Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Busy Day at Glendale

For a few magical years before World War II, Glendale's Grand Central Air Terminal was the hub of the aviation scene in Southern California, and so there was always something going on. On this day, probably sometime in 1932 or 1933, Goodyear's Type TZ airship Volunteer descends steeply for a landing while T&WA's Fokker F-32 NC-333N taxis up to the terminal. Just another day at Glendale....



The Volunteer (and the registration NC-8A) was actually a series of airships that all utilized the same gondola or "car", but which were equipped with progressively larger envelopes. Our photo most likely shows the Volunteer III, which first flew on September 5, 1931.



Also visible in the photo is Roscoe Turner's Gilmore Oil Lockheed Air Express (NR3057), a parasol-wing variant of the venerable Vega, and just beyond it, the window line of a Lockheed Orion, probably one of Varney Air's.



Although Volunteer wasn't based at Glendale, she was a frequent visitor. The photo below comes from the Archive's R.C. Talbott negative collection and features California Governor James Rolph getting a ride on the Volunteer; there's no way to tell whether this was on the same day as the photo above, or another visit by the airship.



Glendale had its own "pet" dirigible, the City of Glendale developed by Slate Aircraft (see our post from August 20, 2013, for a history of this ill-fated project). In the overhead photo below, the City of Glendale pokes its nose out from its hangar. Both photos in today's post come from a small collection that was saved from UPI's San Francisco bureau office just before the vast bulk of their old photo archive was discarded after the office closed.



In the view below, from Google Earth, I've tried to get the same approximate angle as in the one above.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Ace 300 That's Not a Biplane

2/24 update: in response to a comment, I've added a sharpened and contrast-enhanced image of the logo on the tail.

Another day, another mystery photo. Okay, not a mystery in that this plane’s identity is unknown, but a mystery in that all the internet resources, the few that there are, which have any information about it are, well, to put it bluntly, wrong. (Gasp, you say, the internet might be wrong?)

Anyone want to take a stab at who this gent is? I believe the location is Oakland CA.
 First stop on the research journey was airhistory.org.uk and their database of historic aircraft registration numbers. NX952Y isn’t listed, but NC952Y is, as “Aircraft Engineering Co. Ace 500”. So that’s a start. Next stop was the invaluable Aerofiles. Aircraft Engineering Co. is listed as having been established in 1919 in New York, and a year later the rights to the designs were acquired by Horace Keane and the plant moved to Long Island. The only plane listed there is the K-1 Biplane (along with two photos of this very sexy-looking biplane), and a note at the end of the listing that reads “Also produced in 1931 with Salmson AD-9 [952Y] c/n 1, and LeBlond 5D [953Y] c/n 2, registered as Ace 300 and 200 respectively.” The rest of the internet resources (such as Wikipedia) parrot Aerofiles.

In one sense, Aerofiles is correct: from our photo, it’s clear that the model number is 300, not 500. And while the listing suggests strongly that the ACE is a variant of the K-1 biplane, it’s very clear that this is not a biplane, nor does it look anything like the K-1.

In the February 1931 issue of Flying magazine, there was a news item about Aircraft Engineering Co. introducing a new plane, the ACE 200, a two-place, high-wing monoplane with a Salmson AD-9 engine, which makes me question whether Aerofiles got the engine application for the ACE 200 and 300 reversed.

And that’s pretty much it for the references I could find. So, my theory, is that there were actually two unrelated companies using the same name, the one on the east coast in the 1920s, and the other on the west coast in the 1930s, and because of the company name, and the lack of photos of the ACE 200 and 300 (other than our photo here, I’ve not seen any anywhere) contributed to the belief that the latter models were just an update of the K-1. Have a different opinion or other thought? Please start the conversation in the comments below.

