Wednesday, September 2, 2015

From Glendale to London with Peace, Pingpong Balls, and the Ritz

Meet Lady Peace, a grand dame of a plane with some incredible stories that have all but been forgotten about. Seventy-nine years ago today, she left on a flight that was intended to set a new round-trip trans-Atlantic speed record.

GLENDALE, CALIF. - Heading for New [York] and their round-trip flight to London within a few days, Harry Richman, night-club singer and aviator, and Dick Merrill, transport pilot, this afternoon took off from Grand Central Air Terminal in their Vultee monoplane, "Lady Peace". The two flyers plan to fly to London over the Great Circle course by way of Newfoundland. They hope to complete the round trip in 32 hours. Just before taking off they accepted their course charts from Lieut. Commander Clarence Williams, mapmaker for Amelia Earhart and Clyde Pangborn. Their low-wing all-metal plane has a cruising speed of 235-miles per hour, and is powered by a 1000-horsepower motor. Fully loaded with 1002 gallons of gasoline the plane weighs 13,300 pounds, Richman said, and has a cruising radius of 4000 miles. Innovations include a buoyant wing and tail space lining of 30,000 table tennis balls to float the craft in the event they are forced down in mid-ocean. PHOTO SHOWS: Vultee transport plane bearing Harry Richman and Dick Merrill to New York, for the start of their projected round-trip flight to London. The plane is shown as it took off from Glendale, California today. 8-17-36 (photo from Wide World Photos, Los Angeles Bureau)



Back in January, 2013, we ran a post featuring a couple photos of American Airlines's Vultee V1-As, and told the story about how the plane came to be, and pretty much left off with American dumping the planes when the Bureau of Air Commerce banned single-engine airliners. The forced early retirement was only the beginning of the story for NC-13770, which was the eighth V1-A off of Vultee's Glendale assembly line. (And yes, it's properly "V1-A", not V-1A like may sources mis-write it).

American Airlines had been attracted to the Vultees because they were fast and, for their time, had long legs. Retirement didn't slow them down. Enter Col. (H) George. R. Hutchinson, who had a dream of establishing the first trans-Atlantic freight operation which he named the New York, London, Moscow Airlines (and yes, that was the proposed route). The new company "nominated", or sponsored Hutchinson and NR-13770 as an entry in the speed portion of one of the biggest air races of all time, the MacRobertson Race from Mildenhall, England, to Melbourne, Australia, which started on October 29, 1934. Hutchinson was to be the pilot, with Peter Redpath as navigator and co-pilot and Donald H. Vance as radio operator. Unfortunately, the Vultee is listed as "Failed to Start" - and that outcome pretty much also describes what happened to the proposed airline. (A second V1-A, Race 64, had also been entered in the MacRobertson, to be flown by H. W. G. Penny, but it too failed to start.)

Our Vultee next found a home as a corporate transport for Shell Oil, where she was piloted by Jimmy Doolittle. On January 15, 1935, Doolittle, along with his wife Josephine and Shell Oil executive Robert Adams, took off from Burbank and headed for Floyd Bennett Field in New York, with three California oranges on board. The flight set a transcontinental record of 11 hours, 59 minutes, and Doolittle flew most of the portion from Colorado to Virginia on instruments (they were also forced off course by 300 miles by the inclement weather). The oranges were delivered to Newark Mayor Meyer C. Ellenstein.

Not to be outdone, Doolittle's brother-in-law Leland Andrews took the controls of NR-13770 on February 21st and flew the same route, shaving 25 minutes off of the time, which included a stop in Washington D.C. where he delivered some orchids to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Andrews later set another record, Los Angeles to Mexico City in 8:08.

Meanwhile, singer and night-club owner Harry Richman had found that aviation was a great hobby to spend his excess cash on. Richman had hit the big time by singing the previously unknown Irving Berlin showtune "Putin' on the Ritz" in the 1930 movie of the same name (Clark Gable and Fred Astaire would also sing it in later movies). Richman had learned to fly and then began to seek a way to fulfill his dream of becoming the first person to fly the Atlantic round-trip. Along the way, he purchased a Sikorsky and set several records in it.

Henry T. "Dick" Merrill had the same dream, but as the chief pilot for Eastern Airways, he didn't have the financial resources to make it happen. The two met while Merrill was on an Eastern Airlines layover in New York, and visited Richman's club. Of course the conversation turned to flying, and the idea of not just an Atlantic crossing, but a trans-Atlantic round-trip, to be accomplished, ideally, within a total of 48 hours.It was later famously reported that Richman told Merrill, "take the plane to Europe...gas her up and fly her back. It’s never been done."

Richman agreed to purchase Shell's Vultee and sponsor the modifications needed, as well as other expenses of the flight, the total bill being in the neighborhood of $360,000. The 700-horse Pratt & Whitney was removed and replaced with a 1,000-horse Wright Cyclone giving a 215 mph cruising speed. Extra fuel tanks were fitted, and Richman had insisted that, as a safety measure, empty spaces throughout the plane be filled with the thousands of ping pong balls (the RAF had tested this little trick, with some success; the number of balls is uncertain - contemporary sources such as the caption for our photo list 30,000, while different modern websites have numbers approaching 41,000; following the flight, Richman for years sold autographed balls as a way of raising money for charity; if you watch, you can sometimes see signed balls show up on eBay).

