Chief Aeronautical Engineer Captain Lionel Woolson

7 June 1888 – 23 April 1930

Captain Lionel Melville Woolson in a suit, sitting with his arms crossed on his lap

The Packard Proving Grounds is a site that has reached deep into the hearts of many people who found a connection here. It was for this very reason that Captain Lionel Melville Woolson had his cremains scattered
upon this site’s soil.

Born in Los Angeles, Woolson made his way to Detroit to eventually become an engineer for the Packard Motor Car Company. He developed aircraft engines that were used in several record-breaking speed planes. His final contribution to Packard in 1929 was to adapt a diesel engine that solved the weight problem in which previous efforts failed. His contributions to aviation safety were hailed as the greatest contribution to air travel, more than any other person of his generation.

Before working for Packard he joined the army air service in 1917 where he became the superintendent of ground testing of airplane motors at McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio.

The Shenandoah

Woolson designed the engines that ran the first American-built Navy dirigible known as the Shenandoah. The Shenandoah used helium to float and its engines ran on fuel oil instead of gasoline.

The Shenandoah dribble

Woolson’s Untimely Passing

News article on the death of Woolson in a plane crash

While working for Packard developing aircraft engines, due to no fault of his own, Woolson and fellow pilots Carl Knight and Harold Scutt were killed in an airplane crash during a snowstorm near Attica, New York, on April 23, 1930.

News article reprint on Woolson's death in a plane crash

Woolson’s Family

Woolson departed this world leaving behind a wife and daughter. His wife, Emma Fernande Graf, was born in Boufarik, Algeria in 1888. She moved with her parents to Detroit, Michigan in 1900. Emma married Captain Woolson and they had one daughter named Joy. Their daughter married Neil C. Talmadge, Jr. in 1950. Jesse Vincent, an engineer for the Packard Motor Car Company and who was friends with her father, walked Joy
Woolson down the aisle.

Years later, at the age of 64, on December 24, 1952, Woolson’s widow, Emma, married James Vernor II, the son of the founder of Vernors Ginger Ale. Sadly, James Vernor passed away just 1 1/2 years after their
marriage.

The connections to the Packard Proving Grounds are truly amazing! And the contributions that Packard made to land, sea, and air travel are also staggering. The Packard Proving Grounds is honored to remember Captain
Woolson’s contributions to air travel and is proud to be the site of his resting place.