Friday, October 11, 2013

Great Lakes in the Lake

Great Lakes 4-A-1 NC850K in the midst of an engine power run. It appears that
this was being performed by company personnel rather than after-market maintenance
crews, based on the logo on the back of the coveralls facing the camera (see below)
When you mention "Great Lakes" as an aircraft manufacturer, most people think of the Model 2-T-1 Sport Trainer that was introduced in 1929, and which has remained one of the favorite sport biplanes of all time, going in and out of production ever since (even now, another iteration of the company is trying to get the plane back into production). But the company built other airplanes back in its heyday, and one of the most obscure of these was the 1929 twin-engine 4-A-1 amphibian. Only three were built, and there is very little information available on them (for instance, at the time of this writing, a Google search came of with a grand total of zero photos of the 4-A-1).

Compare with the logo on the left.
The company was established in an old Martin plant in Cleveland, Ohio by president Col. Benjamin Castle. According to Aerofiles, the prototype, NC851K was powered by a pair of 115-hp Cirrus Hermes inline engines, and was severely underpowered and crashed on takeoff, while be flown by Holden C. Richardson, who was the Navy's first engineering test pilot. His presence suggests that Great Lakes was developing the 4-A-1 with hopes of marketing it to the Navy.

To solve the problem, the next aircraft, NC850K (the subject of our two photos), was equipped with two Wright J-6 Whirlwinds; Aerofiles describes these as 300-hp engines, but that would make them the 7-cylinder R-760 or 9-cylinder R-975, and these are clearly only five-cylider engines, which would make them R-540s, in the 165-hp to 175-hp range. So either what is shown in our photos is an interim re-engining, or the 300-hp claim is overstated.

The original company was a victim of the Great Depression, like so many other small aircraft manufacturers. While the 4-A-1 amphibian, for what ever reason, was not built in quantity, Great Lakes built 264 Sport Trainers during the short time they were in business, and subsequent companies using the same name have continued to build more.

Readers with additional information on the 4-A-1 are invited to comment below!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Mamer's Famous Trimotor

I'm not sure which town this photo was taken in, but something special must
have been going on, based on all the cars lined up!
Airplanes can be a lot like celebrities...the more famous they are, the more photographs exist, floating around in collections and museums, not to mention the internet. The few of the Ford Trimotors that have survived the years and gone on to post-restoration careers tend to fit into this category, and photos of a few important airframes are very common - at least modern photos. Finding original shots of such aircraft from before they came famous is another matter entirely. Such is the case with the plane in today's featured photo, Ford 4-AT-E serial number 55, registration NC9612, which is shown flying with its original owner, Mamer Flying Service.

This Ford has one of the most colorful histories of any surviving Trimotor, and in January 2009 was sold at a highly publicized auction to auto collector Ron Pratte and his Collectible Aircraft LLC for $1.1 million, and it is now kept in Chandler AZ. (The auction company's website has a lot of recent photos of NC9612, and is well worth checking out. Incidently, at the same auction, Pratte bought Ford Thunderbird #1 for a cool $600K)

Nick Mamer had been a WWI pilot and served with distinction, downing three German Fokkers at Dun sut Meuse; during the battle of Argonne, he himself was shot down, surviving the inflight fire and crash due to his skillful airmanship. The French awarded him the Croix de Guerre for his service. After the war, Lt Mamer continued flying and went on to barnstorm around the Pacific Northwest. He tried his hand at air racing, and took third in the 1927 New York-Spokane Air Derby. He then started the Mamer Flying Service, providing flight instruction and charter service as well as forest fire spotting for the Forest Service. Mamer gained a bit of fame during August 1929 by flying, along with Art Walker, non-stop for five days, covering more than 7,200 miles in a Buhl while periodically being aerially refueled. 

MAT logo from this website.
On March 30, 1929, Mamer Flying Service took delivery of the first of two brand new Ford Trimotors, NC9612 and named it West Wind (the second, 4-AT-65, NC8403, followed that July). A year earlier, Nick had started scheduled airline service between Spokane and Portland under the name Mamer Air Transport, flying Buhl Air Sedans. Flights from Spokane to the Twin Cities, in Minnesota, and when the two Trimotors came online, he added service to Seattle, now advertising MAT as a "transcontinental line". Mamer had determined to establish airline service in the Pacific Northwest despite the fact that the US Postal Service had declined to award any Contract Air Mail routes. Without those routes, though, it was tough to make enough revenue during the Great Depression to stay in business.

When Northwest received a CAM route from the Twin Cities to Billings, MAT ceased offering service east of Spokane, and soon after stopped serving Portland. When Northwest started serving Spokane in 1933, Nick gave up on MAT, sold its assets to Northwest, and hired on as a pilot with them. On January 10, 1938, Nick Mamer was flying a Northwest Lockheed Model 14 Super Electra when it crashed after structural failure of the tail due to flutter, killing all aboard.

Meanwhile, in 1936, after MAT went out of business, NC9612 was passed from owner to owner for several years until it was bought in August 1940 by Charles Knox and Robert Tyce, who together owned K-T Flying Service, based in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Trimotor was at Pearl Harbor during the surprise Japanese attack, and though it was shot at, the venerable plane came through with only minor damage from a few bullet holes, which were quickly repaired. In 1945, it was shipped back to the mainland and put into storage until 1949. 

