<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> <i>Frank Mann & Howard Hughes</i> <p> <p> Frank Mann had the deck stacked against him from the very start. A Black child born to an unwed mother in 1908 Texas didn't have much hope of becoming a success in life. In his own words: "What was there for me to look forward to but the things Black people could do in those days, like being a shoeshine boy, a porter, or a cook?" <p> When Frank was six years old, his pretty mother, Ina Beatrice Hill—who had now become a schoolteacher—did something that would change his life forever. She got married to a man named Lewis Jackson Mann. Frank now had to compete with a grown man for the attention and affection of his mother. <p> "It made a man out of me fast," Frank would later relate. "My stepfather was very jealous of the close bond that my mother and I had, and he was very critical of me." <p> Even at this young age, Frank had his own personality and mature grasp of right and wrong. <p> "When I was nine years old, I looked at my mother and father and I said that when I grew up, I wasn't going to be like them. They were uppity; they had no time for the average person on the street. Unless that person had something important to say to them, they figured that the average Joe had no business talking to them. Because they were educated and school teachers, they thought that they were better than the man on the street. I made up my mind that I was going to accomplish great things in my life, and no matter how big I got, I would always treat the other guy the way I would like to be treated." <p> The first time that Frank saw an airplane up close was when he was nine years old and living in Dayton, Texas, just northeast of Houston. "It was a World War One biplane that had run out of gas and landed in a field near our house." <p> Frank was so impressed that he began building small model airplanes out of bits of wood, cardboard, and paper. His stepfather must have thought Frank a good craftsman, because he displayed the model airplanes that Frank built in his classroom for his students to see. <p> As Frank grew, he developed a love of mechanical things. By the time he was eleven years old, he was nearly six feet tall and he spent as much time as he could repairing cars for his neighbors. This new hobby was driving Frank's parents crazy. They both wanted Frank to become an educator, like themselves. The thought of Frank growing up to be a common grease monkey didn't sit well with them, but Frank was obstinate about his new vocation. <p> Frank's mechanical activities outside of his home, which happened to be one of the more well-appointed two-storey brick houses on Wheeler Street, drew the attention of a notorious local gambler and entrepreneur, Don Robey—the Don Robey, who later became the famous, and according to some, infamous Black record producer, talent manager, and song writer. <p> Don had an eye for business opportunities and he quickly made a deal with this young mechanical whiz kid. He would supply the customers and buy the auto parts, and Frank would do the repairs. <p> Frank was doing well as a partner in the shade tree mechanic business. He had made enough money to buy his own car, and he had fallen in love with a thirteen-year-old girl he had met in school. <p> Frank was on top of his world when, one day, he saw his partner—a grown man—kissing his girlfriend. Frank became so upset that he thought about killing himself. With tears streaming down his face, he got into his car and he started driving aimlessly. He could hardly see the road. He swerved and narrowly missed a large tree. He wanted to end it all but he just didn't have the guts. <p> As he neared the south side of Houston, he came upon an airport and he saw a sign that said: "Airplane rides, one dollar." He had that dollar in his pocket and he made up his mind then and there that he was going to pay the dollar, get way up in the sky, and jump out of the airplane and kill himself. However, as that growling biplane thrust Frank into the air, it was so exhilarating that Frank forgot all about his cheating girlfriend. "Forget about girls; this is for me." <p> He had lost one love and gained another, and this new one was really exciting. <p> From that day on, Frank spent every day he could hanging around the airport. He observed the mechanics and pestered them until they let him repair torn fabric on the airplanes and do mechanical work on the engines. <p> "I wasn't getting paid, but I was learning." <p> There was another boy who frequented this particular airport. He had been watching Frank and wondered why in the hell all of these pilots were letting this lanky Black kid work on their airplanes. As Frank tells it, "You see, at that time, Black people didn't have anything to do with airplanes." <p> This other boy who was so curious about Frank would later become his best friend and together their designs and inventions would help revolutionize the world. This boy's name was Howard Robard Hughes and this airport just happened to be near his father, Howard Hughes, Sr.'s, tool company and the place where they kept their airplanes. <p> One day, young Howard approached Frank and introduced himself. The two young men got to talking and Howard told Frank that he was having trouble with his biplane. It seemed that every time Howard would let go of the stick, the plane would either climb or dive, a common problem in those early days of aviation. Frank agreed to try to solve the problem for Howard. So they set up a meeting at Howard's father's shop on Polk Avenue at seven the next