The plane was ferried from Glendale, California to New York on August 17, 1936, and then after some final preparations and a lot of media coverage, the pair left for the Atlantic crossing on September 2nd.

The original caption pasted to the back of this Acme press photo reads: "BOUND FOR EUROPE: Dick Merrill, veteran air line pilot, and Harry Richman, nightclub entertainer, roared away from Floyd Bennett Field, New York City, September 2,  in a 1,000 hp monoplane on a projected round-trip flight to London. Their plane, the "Lady Peace", is pictured passion over Long Island a few minutes after takeoff."

Flying a Great Circle route, all went quite well until about 600 miles from their destination, when the Lady Peace encountered some rather nasty weather. After battling the elements for a good four hours, Merrill and Richman finally found themselves over the UK, but short on fuel. The decision was made to land at Llandila, in South Wales, about 175 miles shy of London. Even so, at 18 hours, 36 minutes, they'd set a record for the fastest Atlantic crossing to that date. The overnighted at Llandila and then flew on to London the following morning, September 4th.

Their goal of a 48 hour total round-trip was out the window, unfortunately, and with that pressure off, they took their time getting ready to head back west. Finally on September 14th, the left, taking off from the beach near Southport Pier, England. Again, all was going relatively well, until they encountered some very stiff headwinds. What happened next is a bit controversial, and the story varies depending on what source you read.

One story is that Richman was at the controls, and panicked in the face of the headwinds, and, dumped about 500 gallons of gas in order to lighten the plane. Another version is that Merrill was flying and had no idea why there was less gas onboard than there was supposed to be, and that it was only after Eddie Rickenbacker, a close friend of Merrill's, joined them at the scene that it was noticed that the emergency fuel dump valve was stuck partially open. So was this an intentional rookie-mistake dumping, or an accident of a stuck valve?

In any case, the bottom line was there wasn't enough gas to make it to New York. Merrill picked what looked like an open field near Musgrave Harbour, Newfoundland, but when they touched down, it turned out to be a fairly soft bog, and the Vultee ended up on its nose and suffered some minor damage. The relationship between the pilots also suffered a fair bit of damage. [Editorial commentary: I find the reference below to the helpful local Newfoundlanders as "surrounded by natives" - as if they were some exotic tribesmen - to be quite amusing.]

The caption for this Acme press photo reads: "ROUND TRIP COMPLETED: Surrounded by natives, the "Lady Peace", which bore Harry Richman and Dick Merrill safely across the Atlantic twice, is shown where it cracked up in a bog at Musgrave Harbor, Newfoundland. While Captain Eddie Rickenbacker speeds to the spot, relations between Richman and Merrill are strained because of differences which arose while they were winging westward across the Atlantic. 9/16/36."








After several days of repairs, just enough fuel was loaded on to make the short hop to Harbor Grace, since the ground was so soft and they didn't want to risk making the plane any heavier. More waiting was needed to overcome strong winds, and finally Lady Peace, escorted by Eddie Rickenbacker in a DC-2, finally returned to New York City on September 21st. But their problems weren't over yet. Merrill happened to get the wheels off the edge of the runway at Floyd Bennett, where they sank in soft mud. The plane had to be then towed to the ramp.

A trip that had been originally envisioned to take only 48 hours ended up consuming 19 days. And there's a possible explanation for why, if like some pilots of that era, you're superstitious (Merrill, as a devout Christian, wasn't, it must be noted). Merrill and Eddie Rickenbacker were close family friends, and ten-year-old William Rickenbacker looked up to Merrill as to a bigger-than-life hero. But, the boy was ill and thus unable to see the Lady Peace off on her trans-Atlantic journey. So instead, William, in a bedside farewell, gave Merrill something that he thought would bring them luck: his favorite Ace of Spades playing card, completely unaware that most pilots of that era considered that to be a strong omen of bad luck. Eddie's wife Adelaide was terribly upset by what her son had done, however. When the fliers finally returned, Merrill greeted William with a jubilant bear hug, but Adelaide began making vocal and profuse apologies for the gift her son had given him, to the point that poor young William was mortally embarrassed and the event was reportedly ruined for him, creating a long-lasting emotional scar.

In a very odd twist of irony, the Lady Peace next went to war. With hostilities breaking out in Spain, American planes were bought up in record number and shipped to Europe to join in the fighting. Vultee V1-As, with their speed and durability, were thought to make idea light bombers and ground attack aircraft, and most of the ex-American Airlines planes saw combat. Lady Peace was included, being sold with the other Vultees by an aircraft broker to the Republicans, in what became known in the press as the "Vimalert Affair", which led to President Roosevelt demanding that Congress to impose an embargo against shipments to Spain.

However, the ship that the Vultee and the other planes were on, the Mar Cantabrinco, left before the embargo was imposed, and was instead intercepted by Franco's navy in the Bay of Biscay, and thus the planes were taken over by the Nationalists. Lady Peace was re-christened Capitan Haya, after Captain Carlos de Haya González de Ubieta, one of their hero pilots who had been killed in action. Unlike the Vultee's namesake, the plane survived the war, and continued in the service of the Spanish Air Force, until being unceremoniously scrapped in 1953.

In 1937, a Hollywood film about the flight of the Lady Peace was produced and released under the name Atlantic Flight...and it starred none other than Dick Merrill as himself. Merrill went on to set a number of aviation records, including logging one of the highest totals of flight hours of any pilot in history (a nice mini-bio can be found here).