Contrast enhanced, clarifying the model number as "300"

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Mammoth French Flop

When I picked up this small photo of a large monstrosity, there were two things that I realized right away: the print was damaged, and I had no clue what plane it showed. My friend and photo restoration artist Bob Cohen took a stab at it, and took care of both problems...so below is the restored image, and he was able to come up with an identity, a Blériot 74 (or in Blériot's parlance, an LXXIV)...or is it?



After doing some more checking, it turns out that this is one of those murky corners of aviation history where things don't always make a lot of sense, and there are a whole lot of places on the internet where not a lot of care has gone into accuracy in image captions. Here's some of what I found in digging into this little mystery.

First, Frenchman Louis Blériot was the fellow who invented the first practical automobile headlamp. With that invention bringing a nice steady flow of cash, he could delve into his real passion, aeroplanes. In 1909, he hit the jackpot (in fame at least), and developed the world's first successful monoplane, the Type XI, and then used it to become the first person to fly across the English Channel, claiming the Daily Mail's £1,000 prize. His company produced around 900 airplanes, most of them based on the type XI. He later came to head a consortium called the Société pour les Appareils Deperdussin, which he renamed Société Pour L'Aviation et ses Dérivés, better known by its acronym SPAD.

At some point during WWI, Blériot started thinking big, really big. Bomber big. The results of this thinking took the form of five large one-off aircraft, the Type 67, 71, 73, 74 and 75. The first four were intended to be large, long-range bombers, and the last was to be an airliner variant based on the airliners. None of these planes were successful by any means. One of these planes is shown in the photo above, but figuring out which has proved to be harder than I expected, so I'll run through them here.

The first, the Type 67, is the one that, structurally, most resembles the plane in our photo, with a fuselage suspended between both wings. However, the Type 67 used Gnome rotary engines, and flew only once, on September 18, 1916, crashing at the end of the flight. By now, you've probably noticed the "67" written by hand in the lower right corner of our photo. Was this an indication of the subject, or just a negative number (which would be an odd coincidence)? The issue is, of course, that this photo clearly doesn't show the plane to be powered by rotary engines. Maybe Blériot started out with inline Hispano-Suizas and then changed his mind? Then I found this patent drawing of the Type 67 on a Russian web page called Their Flying Machines. While photos of the 67 clearly show Gnome radials (this one, for instance), the drawing shows the smaller cowlings that were used over the in-line engines shown in our photo.

Blériot's next attempt was the slightly larger Type 71 which debuted in November 1917, but the patent drawing for this one (which comes from this Blériot page on the Arizona Model Aircrafter's website) shows a fuselage, though similar in shape to the 67, now mounted directly on the lower wing.

The Type 73, an even stranger aircraft, followed in 1918, but was destroyed when it broke up in-flight on January 22, 1919. Here's its patent drawing...clearly not our bird.  A second Type 73 had been started, but after the crash of the first one, that attempt was abandoned, and the wings, which had already been built, were used on the Type 74, a whale of a plane. And then there was the 75, the airliner version. Thankfully it was also abandoned.

So, for our photo, my money is on the Type 67, which at one point or another was equipped with different engines than it eventually flew with. Have a different thought or opinion? I'd love to hear from you via the comments section below.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Fueling Ford's X-Plane for the Navy

Since I posted a Ford Trimotor photo last week, I thought I'd go for two.... In 1927, the US Navy picked up the fourth Ford 4-AT-A Trimotor off the assembly line, designating it as an XJR-1 (BuNo. A7526).


The plane first flew on 29 January 1927 and was delivered to the customer on March 9th. After an initial testing period, the Navy based A7526 as NSF Anacostia, near Washington DC and started using it as a liaison transport for senior commanders and civilian leaders (there's record that the Assistant Secretary of the Navy flew cross-country in it at least once), often flying between Washington and San Diego, CA.

The XJR-1 didn't last long, as it was badly damaged by a tornado on 18 November 1927, with the empenage crushed and the right wing broken. The plane was disassembled and sent to the Naval Aircraft Factory in August 1929, but it was judged beyond economical repair and scrapped; the plane was officially stricken from the records on 30 April1930. In the eight and a half months of service, it accumulated 971 hours of flight time.

