NBAA Convention News

Trade-A-Plane at 75: An Aviation Treasure

 - October 25, 2012, 9:15 AM
The first issue of Trade-A-Plane was just one page. Now, approximately 1.7 million copies are circulated annually throughout the U.S. and in more than 130 countries.

In 1935, when Cosby Harrison crashed his airplane in stormy weather he could not have realized the lasting impact of his adventure. His slight misfortune would give rise to a shoestring operation that would become a great entrepreneurial success–and play a significant role in aviation history. (Excerpt from the history of Trade-A-Plane.)

This week in Orlando, Trade-A-Plane–a buy-and-sell publication for aircraft and parts that Harrison and his wife, Margaret, began in Crossville, Tenn.­–celebrates its 75th anniversary as general aviation’s shopping guide of record. TAP is at Booth No. 2975 demonstrating a variety of online and print offerings and is handing out a bound compilation of TAP cartoons that appeared in the newspaper during the past seven-and-a-half decades.

Cosby Stone, grandson of Harrison and the paper’s publisher as well as CEO of TAP Publishing, said, “We’re honored and delighted to be celebrating 75 years of service to aviation, and want to thank all of our loyal customers who have made that possible.”

From a beginning on the Harrison kitchen table, TAP has grown to become a multimedia operation employing 150 people. It remains a fourth-generation, family business but has expanded beyond the three-times-a-month-issued yellow newspaper full of aircraft, parts and equipment listings to an online resource serving a variety of industries. An end-to-end operation, the aviation publication is produced in TAP Publishing’s Crossville commercial printing plant.

Harrison was a private pilot from Crossville who learned to fly in the early 1930s. Against his father’s advice, he borrowed $995 from a local bank to buy his first airplane–a 1929 Laird Swallow open cockpit biplane. In 1935 he crashed near a railroad bridge in Harriman, Tenn. Although he didn’t sustain injuries, his airplane was wrecked. Determined to repair it, Harrison had difficulty finding parts. This became Harrison’s inspiration to start Trade-A-Plane. At age 37, he and his wife began publishing the paper in their kitchen.

The first issue of Trade-A-Plane contained 76 ads and was mailed on Oct. 5, 1937, to 9,000 transport pilots registered in the U.S. An original copy is housed in the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Despite tough economic conditions, Harrison persevered with his unique concept of making his publication a shopping opportunities list without editorial content. It immediately caught on, survived, then prospered as readership expanded.

Originally published as a single 11- by 14-inch broadsheet instead of the current tabloid-size newspaper, Trade-A-Plane has always remained true to its original, non-editorial concept. The entire publication consists of classified and display ads that feature all types of new and used aircraft, as well as related products and services. Almost from the beginning, amusing cartoons have been a hallmark of the publication’s cover.

Trade-A-Plane grew after World War II as general aviation became more popular. In 1945, the company employed 13 people. Today, the company’s 150 employees handle all of the publication’s operations internally. These include sales, customer service, graphics, composition, pre-press, printing, binding and mailing.

Although Harrison died in 1984, his aviation paper is the flagship publication of TAP Publishing. Still published three times a month, Trade-A-Plane is the world’s largest aviation shopping resource. Each issue contains thousands of ads for aircraft and aviation products and services. Approximately 1.7 million copies are circulated annually throughout the U.S. and in more than 130 countries. Its famous yellow pages are often referred to as “the bible of the aviation industry.”

Besides Trade-A-Plane the TAP staff also produces similar papers for the heavy-construction (in English and Spanish), oil-and-gas and trucking industries. TAP has operated from the same location on Fourth Street in Crossville for more than half a century. The company moved into its state-of-the art, 160,000-sq-ft facility in 1997. Since then, the business has continued to expand into electronic publishing with WeatherTAP.com, a subscription weather service, and other Internet products to complement all of its print publications.

All Trade-A-Plane ads can be viewed at no charge online at www.trade-a-plane.com. o