Only one Vultee V1-A survives, a special custom version built for William Randolf Hearst. Eventually, it was acquired by the Virgina Aviation Museum, of which Dick Merrill was a co-curator. The plane was restored and rechristened Lady Peace II, and for a time was flown at airshows by Merrill.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Tragedy and Triumph of the Dole

Eighty-eight years ago today, on August 16th 1927, one of the most tragic events of the Golden Age of Aviation began, an air race from California to Hawaii which, in the weeks before and after, dominated the American press.

8x10 press photo of the start of the Dole Air Race in Oakland, California on August 16, 1927. Caption pasted on the back reads, "General view of flying field where four planes took off for Honolulu in the Dole $35,000 prize air derby. The Oklahoma is seen on the starting line, with other planes in rear awaiting their turn. Underwood photo."


With the Atlantic Ocean conquered by Charles Lindbergh only three month earlier, the next biggest prize was the next biggest ocean, the Pacific. James D. Dole, the American entrepreneur who, with his Hawaiian Pineapple Company, had taken a South American fruit and turned it into a major plantation crop on the Hawaiian Islands. Dole was, however, at the mercy of the shipping lines, especially Matson, to get his crop to the mainland, and when Lindbergh won the Orteig Prize by demonstrating that aviation could conquer oceans, Dole realized that aviation could also, one day, delivery pineapples, and so should be encouraged. Thus, he posted a purse of $35,000 ($25,000 for first place, $10,000 for second place) for the first two planes which successfully flew from Oakland to Honolulu, a distance of about 2,400 miles, and which met a number of very specific criteria.

The irony is that the Army had already been planning such a flight, and utilized a large Fokker C-2 Trimotor known as the Bird of Paradise, flown by Lt. Albert F. Hegenberger and Lt. Lester J. Maitland. The pair successfully completed the flight in a time of 25 hours, 50 minutes, flying from Oakland to Wheeler Army Air Field. Because they didn’t land at Honolulu, they were disqualified from winning the Dole prize, but did secure the 1927 Macay Trophy, an annual award presented by the Air Corps (now Air Force) for the most meritorious flight of the year, as well as each receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross (Hegenberger would also go on to win the Collier Trophy for his work in developing blind flying techniques).

The first civilian flight to make it to the Islands also failed to secure one of the Dole prizes. Ernie Smith and Emory Bronte flew a Travel Air 5000 named The City of Oakland, departing on July 14, 1927. After a flight of 25 hours, 36 minutes they found themselves over the island of Molokai and out of gas, and with no airfields to land at, they had to settle for putting the plane down in some trees. And, of course, since they didn’t land at Honolulu, they, too, were disqualified from the Dole prize.

The City of Oakland departs its namesake in a bid to become the first civilian aircraft to fly across the Pacific to Hawaii. The goal was Honolulu, and they almost made it (see below).

"July 23 - Resting place of Smith's plane, City of Oakland, in a tree on the island of Molokai". Photo also includes an editorial note: "These four pictures [the archive only has one] of the Smith flight to the Hawaiian Islands were rushed by steamer back to the mainland, and thence by fast mail to all points."


For the rest of the teams planning on competing for the prize, a derby-style takeoff was planned for August 16th. In an expression of city pride, Oakland built a 7,020 foot runway, the longest in the world at the time, just for the event. To determine the order of departure, a drawing was held by the NAA at the Matson Building in San Francisco, an odd twist given Dole’s motivation for offering the prize.


Before the race even started, three planes, The Spirit of John Rogers, The Angel of Los Angeles and The Pride of Los Angeles (a unique twin-engined 22-passenger CF-10 triplane) crashed, resulting in three deaths and two injuries. Another, The Air King (City of Peoria) was disqualified by the race committee because they believed it couldn’t carry enough fuel for the trip. At least one other crewman was disqualified for not meeting skills requirements.

"Aug 11 - Disaster overtakes the 'Hoot' Gibson Triplane, Pride of Los Angeles as it attempts a landing at Oakland Airport after flying north from Los Angeles to enter the Dole fllight to Honolulu. Pilot James L. Giffin and companions prepare to abandon ship after crashing in the water a few yards from Oakland airport. Picture shows flyers, plane, shore, and runway of field in background, with swimer from shore bringing line to flyers. (Acme)"


On August 16th, a huge crowd - a large as 100,000 by some press reports - had gathered at the Oakland airport to see the racers take off. Oklahoma, one of two Travel Air 5000s competing, was flown by Bennett Griffin and navigated by Al Henley, was first, taking off just after 11am. They didn’t get far, though: the engine started overheating over San Francisco, and Griffin turned back.

The Travel Air 5000 Oklahoma waiting on the starting line. One of two Travel Airs sponsored by the Phillips Oil Company, Oklahoma turned back with a misbehaving engine.


Second in the lineup was El Encanto, a custom-built Goddard Special flown by Norman Goddard and navigated by Kenneth Hawkins. The odds-makers, before the race, had heavily favored this unique monoplane, but it didn’t even get off the ground, swerving and crashing on its takeoff roll.

