79.