morning. <p> That night, Frank was so excited that he could hardly sleep. He arrived early at the Hughes Tool Company and he had walked into a production area to look at the materials at hand. "I walked in and I thought that I had the run of the place, because young Howard was there." <p> One of the shop foremen saw Frank nosing around. He grabbed him by the arm and called him some nasty racial epithets. As he was roughly escorting Frank to the door, young Howard Hughes burst in on the scene. "What do you think you're doing?" <p> The foreman answered, "This nigger was messing around with the tools in here." <p> Howard ordered him to let go of Frank. "From now on, you are to address this person only as Mr. Mann, and you are to assist him with anything he wants to do in this shop." <p> "Yes, sir," said the bewildered foreman, and Frank went to work building the parts he needed to fix Howard's airplane. <p> Frank solved Howard's level flight problem. According to Frank, "The solution was an early form of autopilot." From this first project, a friendship began that lasted for more than half a century. <p> Throughout his career, Howard Hughes depended on Frank to help him solve problems that his White engineers couldn't. According to Frank, "Every time that I came up with a solution to one of Howard's problems, he would pat me on the back and say, `I didn't think it was in you, but you've got it!'" <p> Frank's interest in airplanes blossomed in high school. Howard Hughes financed Frank's building of a low-wing monoplane while he was attending Houston's Wheatley High School. Frank built the airplane in a garage owned by a local detective friend. To test his new airplane, Frank took it out on the street and taxied it up and down until a policeman stopped him and ordered him to, "Get that damn thing off of the street!" <p> When Frank finally decided that his creation was airworthy, he took off near the high school. He circled the school several times and then he crash-landed in a pasture. A local radio announcer reported the crash and Frank's stepfather picked up on it right away. He rushed to the scene and promptly gave this budding young aviator a whipping he never forgot. <p> Howard and Frank had a lot in common; they were both only children and they both had doting mothers. Howard's father's business ventures kept him away from home and distant, while Frank's stepfather was by nature distant and critical. The boys also both shared a love of aviation and mechanical things. <p> Howard made his own battery-powered bicycle when his mother would not allow him to buy a motorcycle. He would ride it all over his neighborhood and charge kids a nickel to ride on it. When he was fourteen years old, he showed up at a local auto dealership and, after inspecting a Stutz Bearcat sports car, he wrote down his name and address on a piece of paper and ordered the dealer to deliver the car to his home. The incredulous dealer called Howard's father to tell on his loony son. To his surprise, Howard Senior told the dealer, "Give the boy whatever he wants; I'll pay for it." <p> When Howard got the car, he drove it around for a few days and, to the astonishment of his father, he completely disassembled it and then put it back together. <p> Frank and Howard spent many hours together working on various projects. Because the White engineers refused to work with a Black man, Howard often would dismiss them and bring Frank in. Sometimes he would smuggle Frank in, in the back of a panel truck or hidden underneath blankets, so that the jealous White engineers wouldn't see him. <p> Whenever one of these long engineering sessions ended, Frank would go quietly back to his abode or a nearby hotel room, where shortly thereafter one of Hughes's assistants would deliver to him a small manila envelope stuffed with cash. Howard's White engineers would then be called back to the project and, to their astonishment, the amazing Howard Hughes had "solved" all of the design problems. <p> Howard and Frank both loved to read newspaper comic strips. Howard would bring a collection of these clippings into their engineering sessions, so that they could read them to each other on their breaks. According to Frank, he would play Mutt and Howard would play Jeff, of the famous <i>Mutt and Jeff</i> comic strip. Frank even had a small tattoo of Mutt on one of his arms and a tattoo of Jeff on the other. <p> For nourishment, Frank said that they would bring in ham sandwiches and drink bottles of beer from Howard's father's brewery. For dessert, they would eat Baby Ruth candy bars. <p> <p> <h3> Chapter Two </h3> <i>High School & College Years</i> <p> <p> In his high school years at Phillis Wheatley, Frank got a lot of help from his teachers. His auto mechanics and science teachers went out of their way to help this bright student. They sometimes even helped him after school on his various projects. <p> Frank continued to repair cars all through his high school years, and he used the money that he made to help pay his expenses in college. At the behest of his parents, Frank enrolled in Prairie View A&M, an historically Black college in a small agricultural community about fifty miles northwest of Houston. <p> At college, Frank continued to make money fixing cars for everyone from the college president to the faculty. <p> While at Prairie View, Frank built one of his first custom cars. "People would stop to ask me if it was a car or an airplane on wheels, because it had no steering wheel. It was steered by a joystick. It was painted silver and it had airplane fins. Several times, I drove it to Beaumont