Virtually the same thing happened to the Pabco Pacific Flyer, one of a pair of Breese-Wilde Model 5s entered. The plane was being flown solo by Livingston G. Irving, son of the mayor of Berkeley. Since Livingston was a decorated WWI pilot, he was able to qualify to fill both the pilot and navigator positions, so flew solo in order to be able to carry more fuel. But, fuel was his undoing. The plane was very heavily loaded, and on its first attempt he was not able to lift off, instead running off the end of the runway.

Fourth was the Hearst Papers’ Golden Eagle, the prototype Lockheed Vega, with Jack Frost and Gordon Scott. Unique and far advanced in both design and construction, Golden Eagle was filled with safety features and was another favorite to win, since it was clearly the fastest plane in the field of competitors.

The prototype Lockheed Vega, Golden Eagle, is delivered factory-new to the Oakland airfield, still wearing its original X-2788 registration. From left to right are race pilot Jack Frost, Lockheed test pilot Eddie Bellande, principal designer Jack Northrop, Allan Loughead (aka Lockheed) and Ken Jay.


Miss Doran, a Buhl, was fifth, and it too experienced engine problems right after takeoff. Flown by Auggy Pedlar with Vilas R. Knope as navigator, the plane was named for Mildred Doran, a Michigan schoolteacher who was to be the only woman, and the only passenger in the race.

Next was Dallas Spirit, a monoplane custom-built by the Swallow Airplane Company to fly in two prize flights: the Dole, and a $25,000 offering by William Easterwood for the first plane to fly from Dallas to Hong Kong. Flown by William P. Erwin and navigated by Alvin Eichwaldt, the Dallas Spirit fell victim to a mis-installed panel on the fuselage, which led to a large portion of the skin fabric ripping off shortly after takeoff. They were able to return to Oakland safely, but repairs would then take too long.

The Aloha takes off from Oakland.


Aloha, the second Breese-Wilde Model 5 then took off with Martin Jensen and Paul Schluter. Schluter wasn’t an aviator, but rather was a marine navigator who had seen an advertisement in the newspaper placed by Jensen. They were followed by the other Travel Air 5000, the Woolaroc, named after the Oklahoma ranch of sponsor and oilman Frank Phillips, and crewed by Arthur C. Goebel and William V. Davis, Jr. Phillips, of Phillips Petroleum, had sponsored both Wollaroc and Oklahoma as way of promoting the company’s Nu-Aviation brand of gasoline.

This Acme press photo is dated August 9, 1927, but doesn't give an location of where it was shot.


Miss Doran, her engine now fixed and running smoothly, departed a second time, followed by the Pabco Pacific Flyer. Since the plane wasn’t damaged when it ran off the end of the runway earlier, it was towed back to the starting line for another try. This time, Irving tried to lift off without sufficient airspeed, immediately stalled and landed hard, collapsing the gear.

So after all the hoopla, drama and carnage at Oakland, four planes were in the air and heading west, Golden Eagle, Aloha, Woolaroc and Miss Doran.

In Honolulu, there was great expectation the next day, and scores of people went to the field to await the arrival of the four contestants. Only two showed up. The first was Woolaroc, which had flown a great circle route in 26 hours, 17 minutes. Almost exactly two hours later, Aloha also arrived, having flown a more “direct” route (Schluter should have know better, and as a result, out of the $10,000 second place prize, Jensen only paid his navigator the advertised fee of $25!).

The Aloha arrives in Honolulu.











Photo donated by Vonrad Trading Post
Photo donated by Vonrad Trading Post
To the distress of everyone, both the Golden Eagle and Miss Doran were no-shows, and officially listed as missing. Another $50,000 in reward money was posted by various parties to help spur the search for the missing planes and fliers. In Michigan, the loss of school teacher Mildred Doran was taken hard, an eerie foreshadowing of the reaction decades later at the loss of Christa McAuliffe in the Challenger accident. The Navy Secretary E. W. Everle authorized the largest ever search effort, and tasked three submarines, and several destroyers already on patrol in the Pacific with searching. All 28 patrol planes from the carrier USS Langley were launched, but despite all the effort, no sign was found.

The repairs to the Dallas Spirit took two days, and even though the prize money was all claimed, Erwin and Eichwaldt decided to make the flight anyways, and on the way try and search for the missing planes. After Hawaii, they planned to press on to their other goal of Hong Kong. Livingston Irving donated the short-wave radio from the Pabco Pacific Flyer, so that they could make calls in case they found signs of the lost planes. When they were about 650 miles west of Oakland, Eichwaldt sent out a call that the plane had gone into a spin, but that Erwin had managed to recover. This was followed shortly afterwards by another call, that they were in a spin once more. This message was interrupted midway through, presumably because the plane either broke apart or crashed into the water. No sign of wreckage was ever found. In the aftermath, the Dallas Spirit had been built by Swallow on the condition that the company receive some of the prize money from both the Dole and the Hong Kong flights. The loss of the plane - and thus the promised cash - was enough that Swallow had to declare bankruptcy.

No sign of Miss Doran was ever found, either. However, there is an enduring mystery surrounding the Golden Eagle. There were some indications that Frost had actually reached Hawaii...the big island, that is, and had crashed on the side of the Mauna Loa volcano. In the days after the race, reports started filtering in that people had heard an airplane engine over the island, that there had been sightings, one of which even said that the tail number, NX-913, had been seen (this was dismissed, because the number was so similar to the Aloha’s, NX-914). However, at least seventeen different witnesses, at different locations around the Big Island, reported seeing Very flares (named for Edward Very, the US Navy officer who had invented the flare gun) on the night of August 18th, and again on the night of the 21st.