The Navy eventually bought eight more Fords, two 4-AT-E/JR-2 (later RR-2), three 5-AT-Cs as JR-3 and one more 5-AT-C as a RR-4, as well as two 4-AT-Ds as RR-5s (both of which have survived and are at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola. The Trimotors served both the Navy and the Marine Corps until 1937.

Some links:


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Tin Goose for Gray Goose

Gray Goose Air Lines Inc. was a luxury carrier based at Chicago Municipal Airport (predecessor of Chicago Midway), and operated this Ford 4-AT-B Trimotor (4AT-17, and thus the 17th built, NC4805) as well as a Stinson for charter work and a Laird for flight instruction. The photo was taken by the official Ford photographer at the factory on April 20, 1928, the day it was delivered to Gray Goose.




Gray Goose operated from their headquarters at Chicago Municipal and served a number of midwest cities, including nearby North Shore Airport in Glencoe, Sky Harbor (here's Frank Murcuiro's blog post with a pic of our plane at the iconic Sky Harbor terminal).  One of the airline's directors was Merril C. Meigs, the head of the Chicago Aero Commission as well as the publisher of the Chicago Herald and Examiner, and the man that Meigs Field was named after.

They also flew as far south as the Gulf Coast. The seven hour flight south was operated in conjunction with Chicago's Edgewater Beach Hotel (here's a neat blog post about that, and more on the hotel can be found here), and was much more stylish than the 25-hour overnight train Panama Limited, operated by Illinois Central. One advertisement from the time read, in part, "Direct to the Gulf Coast by Airplane / A Special Service for Edgewater Beach Hotel Guests. Rise from the Municipal Airport, Chicago, and after seven delightful hours, find yourself at the Gulfcoast. On wings of luxurious comfort, speed your way Southward, from Winter's blustering blasts to balmy summer zephyrs. Loll restfully against the handsomely appointed upholstery of your easy chair as you are wisped along with the speed of the wind. At your will enjoy exhilarating freshness of the open window or the snug comfort of the closed one. All the attendant comforts of travel are provided: heat, light, and lavatory."

Gray Goose Air Lines, Inc. shouldn't be confused with Gray Goose Airways, a fraudulent investor-bilking scheme based on the east coast during the early 1930s run by one Jonathan Edward Caldwell, which sold stock (the certificates were very beautiful, too) to raise investment dollars to develop several radical new types of planes, one of which, well, was shaped like a goose mounted on a motorcycle with flapping wings. It is a fascinating story in its own right, and one that's told at this page on Aerofiles. The two companies were not related, though some references confuse them, including, unfortunately, David E. Kent's book Midway Airport (Arcadia Publishing, page 15).

And beware the "e"...in some places, Gray Goose is mis-spelled Grey Goose, including on an otherwise attractive airline poster reproduction that's being hawked widely on the internet. 

NC4805 didn't stay with Gray Goose for long. On October 26, 1929, it was picked up by Chicago Air Service, then in December 1930 moved to United Aviation Corporation.  Four month later, in April 1931, the plane was bought by Skyways Inc. in Blackwell, Oklahoma. In September, Skyways started service using the plane to serve Wichita, Topeka and Kansas City, but times were hard and in December they suspended service on that route. Unfortunately, Skyway had the Trimotor less than a year when, on March 15, 1932, their Blackwell hangar burned to the ground destroying NC4805 and seven other planes.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Bolos over the Bay

I'm not sure why, but I find this old Army Air Corps 8x10 glossy of six Douglas B-18 Bolos over San Francisco's Bay Bridge to be quite remarkable.








While there are six Bolos that can be seen, there are shadows of 19 down on the water! That must have been quite a sight as seen from the ground, the sound of all those radials reverberating through the city below. The planes belong to the 88th Reconnaisance Squadron, which was part of the 7th Bombardment Group, based at Hamilton Airfield, near Novato, Californa.