to visit a girlfriend. It was the fastest thing on the highway. I even had to slow it down to let the highway patrolmen catch me. They were so amused by this unusual car that they never gave me a ticket. Some of them even asked me if they could take it for a spin. I got so tired of being stopped by the police and curious onlookers that I eventually got rid of it." <p> At the end of his first year at Prairie View, Frank concluded that he couldn't learn any more there than he already knew. Frank didn't want to go there in the first place. His parents had twisted his arm to attend because it was their old alma mater. However, he also didn't relish the idea of breaking the news to them, so he tried to soften the blow with a little characteristic humor. He asked his parents if they wanted him to learn to put "sparkplugs in watermelons," because Prairie View College was an agricultural and mechanical school, situated in a region of Texas that was well known for its watermelon production. <p> Now that Frank had given up on Prairie View, he set his sights on a college that could teach him both aeronautical and automotive engineering. His only problem now was to find one that would accept a Black student. Frank finally picked the University of Minnesota, where he majored in science and studied aerodynamics. <p> At the University of Minnesota, Frank was both enjoying himself and working to the best of his ability to outperform his white classmates. He knew his work was superior, but one of his professors gave him a B, instead of an A. Frank brought it to the attention of the professor, who agreed with Frank's assessment. <p> "Frank, the reason that I am twice as stringent on grading you as the others is because you are Black and you will have to be twice as good at what you do in order for you to compete and succeed in life." <p> Frank also attended Ohio State University. Two weeks before finishing school at Ohio State, he was called into the office of one of his favorite professors. <p> "Well, Mann, I bet you wondered why I called you into my office. I bet that you thought that I was prejudiced and I didn't like you. Well, I do like you. But I saw the makings of a good man if I stayed on your back and was hard on you. Now, I want you to remember this when you go out into the world. Don't use the old cliché 'because I'm Black, they won't use me.' The white man will use you if you can make him some money, and when you don't make him money, he will fire you. You are going to file a lot of applications that will end up in the wastebasket, but somebody is going to accept you, and then you will be able to write the size of the check that you desire." <p> After graduation, Frank went to Compton, California, where he got a job with Sundstrand Corporation building aircraft components. After a year of employment with Sundstrand, Frank left and began work as an independent engineer. <p> In 1934, Frank learned that Howard Hughes was in California and he contacted him. Howard invited Frank to a meeting and gave him a job as an aeronautical engineer for his newly formed Hughes Aircraft Company. Hughes Aircraft, a division of the Hughes Tool company, would later become famous for the Hughes H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose," among other projects. <p> In the years that followed, Frank worked as an independent engineer for such companies as Lockheed, Boeing, and other California aircraft manufacturers. <p> "I never got on anyone's payroll," Frank said. "I mostly worked on design plans for aircraft, and I redesigned components to make certain that the aircraft would work properly." <p> <p> <h3> Chapter Three </h3> <i>Paul, Frank & Errol Flynn</i> <p> <p> My brother Paul was the sixth child born in our family of six boys and three girls. He was always a curious kid and he spent a lot of time hanging with my paternal grandfather, Harry, who was always around us. Grandpa Harry and Paul were buddies. <p> Grandpa loved to tell us stories of the good-old days when his family worked the Great Plains seasonal wheat harvest from Oklahoma to Canada. They were horse traders and they supplied large teams of horses needed to pull the gangplows and wheat reapers. Grandpa was born at the end of one of these seasonal runs in Winnipeg, Canada, in 1885. He spent most of his life traveling and he had lots of stories to tell us. My brothers and I would often spend part of our summer days sitting on the green grass under a shade tree, listening to Grandpa tell us stories of his adventures. As he talked, he would take a swig from his pint bottle of whiskey or take a swallow from his cold bottle of Falstaff beer. <p> One of his more memorable stories was about the time when his car broke down in the 1930s, and the famous bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde gave him a lift to Stillwater, Oklahoma. It seems Bonnie needed a match to light her cigarette, so they stopped and picked Grandpa up. He sat in the front seat beside Bonnie; Clyde was driving. He lit her cigarette and she offered him a drink of whiskey from a flask. Grandpa took a swig and thanked her kindly. The two men in the back seat didn't talk much. Grandpa thought it was funny for them to be wearing overcoats on such a hot day, and the overcoats didn't do much to cover their Thompson submachine guns, anyway. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Hidden Genius Frank Mann, the Black Engineer Behind Howard Hughes</b> by <b>H. T. Bryer</b> Copyright © 2011 by H. T. Bryer. Excerpted by permission of Grey Forest Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.