Army Captain E. R. Block, who was stationed on the island, saw the flares, and was convinced that a plane was down, and he and a sergeant started out on foot up the mountain. Their mission, however, was interrupted when the sergeant suffered an appendicitis and they had to return to post. Relatives of the crew, and even Martin Jensen himself, became more and more convinced that the Golden Eagle had indeed gone down on Mauna Loa. Unfortunately, the 13,680 volcano was active at that time, and besides the steam and lava coming from its crater, the flanks were typically shrouded in fog, making an air search impossible during the rest of August. Careful interviews of the witnesses, which included testing their recognition of lights and flares fired in test from the mountain, all pointed to actual flares having been fired in a fairly defined area at the 8,000 foot level, in an area that was still a very hot lava flow.

No physical evidence of the Golden Eagle was ever found, but then again, a wooden airplane landing in that volcanic hell would have likely been quickly obliterated. Two years later, search efforts were still being undertaken, the final one including a large flight of Army mapping planes which photographed a 10-square mile area of the mountain with large-format cameras. Detailed scrutiny of the photos failed to provide even a single clue.

The Aloha was subsequently converted to a passenger plane and was used by the Hawaiian Air Tours company, before being returned to the US, where it served as an aerial photography platform for the New York Daily News. It was destroyed in a hangar fire in 1933.

Woolaroc is the only surviving plane of the race, and is on display at the Woolaroc Ranch Museum in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.


Friday, July 31, 2015

Flight of the Pterodactyl

Photographs are fragile things, and some of the ones I come across have almost succumbed to age and elements. It's always a joy to find a unique one and digitize before it completely crumbles to dust, and such is the case with this photo, of the very unique 1932 Westland-Hill Pterodactyl Mark V.

A lot of people died in stall-spin-crash accidents in the early decades of aviation, making the idea of a safe, stall-proof airplane something many inventors strove for. (It still is a goal today - for instance, that's the primary reason Burt Rutan pursued his early canard designs). British inventor Captain Geoffery T. R. Hill believed that the answer lay in the concept of a flying wing, as opposed to the more traditional aircraft configuration. Hill was, no doubt, influenced by the earlier development of the Dunne flying wings, which sought the same safety goals, and which ultimately led to a Curtiss attempt at developing a safe "everyman's" airplane in 1930 (See our April blog post The Birth of the American Flying Wing).

Hill began small, and called his series of aircraft the Pterodactyl. The first one was initially tested as a glider in 1926, and then modified to incorporate a 30 hp engine. The British Air Ministry was suitably impressed, and offered to fund the development, as long as Hill worked through Westland Aircraft, where he then hired on. Subsequent versions, beginning with the Westland-Hill Pterodactyl Mark I, refined the concept through the beginning of the 1930s, but all were relatively small, low-powered aircraft. 

This all changed with the Mark V. The Air Ministry specified a fighter plane based on the concept, to be powered by a huge (given the size and weight of the plane) 600 hp Rolls Royce V-12 Goshawk engine. The tailless design allowed for a defensive machine gun turret to be mounted behind the pilot (missing from this photo), and there were plans to build a complementary version with a pusher prop and a turret in the nose.

Unlike the previous models in the Pterodactyl series, the Mark V included a stubby, straight sesquiplane lower wing. Roll and pitch control was through elevons and yaw control was through wingtip fins, each of which could only move outward. Initially, the fins were almost all rudder, but this design evolved to include a lower fixed fin.

The contract was awarded by the Air Ministry in 1931 with serial number K2770 being assigned to the project, and work started in 1932. By fall of that year, the plane was put through its paces in taxi tests and during one of these, the Pterodactyl hit a bump in the turf which caused the left wing to crumple due to a miscalculation in the structural stress analysis. By the time the wing structure was redesigned, another sixteen months had gone by, and the plane finally took its maiden flight in May, 1934.

The Mark V failed to impress the Air Ministry, however. It suffered from excessive pitch sensitivity inherent in flying wing designs, and was not nearly as fast as had been expected, turning in a top speed of only 165 mph. The RAF's Hawker Hart light bomber was a good 20 mph faster than this supposed fighter. The nose and engine were then extended forward in order to try to solve the pitching issues, and additional vertical fences were added to the bottom of the wings. The problems continued, however, and work on the Mark V was finally cancelled, after which plans for larger versions, including a twin-engine sea plane and a four-engined airliner capable of transatlantic flights, were abandoned.

YouTube has some footage of the earlier Mark 1A, which is the only plane of the Pterodactyl to survive, now preserved in London's Science Museum.



Friday, July 10, 2015

Remembering the Marshall Mars

I have to confess, I’m a sucker for flying boats, and especially really big ones. So when my brother showed up with these three original US Navy 8x10 prints of the Marshall Mars from 1948, I was ecstatic. As the Navy’s largest flying boats, with two that have survived into the 21st Century, the Mars story is one that’s been well-told, but even so, I figured these three photos were worthy of a post, especially since none of them show up in a Google image search.

This official US Navy photo is dated May 26, 1948 and per the handwritten notation on the back, shows "Refloating the Mars after engine change".


