Biographical / Historical
Arnold "Arni" A. Cole was born on August 24, 1923, to Rolla H. Cole and Bertha M. Cole in Stark County, Illinois. Arni was the ninth of ten children. In 1946, Arni and three of his brothers--Rolla D. "Duane" Cole (1914-2004), Lester Cole (ca. 1920), and Marion Cole (ca. 1924)--organized the Cole Brothers Air Show. Their interest in aeronautics began when they were young. Two older Cole sons, Martin and John, were interested in airplanes, and Martin later recalled that these younger brothers often came with him to the airport. Arni was around five years old when he took his first airplane ride with Martin as the pilot.
Their father Rolla H. Cole was a well-established investor until the value of his investments plummeted during the Great Depression, but the brothers' interest in aeronautics continued. To relieve some of the family's economic strife, the older Cole sons left home, including Duane, who worked odd jobs across the country. Christmas Day in 1935 found him alone in Arizona with only $1.50 to his name, which he spent that day on a flight lesson. He continued working about the country and accumulating flying experience until he returned home in 1936. In 1937, Arni worked at Mt. Hawley Airport in Peoria, Illinois, and often received his pay in the form of flight instruction. Around the same time, Duane and Lester scraped enough money together to buy their own airplane and in the late 1930s, Duane, Lester, and Arni all participated in barnstorming events on the weekends.
During World War II, Duane, Lester, Arni, and Marion all participated as flight instructors. Duane first taught British military cadets in Parker, Arizona, and then joined Lester in training American troops in Illinois. During the evenings, Duane was a manager at the Streetor airport, and young Marion worked as his hangar boy until he accrued enough flight time and also became a civilian flight instructor. In January 1941, Arni enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, served as a flight engineer instructor, and was discharged on December 5, 1945.
After the war in 1946, Duane, Lester, Arni, and Marion began the Cole Brothers Air Show, which continued for the next seventeen years. In the early years, the show included Duane, Lester, and Marion as the stunt pilots, Arni as the announcer, three wing riders, and a parachute jumper. The show was known for such stunts as landing airplanes on the top of a Chevrolet sedan, parachute jumping, and car-to-plane transfers. In 1954, some members of the Cole Brothers Air Show (including Arni and Lester) appeared in the television series "You Asked for It," performing a plane-to-plane transfer that other pilots refused to do.
When a stunt pilot unrelated to the Cole Brothers Air Show crashed into his audience in 1951, President Harry Truman banned air shows. Once the ban was lifted, the popularity of air shows had declined and the Cole Brothers Air Show suffered financially as a result. Around this time, Arni left the show to become the director for the National Air Races. Lester quit the show in 1952, but rejoined it in 1957, the same year in which Marion left. In 1958, Duane moved the air show from Kewanee, Illinois, to Fort Wayne, Indiana. By this point, the show included Duane, Lester, Judy Cole (Duane's wife), Rolly and John Cole (Duane's sons), stunt pilot Bill Adams, and stuntman Eddie Craig. On August 2, 1963, twenty-three-year-old Rolly died when his airplane crashed during a stunt rehearsal, and Duane immediately ended the Cole Brothers Air Show.
Throughout their later years, the four brothers continued to work in aeronautical professions. Lester and Marion were both business pilots, and Marion became the manager of a used airplane business. Lester ended up in Sun City, Arizona, and Marion in Shreveport, Louisiana. Duane remained a flight instructor and relocated to Burleson, Texas, by 1985. He worked for the Federal Aviation Administration from 1957-1960, and was the vice president of the Pacific Air Races. In 1967, Arni had to give up flying due to health problems. He retired to San Luis Obispo, California.
Arni died on January 30, 1991 at the age of 68. Duane died in 2004 from Alzheimer's disease. In his obituary, Lester and Marion were listed among his survivors.
The Arni Cole Collection, collection 2008.01-B, James G. Gee Library Special Collections, Texas A & M University-Commerce.
Miscellaneous Johnson County, Texas Obituaries. www.genealogybuff.com. Accessed on June 24, 2011.
United States Census, 1920 for Rolla D. Cole. www.familysearch.org. Accessed on June 23, 2011.
U.S. Social Security Death Index for Arnold A Cole. www.familysearch.org. Accessed on July 14, 2011.
U.S. Social Security Death Index for Rolla D Cole. www.familysearch.org. Accessed on June 23, 2011.
Cole Bros. Air Show--The Good Old Days! www.memoriesofthepast.blogstream.com. December 2000. Accessed on June 24, 2011.