With the 20th anniversary of TWA, the carrier leased NC9612 and painted it in TWA and TAT markings and sent it on a cross-country promotional tour, resulting in thousands of people shooting snapshots of the famous Trimotor. The celebrations over, the plane was converted in 1952 into an agricultural sprayer, then in 1957, the famed Johnson Flying Service of Missoula MT turned the plane into a fire-fighting air tanker, and it spent the next decade traveling across the country from fire to fire. 

With newer and more capable air tankers available, the time of the Trimotor was over, and in 1969 it was purchased by Korean War ace Dolph Overton III, restored to pristine condition as part of Overton's Wings and Wheels collection, and was for a time put on display at the Virginia Air Museum.

The Barrett-Jackson auction listing for the aircraft includes this description of the restoration effort: "This was a no concession, no compromise restoration in which the airframe was reworked, a new interior installed and the exterior completely re-skinned, with most work being performed under the supervision of Master Restorer Bob Woods of Woods Aviation in Goldsboro, NC. The wings were reworked and re-skinned by expert craftsman Maurice Hovious of Hov-Aire in Vicksburg, Michigan. The landing gear, including the unique Johnson bar braking system, is complete and original. The original straight-laced wire wheels have tires that were re-sculpted to replicate the correct profile and tread pattern of the period. The wood paneling of the interior has been skillfully re-created. There are no modern avionics or communications gear - just what came with the plane when it was delivered from the Ford factory in January of 1929. Exhaustive efforts were made to ensure originality in every detail with assistance from Tim O'Callaghan of the Henry Ford Museum and American Aircraft Historian Bill Larkins, author of The Ford Tri-Motor book."

On the plane's last flight as part of the Overton collection, it was flown to the auction site by legendary pilot Jimmy Leeward, who was on the podium as the gavel fell and the auctioneer declared the plane "sold".

An extensive collection of photos of NC9612, both modern and vintage, can be found here.

As the plane was prepared for auction by the Overton Family Trust, this homepage for the plane was set up.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Top 10 from the 2013 Flabob Flying Circus

I'm going to break with tradition this week, and instead of featuring vintage photos in this special mid-week post, I'm sharing some photos of vintage aircraft that appeared at this past weekend's Flabob Flying Circus in Riverside, California. For those not familiar with it, the annual event at Flabob Airport is a magnet for antique and classic airplanes, and the relaxed atmosphere there allows fly-in spectators to mingle with planes and pilots the way airshows used to be. If you're a fan of classic planes, make sure to add this to your calendar next year. Since there was no judging or prizes for the best aircraft on display, I thought I'd offer up the official Vintage Air top-ten list (meaning my personal faves!).
In first place was this knock-your-socks-off, absolutely gorgeous art-deco paint scheme on a beautifully restored Travel Air D-4D owned by Richard Zeiler. Named Sky Siren, the 1929 beauty was restored by AeroCraftsman and painted by Flabob fabric and paint guru Nando Mendoza.

Second place goes to a plane that is well-known to Flabob visitors, the replica DeHavilland DH.88 Comet Grosvenor House. Built by the late Bill Turner for Tom Wathen (who owns several other Golden Age replicas, as well as the airport itself!). The original DH.88 was designed and built by DeHavilland specifically to be entered in the 11,000 mile UK-to-Australia MacRobertson Trophy race in 1934. Flying against a daunting field that included Douglas' new DC-2 and Boeing's 247.

When the race was over, the DH.88 had beaten its next closest rival, the KLM DC-2 by almost a full day, this despite having to finish the last legs with one engine throttled back due to oil pressure problems.

Third place goes to this highly modified Ryan owned by Gary Jackson. Originally an Army PT-22 (c/n 1391, AAF s/n 41-15361), it was modified by John Gokchoff's Component Air at Santa Paula with the installation of a Fairchild Ranger 6-410B engine which approximates the original Menasco engines used in the ST-A sport trainers that Ryan first built.

In fourth place is this super-clean 1930 model Travel Air 4000, owned by San Diego dentist Stuart "Cap'n Mac" MacPherson, who started his aviation career years ago flying in Richard Bach's Great American Flying Circus (hence N4321's current colors).

Fifth place (and a fair amount of curiosity) goes to this Curtiss "XF9-1" replica-of-sorts. Approximating the Curtiss XF9C/F9C Sparrowhawk, the detail that's gone into this beauty is astounding.

The aircraft's FAA registration records lists this as a John Pike-built Model 1929XF, with a year of manufacture of 2010.

In sixth place is this utterly gleaming 1946 Beech D18S, owned by Rick Loomis. As much as I'd love to own a Twin Beech, I'd hate to have to polish this one!

Seventh goes to this purple A75N1 Stearman (purple, unfortunately, doesn't "translate" well in digital photography) that flew down from Washington for the event.

In 8th place, with more gleaming aluminum is Lee Maxson's 1951 Cessna 195, which flew in from Chandler, AZ.

Ninth goes to the replica 1905 Wright Flyer which is still being built at Flabob, but which was far enough along to taxi down the crowd line. My neck hurts just thinking about trying to fly in that position.

And tenth, out of many, many more fabulous planes on the Flabob ramp, is this WACO UPF-7 from Gilbert, AZ.

Finally, we were saddened to see this beautiful 1937 Rose Parrakeet suffer a rather nasty groundloop on landing, but thankfully the pilot was able to walk away. It is seen here being righted, though one cringes at the thought of the stresses on that crankshaft! Hopefully, repairs will be forthcoming!