At the time they were built, the Martin Mars were the world’s largest production aircraft, and they continued to hold that title until the first flight of the Boeing 747. The Navy had originally ordered the type as an armed patrol bomber three years before America was drawn into WWII, but when war materialized, the Admirals realized that their needs in the Pacific were different - there just wasn’t the demand for a big, slow bomber, but there was a lot of logistics supplies to move over a lot of wide ocean. In addition, with the constant threat of U-Boats in the Atlantic, planners were intrigued by the idea of a large cargo plane that would be immune to German torpedoes.

Another US Navy photo, with the same date and caption as the one above.



The prototype XPB2Y-1R Mars, dubbed The Old Lady, had been delivered about a month before the attack on Pearl Harbor, but little was done quickly for the follow-on production order. When it finally came, it was for twenty aircraft configured to haul large amounts of cargo and troops across the Pacific, and the first production JRM-1 Mars wasn’t delivered until July 27, 1945, a month and a half before VJ Day (this was the first Hawaii Mars; she sank in the Chesapeake Bay during a landing accident only two weeks after delivery).

This official US Navy photo is dated May 25, 1948 and depicts "Beaching the Marshall Mars".


The Archive also has a couple small snapshots showing a Mars
at Pearl Harbor, but unfortunately these small prints are not
clear enough to tell which Mars is seen.


With the war over, the Navy cancelled most of the order. Six planes had been built, with several more in various stages of production. Unlike other Navy aircraft, the Mars were treated more like ships, and were given individual names, after various Pacific islands. The Marshall Mars (BuNo 76822) was the fourth production bird by serial number, but the second one delivered when it arrived in early February 1946, but would only serve for just over four years. Assigned to squadron VR-2 and based at Naval Air Station Alameda in California, the Marshall Mars set a new world record for payload lifted on her second flight, carrying 27,427 pounds from California to Hawaii (the previous record was held by the prototype, The Old Lady; it would later be broken by the last aircraft delivered, the Caroline Mars).


Another snapshot from Pearl Harbor, again not clear enough
to tell which Mars is shown.
While building the JRM Mars, Martin also considered the idea of offering a derivative model as a civilian airliner, which would have been powered by the larger R-4360 Wasp Major engines, the most powerful production piston engines built. Martin went so far as to order the long-lead-time components for the first airliner, including the engines. But the demand for large airliners simply didn't materialize after the war, and when Martin delivered the Caroline in 1948, they used the R-4360s, and the plane was designated a JRM-2. The bigger engines allowed for heavier loads to be carried farther, which pleased the Navy, and so shortly thereafter, the other JRM-1s were upgraded with the Wasp Majors as JRM-3s. I have not found a specific date for when this was accomplished on the Marshall Mars, but since our three photos are dated May 25 and 26, 1948, and the occasion for the operation shown was an "engine change", it's entirely possible that this is when the more powerful engines were installed.

On April 5, 1950 the Marshall was flying near Oahu when a fire broke out in one of the engines. On-board fire suppression systems did little to stem it, and the crew set down in Ke’ehi Lagoon, just off of Oahu, and then abandoned ship. The fire continued to spread until it reached one of the fuel tanks, which then exploded in rather dramatic fashion, and the airframe broke apart and sank.

The nose of the Marshall Mars as it looked in December 2004.
Courtesy NOAA/HURL
The Marshall Mars was rediscovered in 2004 by a joint survey team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), University of Hawaii and the National Park Service who set out to document various ocean-floor wreck sites off of Oahu, near the final resting spot of a Japanese midget sub which had been rediscovered in 2002.

Pieces of the Marshall Mars were first spotted in August, 2004, and then early the following December, over a two-day period, archeologists from the joint team explored various wreck sites using two submersibles from the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL; operated jointly by UofH and NOAA), the Pices IV and Pices V, documenting the sites’ location and condition and creating an inventory of surviving artifacts.

Courtesy NOAA/HURL
The Marshall Mars was found at a depth of about 1,400 feet, and although five and a half decades has led to a lot of marine creatures claiming the old plane as home, the name Marshall could still clearly be read on the nose section, which rests inverted on the ocean floor. The site, along with other similar flying boat wreck sites, are considered protected cultural resources under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.

No post about the Mars would be complete, of course, without at least mentioning the current state of affairs with the two surviving Mars airframes, Hawaii Mars II and Philippine Mars, and a couple of fabulous photos of the former.

While not vintage photos, these two images, courtesy of my friend and fellow Antelope Valley aviation photographer Jim Mumaw, are destined to become classics. Jim traveled to Southern California’s Lake Elsinore in 2007 where the Hawaii was being used to fight a series of severe wildfires burning in the San Diego area, and he found that the Coulson crew had to use just about every foot of the lake for their operations, necessitating this rather dramatic approach over a hill to the edge of the water.

Copyright 2007 by Jim Mumaw, used with kind permission

Now, after a career as firefighting air tankers in Canada, a career which lasted much longer than their original one, time and technology have caught up with the two boats, and owner The Coulson Group has retired them from active service. One, the Philippine Mars, was destined for the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola and has been beautifully repainted in her original US Navy blue livery.