Surprisingly, the piers right below the bridge still exist today!

The photo isn't dated, but does have a stamp on the reverse indicating that it was shot by the 45th Air Base Group Photographic Section. The 45th ABG was activated on 25 August 1940, so that could be considered the earliest date possible. The 88th RS moved, along with the rest of the 7th Bombardment Group, to Fort Douglas, Salt Lake City, UT on 7 September, 1940, so theoretically there was only roughly a two-week period when this shot could have been taken. Given the mass formation, it's entirely possible that this was the squadron's "farewell" flight over The City. The B-18s didn't have much time left with the 88th, as the squadron was in the midst of transitioning to the B-17, and some of the 88ths B-17s were among those which arrived over Pearl Harbor - quite likely flown by some of the crews on that fateful 7th of December. Because they were recon aircraft, and thus not armed, the Japanese made mince meat out of them.

Wikimedia Commons hosts the photo on the right,which appears to have been taken on the same flight. Since tail number 24 appears in both photos, but the lead plane in the photo above is 67 while the one on the right is 65, it's possible that both 65 and 67 had photographers onboard and they took turns swapping places in the formation.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Fastest Hydroaeroplane of 1912

A couple of weeks ago, we featured a photo of a Benoist XIV which was the first airliner in America. But before Thomas Benoist (pronounced Ben-wah) built his flying boat, he had experimented with mounting a biplane originally designed as a Landplane on a large float. The design was an instant success, and our photo shows pilot Tony Jannus beginning a takeoff run during the 1912 Chicago Hydro Meet. But I get ahead of myself...and how this plane came to be is a fun story.
Tony Jannus in the Benoist XII begins his takeoff run at the 1912 Chicago Hydro Meet


The Benoist Model XII (because it was first introduced in 1912) was Benoist's first original aircraft design. Before it, Benoist's factory had license-built aircraft from other designers, including the Wrights, Glenn Curtiss and Bleriot. Disaster had struck in 1911, when the St. Louis factory caught fire and burned to the ground, destroying five complete aircraft, as well as a wealth of parts and supplies...and it was completely uninsured.

Undetered, Thomas Benoist pressed forward with the Model XII project. In its original configuration, the XII was a "headless" open-frame pusher design, similar to Wright Model B and the headless-version of the Curtiss Model D. Benoist followed Curtiss in using interplane ailerons to try to avoid infringing on the Wright's patent, which claimed ownership of all designs that used changing of the angle of incidence of the wings for lateral control (the Wrights had successfully defended wing-warping as well as wing-mounted ailerons as their invention in court; Curtiss had pioneered the use of interplane ailerons as a way around the Wright's lock, but in 1913 a patent judge had ruled that even this method was proprietary to the Wrights). But unlike Curtiss' interplane ailerons which were hinged, Benoist's design fixed the inboard ends of the spring steel-framed surfaces to the interplane struts and used cables to twist the outboard ends. The Model XII was powered by a Roberts 75-hp six-cylinder liquid-cooled engine, a widely-used boat engine of the time.

On February 29, 1912 (some sources say March 1), Benoist's chief pilot, Tony Jannus (who some sources credit with co-designing the Model XII) carried US Army Capt. Albert Berry in a Model XII to an altitude of 2,000 feet over Jefferson Barracks, MO, at which point Berry jumped out to become one of the first people in history to successfully use a parachute (there is a bit of controversy of who actually was first...Berry's jump was well documented as an Army test, but there are some who claim that a man named Grant Morton successfully parachuted over Venice Beach on April 28, 1911. The uncertainty comes from the fact that the records are inconclusive as to whether this happened in 1911, or on April 28, 1912). The success of the jump helped to promote the idea of using the new technology to send soldiers covertly into combat from the air, but getting out of the airplane was the tough part. It became quickly apparent to Benoist and Jannus that exiting the plane would be much easier if the engine was upfront in a tractor configuration, and the soldier sat behind the wing, astride a narrow fuselage.

