The Lyin' King

A true story about an aviation magazine editor

He had a unique way about him. He was able to not only convince America's top pilots and aviation luminaries that he was a leading authority in the art of flying, but he also published--for a time--what he claimed to be the nation's leading magazine on matters of the air. He got his start in the aviation publishing business by ingratiating himself to one of the leaders in the field. He lied about his background, painting himself as being far more educated and experienced in the science of flight than he really was. He even assumed a new name that he felt might both be more readily acceptable to his readers and might help to hide his past misdeeds.

His deception worked well for quite a number of years. He published a magazine that was, in many ways, at the cutting edge of flight technology. Even when he made false claims that he officially represented the largest body of aviation enthusiasts in the country, nobody came forth to challenge him. He was, after all, a leading authority. If it was in print, it must be true. There actually was a great deal of truth in what he wrote. Unfortunately, it was just enough that the falsehoods he also wrote passed, unchallenged, as truths themselves.

From his first introduction to the world of publishing, he grew quite fond of seeing himself pictured with the leading pilots of the time. He became so fond of this "fame by association" that he often published such self-promoting photos in his own magazine. He became a master at the art of positioning himself as a key subject within photographs of great aviators. When that was no longer enough, he would write articles in which he verbally positioned himself as a close friend or associate of some of the nation's most famous aviation personalities. He quickly learned that, by grandly flattering these flying figures in print, there was little danger that they would then expose such a fanciful personal relationship. Thus, he bought fame at a much cheaper price than that at which those around him had earned it.

Eventually he came to believe so strongly in his own stature in aviation that he dared to pose himself as an unimpeachable authority on the subject before agencies of the U.S. government. He was convincing enough in these attempts that he managed to bring the good names of well-meaning and influential men, with their consent, before these agencies as his collaborators and supporters. Sometimes he emerged from meetings with the government agencies and made claims that they also endorsed him and his proposed policies. When such claims later proved to be untrue, and the government officials rebuffed both him and his proposals, he protested that he had been grievously wronged by devious government representatives who had turned against him out of their own selfish motives.

He next became a self-appointed watchdog of these same government aviation agencies; loudly, in both print and voice, proclaiming his intent to save the nation and aviation from the ineptitude of dishonest government bureaucrats and industry officials. He eventually was responsible for several government investigations of persons within the government and industry. Although thousands of hours and dollars were expended in the investigations of his charges, none of them ever proved to have any merit. Each new barrage of accusations, however, served to place him--for a time--in the public spotlight. He managed to make some members of congress gun-shy, however, and their resultant hesitancy to become open advocates of the aviation industry--embroiled as it was in accusations of wrongdoing--set the progress of flight back substantially.

When well-meaning members of the aviation community tried to expose him as a fraud, he countered with numerous frivolous lawsuits. Although he never won any of them, he did manage to impose an expensive nuisance upon these people--thus limiting the amount of freedom with which they could exercise "free speech". But it was this series of lawsuits, and threats of suits, that eventually led to his downfall. Eventually, enough members of the aviation community came to realize that he was, perhaps, protesting too much for an honest man. They insisted on being given answers to questions that a few among them had persisted in asking for years. When those answers finally came (forced out into the open by the defendant in one of his lawsuits), they discovered that the vigorous offensive position that the aviation magazine editor had so long taken was nothing more than a smokescreen to hide his dishonorable past and his present illegal activities. They learned that he was a con artist who had bilked aviation enthusiasts out of thousands of dollars in a scam, and had misleadingly used America's foremost aviation association to promote his publications for his own personal gain.

Yet further investigation into his background showed that he had launched himself into the aviation publishing business by smooth-talking influential people in the field, and deceiving them about his qualifications and background. He was, in fact, not an aviation expert at all, but a convicted felon who made fools out of many of the country's pioneer aviators and promoters of the science of mechanical flight. The damage that Henry Casalegno, a.k.a. Henry Woodhouse, did to aviation, however, would live long after him. His behavior so damaged the reputation of the Aero Club of America (America's first national Aero Club), and those of many of its top officials, that the club was forced to dissolve in the early 1920s and reincorporate under a new name that carried with it no association with Woodhouse. The aviation community learned too late how much influence could be wielded by an unscrupulous and self-promoting magazine editor.

copyright 1995, Bill Robie    
Reprinted with permission of the author     


Updated 04-06-99