William John "Jack" Frye (March 18, 1904 in Sweetwater, Oklahoma – February 3, 1959 in Tucson, Arizona) was an aviation pioneer, who with Paul E. Richter and Walter A. Hamilton, built Trans World Airlines (TWA) into a world class airline during his tenure as president from 1934-1947.
Frye enlisted in the United States Army Corps of Engineers in 1921, and was discharged as a corporal in 1922. He joined the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1934, was commissioned lieutenant, and in 1940 was promoted to lieutenant commander, resigning in 1952. He began to fly in 1923. In a "first," in 1926, Los Angeles aerial police ticketed Frye for flying less than 1,000 feet above the city. Frye received the first commercial pilot certificate issued in the State of Arizona - #1 - and held Transport Pilot certificate #933. Frye, Walter Hamilton and Paul E. Richter, Arizona pilot certificate #2, founded Aero Corporation in 1926 Los Angeles, with a subsidiary Standard Air Lines in 1927. Jack Frye, as pilot, flew the first commercial plane into Tucson, Arizona (November 28, 1929).
Standard Air Lines was sold to Western Air Express in early 1930. Western Air Express merged with Transcontinental Air Transport in 1930 to form T&WA (TWA). Frye was director of operations. After the reorganization caused by the Air Mail Scandal of 1934, Frye became president of T&WA in 1934 and Richter became Vice President. TWA was known as "The Airline Run by Flyers".
The airline suffered near disaster after its reputation was hurt in 1931 when Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne died on a T&WA Fokker tri-motor plane. In 1932 Jack Frye, representing TWA, sought a better aircraft and in response to this and other requests, Douglas Aircraft Company developed the Douglas DC-1 Transport twin.
In February 1934, Jack Frye and Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, with a T&WA team of Tomlinson, Fritz and Richter set a transcontinental record of 13 hours and 4 minutes flying the Douglas DC-1. In May 1934, Frye improved the score by flying a Northrop Gamma from Los Angeles to Newark in an elapsed time of 11:31.
In 1939, desiring greater control of their airline, Frye and Richter approached industrialist and film producer Howard Hughes to buy into the company. (Jack Frye stated in an April 6, 1954 issue of Life magazine that it was Hughes who approached him (Frye) in regard to investments.) Hughes' interest was airplanes, and his initial involvement was the development and financing of the Lockheed Constellation (the triple-tailed "Connies"). Frye and Hughes flew the Constellation on a record twenty-four hour 60 minute transcontinental flight on April 17, 1944.
In January 1941, he married the former Helen Varner Vanderbilt who was previously married to Cornelius Vanderbilt IV. The two were divorced and in July 1950 Frye married New York showgirl Emily Nevada Smith.
Frye received the Medal of Merit for wartime contributions as a civilian in December 1946.
After a dispute with Hughes in 1946, Frye resigned as president of T.W.A. on February 21, 1947. Frye was very well connected in Washington, however, and soon landed a coveted prize as director of one of the German corporations seized as war booty, in this case the U.S. residual of IG Farben. On April 14, 1947, he was elected Chairman of the Board of General Aniline and Film Corp, American IG, General Dyestuffs Corporation Ansco. On (July 1, 1947), he flew out to New York from his Sedona Ranch and filled the position. He retained the position of CEO and president until 1955, when the Eisenhower administration unwound most of the Alien Property Custodian.
In 1954-1955 Frye formed his own company, the Frye Corporation, (to develop a new improved version of the Douglas DC-3 airplane). Frye served the Fort Worth based company as C.E.O. until his death in 1959.
In the 1950s, Frye attempted to get back into aircraft manufacturing in Arizona. In December 1956, Grumman Aircraft agreed to produce the Frye Safari, a four-engine, fixed-gear STOL airlifter, if Frye could find financing; Ernst Zindel, who designed the Junkers Ju-52, was retained as an assistant. However, the project was cancelled. Frye died February 3, 1959 in a car accident in Tucson, Arizona, exactly 33 years to the day after his founding of Standard Air Lines. The death received limited coverage, due to the deaths of famous musicians Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly, and The Big Bopper in a plane crash on the same day. He was originally buried in Tucson, but now is at rest in Wheeler, Texas.