Skip to main content

Arni Cole Collection

Identifier: 2008.001-B

Scope and Contents

The Arni Cole Collection consists of photographs, personal papers, and three dimensional objects that pertain to Arni's and his brothers' careers in aeronautics (particularly their careers in the Cole Brothers Air Show) and to general aeronautical history.

The collection is organized into three series. The first series is Personal Papers, 1946-1991, undated. It includes printed material, pilot logs, correspondence, and literary productions. The printed materials includes four magazines with articles pertaining to the Cole brothers or to aeronautics, an aeronautical newspaper, newspaper clippings about the Cole family and aeronautics, programs from air shows, aeronautical promotional brochures, Arni's salesman certificate, and a ticket to an air show. The three pilot logs belonged to Arni and span the years 1946-1961. The correspondence includes letters and memorandum regarding aeronautical topics and includes letters that prominent pilots sent to Arni in response to his request for autographed photographs. The literary productions consist of one magazine article written by Arni regarding midget air racing, a photocopied article written by Martin Cole about the Cole brothers, and a personal time line that Arni began. With the exception of the latter two items, neither Arni's nor his brothers' personal lives are well-represented in this collection.

The second and largest series is Photographs and Graphic Images, 1928-1991, undated. Much of this series pertains to the Cole brothers' (Arni, Duane, Lester, and Marion) careers in aeronautics, particularly to the Cole Brothers Air Show. Photographs of the air show include the brothers, their airplanes, staff, and spectators. There are also photographs of the brothers performing stunts, but as the brothers also performed independently from the air show, it is difficult to tell which stunts were performed during the show. Another noteworthy set in this series is the photographs autographed by renowned pilots, some of which correspond to the correspondence in the Personal Papers series. Smaller but notable topics include midget air racing, and airplanes and pilots with no or unknown connections to the Cole Brothers Air Show.

The third series is Three Dimensional Objects, undated. It includes an award and an airplane mobile with Arni Cole's name inscribed on them, a flight cap which Arni wore, and a pennant from the National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada, for which Duane Cole served as the director.


  • Creation: 1928-1991, inclusive
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1946-1990,


Conditions Governing Use

Items in this collection are protected by applicable copyright laws.

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. Accessed on June 24, 2011.

United States Census, 1920 for Rolla D. Cole. Accessed on June 23, 2011.

U.S. Social Security Death Index for Arnold A Cole. Accessed on July 14, 2011.

U.S. Social Security Death Index for Rolla D Cole. Accessed on June 23, 2011.

Weddlestetter, George. Cole Bros. Air Show--The Good Old Days! December 2000. Accessed on June 24, 2011.


2 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Custodial History

Arni Cole donated this collection to Jeana Yeager. When Yeager donated her own collection to the Velma K. Waters Library Special Collections, she also donated Cole's collection.

Processing Information

Newspaper clippings and the Western Flyer newspaper were photocopied and the originals were discarded. The pilot logs contained mold, were photocopied (blank pages were not photocopied), and the originals were discarded. The archivist referenced and included parenthetical citations from the following book when describing photographs:

Cole, Duane. To a Pilot. Milwaukee: Ken Cook, 1964.


Arni Cole Collection
Caroline M. Craig
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections, Waters Library, Texas A&M University-Commerce Repository