So the Model XII design was reworked to incorporate an enclosed Bleriot-style fuselage. When Benoist first conceived of the XII, he figured that one of the big markets for the type would be exhibitions, and so designed it to be modular and easily disassembled for rail transport. This, it was a relatively simple thing to take it apart and redesign how the modules fit together, adding a new fuselage. The original radiator (which had previously had been mounted just behind the pilot) now sat out front, partially blocking the pilot's forward visibility. Because the redesign was an attempt to meet a need of the Army, Benoist called it the Model XII Military Plane. First flight of the new configuration was at the end of March at St. Louis' Kinlock Field.

A couple of months later, the design was refined again, this time with the fuselage being expanded so that the pilot and passenger sat down in it, rather than on top of it, and in this configuration, Benoist marketed it as the Model XII Cross Country Plane, also known as the Landplane. When it came to experimenting with turning the Landplane into a float plane, rather than redesign the undercarriage, Benoist took a Model XII (there is some indication that it was Factory No. 35) and simply mounted it, skids and all, on a wide single flat-bottom stepped float during the summer of 1912.

In September of that year, Chicago played host to the Hydro Flying Meet. A year earlier, the 1911 Chicago International Aviation Meet had been a huge success, and like that meet, the 1912 edition included events for hydroaeroplanes  at Grant Park on Lake Michigan. After the successes Benoist and Jannus enjoyed flying from the lakes and rivers around St. Louis, it was a natural thing to take the plane to Chicago...winning, or even just doing well there, would result in national media attention, and a lot of free publicity.

Entrants competed in a number of events, as well as an overall best-of competition. Jannus and the Model XII won both the endurance and the speed competitions, and took second overall. Buoyed by that success, Benoist and Jannus decided they needed to keep the media attention coming, and so planned an event that would keep the press talking about their hydroaeroplane. A year earlier, an attempt had been made in a Curtiss to fly the length of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, but the attempt had been abandoned. For a Benoist to succeed at what a Curtiss had failed to accomplish would be a coup indeed.

The journey started on November 6th at Omaha, Nebraska, and Jannus headed south (mechanic J. D. Smith followed on the ground). During the next 40 days, Jannus flew 1,973 miles over water - establishing a new over-water world distance record - and performed 42 exhibitions at towns along the route. The flight was not without its difficulties, as Jannus suffered a bout of appendicitis, and there were the usual mechanical breakdowns. At one point, they suffered a near-disasterous fire.

The flight was supposed to also set a mark as the first ever delivery of beer by air. Benoist had lined up a number of sponsors for the flight, one of which was the Lemp Brewery, the St. Louis manufacturer of Falstaff Beer. A case of Falstaff was thus ceremoniously loaded onboard the Model XII as a gift to be presented to the Mayor of New Orleans at the end of the trip. As legend has it, however, at the end of the first day of flying when Jannus met up with Smith, the pilot was feeling no pain, and well into his 12th bottle of Falstaff. When Smith asked what they would do about the Mayor, Jannus supposedly said not to worry, that the case flew much better empty.

Finally, though, Jannus arrived in New Orleans on December 16th (one day before the 9th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight - a lot had changed in only nine years!), and he presented the Mayor with his (supposedly) empty beer case and was celebrated as a hero with his own parade through the city.

The Model XII was then sold to a new owner in New Orleans, and between the sale and the revenue generated by the exhibition flying, the Benoist company made over $17,000 on the stunt, not to mention garnering invaluable press coverage. This Missouri Historical Societ website includes a photo which appears to show the final fate of the Benoist Model XII Hydroaeroplane, although it doesn't include any information on the incident.

One of the five original Benoist XIIs, Factory No. 32, has survived, and is preserved in the collection of the National Air & Space Museum.