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 (4-AT-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, and 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.

The line 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" 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. Times were hard, though, and in December they suspended service on that route. Skyways had owned 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.

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Seaplane called the "Falcon"

Okay, readers, need some help here. The photo below looks a lot like a Curtiss Model F, but I've not found any indication in my Curtiss references that they produced a hull with a double cockpit. Likewise, the hull and interplane struts look similar to the configuration used on the Aeromarine Model 40/50, but I can't find reference to a double cockpit variant. The Aeromarine AMC had three cockpits. Boeing built a twin-cockpit boat, the B-1, but the hull shape was quite a bit different. A check through showed no corresponding planes with the model name "Falcon", so I'm guessing that was the owner's name for their fun toy. Anyone have any idea what make/model this is?

As an extra bonus, check out the three old Mark Twain-style paddle wheel riverboats in the background! This suggests that the location of the photo is somewhere on the Mississippi (St. Louis?).

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Plane vs. Balloon

In honor of the Centennial of World War I, Vintage Air will be posting a series of images from that conflict over the next few years. The article below was our inaugural post when the blog first started, and now has been updated with an additional recently-acquired image.

This image is from a stereopticon card that was published sometime late in World War I, and shows a scene of aerial combat between an American biplane and a German observation balloon. The back of the card describes the scene in rather sensationalistic terms:

"Far above the surface of the earth you can see one of the battles of the air, with the American aviator in his 'plane victorious over the German observation balloon. Swinging in the tiny wicker basket which to you seems just a dot beneath the balloon, a German officer has been watching the least little movement behind the lines of the American troops.

"It was to defeat his purpose that the American in his 'plane ventured over the lines and gave battle. Swooping swiftly, curving and diving to avoid the hail of machine gun bullets and high explosive shells with which the Germans sought to bar his path, he reached his goal and with incendiary bullets struck at the hugh [sic] gas bag.

"One of his bullets has penetrated it, less than a minute ago, for within a few seconds the balloon will be entirely consumed with the flames, an the observer will have attempted to save his life by jumping with his parachute. In the length of time that it takes you to look at the balloon with its finlike projections at the stern to add to its stability, the highly inflammable gas will have burned and the few bits of charred wreckage dropped to the earth.

"His work done, the aviator is turning to journey back toward his own lines, three or four miles over enemy territory, to report: 'One "blimp" shot down.'"

I find it interesting how the text shortened the then-popular aeroplane to just 'plane, complete with apostrophe. The balloon's design itself shows that this image was taken sometime after 1916. The Germans' own design for an observation balloon (Parseval-Siegsfeld, nicknamed the "sausage"), was deemed inferior to the Allies', so when the Germans were able to capture a French Caquot balloon (which itself was based on an English design), they reverse-engineered it and immediately put it into production, designating it the Ae800, or Achthundert English 800. Unlike their own design, the Ae800 could be lofted to 5,000 feet above the ground, in winds up to 44 mph.

Because of the vulnerability of the Ae800 to attack from Allied aircraft, the balloons were attached by cable to engine-driven winches which could pull a balloon down from 1,000 feet in under a minute. In addition, the Germans usually surrounded their balloons with a ring of anti-aircraft machine guns and artillery Because of these measures, Allied pilots usually only went after balloons when they were above 1,000' AGL.

As mentioned in the text, the observer likely had a parachute on, as these officers were the only ones that were routinely issued such safety gear. Unfortunately, the parachute technology was rather immature, and they had a rather high failure rate, so they were used in only the most dire circumstance.

The second photo (right) has the following hand-written on the back: "A balloon shot down and falling. Observation balloon wich [sic] are roped to the ground." Although it's hard to tell because of the amount of destruction to the envelope, this one appears to be one of the earlier British balloons. Presumably, since the basket appears to be empty, the observer has already jumped.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

First Airline Flight in America - 101 years later

You are looking at a very significant moment in aviation history, and one that has been almost forgotten. On January 1, 1914, almost exactly 101 years ago, Anthony "Tony" Jannus, with passenger Abraham C. Pheil sitting next to him, landed in Tampa Bay in this Benoist XIV, marking the inaugural flight of the very first scheduled airline service in the United States, and the first scheduled airline service in the world to use heavier-than-air craft.

The carrier was the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line (or SPT Airboat Line), which had been organized by Paul E. Fanzler (sometimes spelled Fansler), a business associate of aircraft manufacturer Thomas Benoist, and the new company received its charter from the St. Petersburg Board of Trade on December 17, 1913, the 10th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight. The contract was for a three-month period, during which the Board of Trade guaranteed that it would cover up to 50% of the expenses for running the airline not met by revenues. Flight time to cover the 18 miles between the two cities was a mere 23 minutes, which was an astounding leap for Floridians, as the equivalent trip by boat was over two hours, and by railroad took over eleven hours.