Copyright 2007 by Jim Mumaw, used with kind permission
The fate of the other, the Hawaii was a bit more uncertain (at the time of this writing, a spate of wildfires has made it possible to bring the Hawaii out of retirement, and Coulson has secured a contract for its operation from the Provincial government), but since their contribution to Canada has been so long and so significant, there is a lot of interest in making sure she ends up in a Canadian museum. This past May, politics reared its ugly head when Canadian Heritage Minister Shelley Glover put the brakes on the transfer of the Philippine to the Florida museum, in order to ensure that the Hawaii would be staying in Canada. As of this writing, it doesn’t appear that the impasse has been settled...so stay tuned.

More information and resources

  • A well-filmed recent documentary:
  • A Coulson-produced promo video:
  • A video of a water-drop demo and flyby:

Friday, June 19, 2015

From Air to Wax: Remembering Logan Fleming

Ed Note: Readers of Vintage Air may have, from time to time, noted that the Archive enlists the assistance of my brother and fellow historian Eric Radecki to dig up and procure aviation related antiques and photographs – it helps that he and his wife own the Vonrad Trading Post, an antiques and collectables business, with locations both online and traditional a “brick and mortar” affair at the Hanford Antique Emporium located in Hanford California. Today's story is not only resourced by Eric, but for the first time written by him as well.

Every collector, dealer, historian, or archivist’s dream is to stumble across a treasure trove or horde of items belonging to one single person, and even better when that person can be identified or recognized by the public. While obscure stories and people are always interesting to dig up and research, it is truly fascinating to find something previously unknown which belonged to a public or notable figure. Such is the case with today’s post.

Fleming's original “Stateside” dog tags, private purchase 
sterling silver ID bracelet, and ID fob from Long Beach AAF.  
This trove was found in a typical Army-issue WWII footlocker purchased at the Long Beach antiques show, in the shadow of the old McDonnell Douglas hangar, which is rather ironic, as you'll see in a minute. Contained inside was the discarded bits and pieces of a US Army Air Force Sergeant who served in WWII. At first, the name Logan Mills Fleming didn't mean anything to me, and was merely another long forgotten name from a different time. Many pieces of uniforms, insignia and paperwork were stuffed into the footlocker, and of course, photographs. While not all too interesting or historic in nature, these were filed away as the rest of the contents were inventoried.

What really caught my attention and triggered this story, however, were a few rather high-quality hand drawn cartoons, the kind that you don't see anymore, the kind that graced the wartime pages of such magazines as Yank, Life, Look, and the Saturday Evening Post, as well as many other publications of the time. These cartoons were pen and ink on paper and looked to be mostly unfinished. There was even a rejection letter from Yank Magazine for what I can only assume to be a cartoon submitted to the editors for consideration. The quality of the cartoons in the trove and the rejection letter led to a cursory internet search of Logan Fleming, to see if his cartoons had ever actually been published.
An original, unpublished Fleming cartoon
Short and sweet rejection letter!
As it turned out, Fleming was not to be a cartoonist, and that part of his brilliant artistic career may have faded, but following the war years with (presumably) the use of the GI Bill, Logan attended the short lived Jepson Art Institute in Los Angeles, which was open from 1945 to 1953. A commercial artist's living was made by Logan as he found employment with Pacific Outdoor Advertising, one of the Los Angeles area's largest billboard advertising firms at the time. In 1962 Fleming sought out a new career as art director and sculptor/designer for the now-defunct (but nevertheless famous) Movieland Wax Museum, located just north of Knotts Berry Farm on Beach Avenue in Buena Park California. The Wax museum closed on October 31, 2005 after 43 years and over 10 million visitors. Logan had worked the wax for over twenty years sculpting countless celebrity likenesses, and many of his works live on today at other Wax museums and private collections, since most of the inventory was sold at auction in 2006.

Members of the 556th AAF Base Unit, 6th Ferrying Group Air Transport Command pose for a group photo with C-47B 43-16371 (c/n 20837), presumably at Long Beach AAF. Logan standing to the right of the propeller blade wearing an A-2 flight jacket and brimmed visor cap. Of interest is the woman, presumably a squadron civilian secretary as she is not wearing a Woman's Service Corps uniform.


US Army Air Force C-47 B s/n 43-16371, presumably taken at 
Long Beach Army Air Field circa 1945. This aircraft shows the 
Military Air Transport insignia on its nose and an unknown 
crewman posing for a “Kilroy” impersonation.  The C-47 was 
involved in a couple of postwar indications of incidents, one on 
October 18, 1952 and another on Jun 22, 1953 at White River 
Junction , VT flown by Nathaniel H. Lebish, while based at 
Mitchell AFB, NY   
Logan was born at Seaside Hospital in Long Beach, CA on September 25 1923 to Albert and Ethel Fleming, and on January 18, 1943 he joined the US Army Air Force and served until February, 8 1946, when he was separated at Camp Beale, CA. Fleming served as a Flight Traffic Clerk with the Military Air Transport Command. He was assigned to the 556th AAF Base Unit, 6th Ferrying Group Air Transport Command, Long Beach Army Air Field.

According to his Army separation Qualification Record, his duty description was: “Made up manifests for passengers, worked stop stick to arrive at proper weight and balance of plane, filled out weight and balance form, kept track of priority of cargo, acted as steward to passengers in flight, also acted as alert crew to airplane at times, filled out log of airplane, and ties down cargo." In addition, he also spent time working at Douglas Aircraft's Long Beach plant where he produced blue prints, and as well worked on the B-17 final assembly line, installing oxygen equipment. It seems that while Fleming was destined to never leave the US during the war, his service, along with many other veterans who never deployed to foreign shores, was vital to the war effort.