Pheil (left) and Jannus (right) wave just before alighting.
Pheil, a former mayor of St. Petersburg, had paid a princely ticket fare of $400, which, according to this calculator, is the equivalent of $9,321.96 in today's dollars! A whopping fare for an 18-mile hop, but then again, he could forever lay claim to the title of First American Airline Passenger. The normal advertised fare was $5 for the one-way flight, and that included you and your carry-on, both of which couldn't weigh more than 200 pounds together; if a passenger's weight exceeded that, overage charges of 25 cents per every five pounds was charged...consider that when you think about how airlines do things today! SPT Airboat Line advertised a schedule of two round-trips per day (see the link below to their schedule).

Thomas Benoist of St. Louis, Mo.was possibly one of the most shrewd of the early aviation pioneers. There's an old saw that the only people who really made money from the 1849 California Gold Rush were those who sold shovels and whiskey - and Benoist was the equivalent of the shovel salesmen to the new aeronautics industry. Benoist had initially made his money selling automobile batteries and starters, and in 1907, he and a partner set up the Aeronautical Supply Company, or Aerosco, to sell the raw materials to all the inventors and entrepreneurs who were trying to take to the air. Initially, they dealt in the wood and fabric raw materials, but eventually bought licenses to offer planes designed by the Wrights, Curtiss, Blériot and Farman in kit form; he also opened a flight school to teach all the eager students how to fly. Eventually, Benoist realized he could do those designers one better, and started designing and selling his own planes, and the whole operation was renamed Benoist Aircraft Company. Tony Jannus joined the company in November 1911 as their chief pilot.

In 1913, Benoist built two Model XIV flying boats, very similar in design to the Curtiss Model E. Named the Lark of Duluth and the Lark of Florida, the two planes were used for barnstorming for a while, until Fanzler secured the contract with St. Petersburg for the airline.

Unfortunately, as revolutionary as the air service was, and despite the fact that the airline carried 1,204 passengers without incident (and lost only four days' flying due to mechanical failures), that just wasn't enough to meet the expenses, and the Board of Trade declined to subsidize the service beyond the original three-month contract. The airline continued to operate for another five weeks, but the lack of winter "snow bird" tourists hurt, and the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line made its last flight on May 4, 1914.

The Lark of Duluth was then sold, and was operated carrying thrill seekers on Conneaut Lake, Penn. until it crashed in July 1914. Only the engine was salvagable.

Jannus left Benoist shortly thereafter, and became a test pilot for Curtiss. He was killed on October 12, 1916 when the Curtiss H-7 flying boat he was demonstrating to the Russians crashed into the Black Sea near Sevastopol, Russia. His body was never recovered. Today, the Tony Jannus award is presented annually to notables in the airline industry. And in Tampa International Airport, the only American airport terminal to house a micro-brewery, one can buy a Tony Jannus Pale Ale, brewed on-site at the airport.

Sometimes the story of a photograph isn't just what's depicted, sometimes it includes the actual physical print, as well. Such is the case with this photo of a Benoist XIV in Tampa, Florida.
Our print was originally printed on Kodak AZO RPPC paper (and printed upside down, too). Kodak had revolutionized the post card industry when it started manufacturing its paper, because photographers, pro and amateur alike, could make contact prints easily and cheaply, and then use them to mail the photos to friends and family, or sell them commercially. But, because of the size of the paper and its relatively low cost, it was also ideal for use by photographers to make proofs of their work, before enlarging them. This appears to be the case here.

Our copy of the image was cut down on the left side, and there are publication crop lines added by a photo editor. Interestingly, the State of Florida's Library and Information Services web site has a digital copy of the 8x10 press photo on file, which appears to have used the crop of our original. The caption that the Florida site includes reads, "Triumphant pilot Tony Jannus waves as he lands in Tampa on the first leg of that first regularly-scheduled airline flight in 1914."

What our copy appears to have been was the original proof that was printed from the negative, on which the guidelines were drawn to show the developer how to print the 8x10 glossies which would then be sent out as press photos (the State of Florida's source print being one of these).

And one footnote: On July 16, 2013, a replica of the Lark of Duluth crashed into Duluth's Superior Bay.

Cool links:

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Flight School Travel Air?

This old snapshot print is tiny...measuring only 2 1/4 inch wide, and came with no information about the subject. To me, it looks like a Hisso or OX-5 powered Travel Air 4000. Nice crowd of people around it suggests it's presence is an event. I'd be interested to hear from anyone with thoughts about where this was located (note the building sign that reads "Aviation Service and Transport - School of Aviation").