Flemming passed away in December, 2011 in Long Beach at the well-lived age of 88. He was survived by his wife, three children and two grandchildren. If any family members happen upon this blog post, drop us a line via the comments below...we'd love to hear more about the life of Logan. It seems quite fitting that this man was born and died in Long Beach, served at Long Beach AAF and worked in the Douglas Factory. And his trunk full of memories was rescued in Long Beach as well. It certainly is a small world, sometimes!

More info and reading about Logan Fleming:

  • A biography written by Suzan Sumner Ferry entitled The Day the Stars Stood Still on Logan Flemings life and accomplishments as a wax artist is available on Amazon.
  • A good video outlining Logan's work at the Museum can be found here on YouTube.
  • A general documentary on the Museum is here.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Teenie Weenies and their Silver Trimotor Adventure

It's not everyday that the world of vintage children's books, Sunday comics and aviation history collide, but today, the 101st anniversary of the debut of the Teenie Weenies, is one such day.


The Teenie Weenies are all-but-forgotten in busy 21st century America, where Facebook memes have replaced Sunday morning newspaper comics as childhood entertainment fare. But 75 years ago, they were household names, everyone knew the characters, and children all over America looked forward to the next Sunday morning comic adventure of these miniature people who lived in a town built out of old food containers safely hidden under a rose bush in the garden.

Created in 1914 (they made their publishing debut on June 14th of that year in the Chicago Tribune) by children's writer and illustrator William Donahey, the adventures of the Teenie Weenies populated kids' books, school readers and of course the Sunday comics until Donahey's passing in 1970. In 1924, though, the Tribune discontinued the comic series for a time, and with Donahey still needing to make a living, and with their popularity and the nature of their architecture, it was a natural progression for him to license the characters for commercial promotions and advertising.
One of the companies to quickly take advantage of the opportunity was Reid, Murdoch and Company, owners of the Monarch Foods brand. Many of the "buildings" in the Teenie Weenies' town were recycled food containers, so it was a perfect branding opportunity for Monarch Foods - if a bunch of delightful, family-friendly miniature people are going to make a soup can their new home, why shouldn't it be a Monarch soup can?

Meanwhile, Monarch's ad men, ever in the quest of building brand recognition and popularity, realized that the best way to build brand recognition was to find a way to bring the people to you, and in the process expose them to the wonders of your product line. The trick, then, was to attract the people in droves. And what better way than with an airplane? A year earlier, Lindbergh had electrified America with his trans-Atlantic flight, and his subsequent national tour had drawn throngs of people out to the local airfield (or merely farmer's field) to see his plane. Likewise, shows like the Inman Brothers' Flying Circus attracted huge crowds of people. The airplane was the perfect magnet to draw the people in to hear how wonderful Monarch's food line was.

So Reid, Murdoch & Co. picked up the 48th Ford 4-AT Tri-Motor (NC-7863) off of the assembly line, and named it the Independence, in a nod to all the independent grocery stores in the midwest that Monarch distributed to. Instead of the normal plush passenger interior, they built a custom "showroom" where their canned and packaged foods were neatly lined up for display (presumably they were secured in place for flight ops!). When the plane would arrive in a town, a wooden platform would be set up next to the fuselage so that the curious could peer in through the cabin windows at the food.

With the popularity of the comic and the success of Monarch's magazine advertisement campaign, it was a natural extension to make sure that a couple of live Teenie Weenie characters went along on some of the flights as ambassadors. Two characters, the General (who was the leader of the tiny village, and thus the natural spokesman to sell the public on the wonders of Monarch's foods) and the Police Officer (the symbol of trust and protection), were played by two children in costume, and were also featured in a number of Monarch publicity photos with the Ford, including our old 8x10 press print. The children sometimes actually traveled with the Ford as it visited towns large and small. Given the dates when this took place, it's possible that these two little boys are still around, although they'd likely be in their 80s. If anyone knows anything about who they were and their story, please share via the comments section below!

The advertising gimmick didn't survive the Great Depression, though, and in 1931 Reid, Murdoch & Co. sold the Ford to a gentleman named Vernon Jones, who based it in San Diego. On April 28, 1935, the plane was wrecked in Gadsden, Alabama, and parts were salvaged and used on other Tri-motors.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Newbie Pilots of Randolph Field

So there I was with my brother, Eric, in a Fresno antique store and saw this photo, a framed vintaged 8x10. I ditched the frame and bought the print, and since Eric's been bugging me to update this blog, I thought this would be an appropriate photo. Not much of a back-story to tell, just a cool lineup of North American BT-9B primary trainers at Randolph Field, Texas. Plane in the foreground is 37-151.

Did you fly BT-9s during your training days? I'd love to hear from you and learn your story! Comment below or email me at airphotoservices at gmail dot com.









Thursday, April 30, 2015

High-Flying Cameraship

NC858E was originally built as a standard five-place Vega 2, in May 1929. Lockheed kept the plane in-house for almost a year and a half, then sold it in September 1939 to Van de Mark Flying Service of Lockport, NY. Lt. Allen W. Van de Mark was prone topublicity stunts, including one with the local newspaper, the Union Sun & Journal, in which he would deliver bundles of newspapers by plane to the paperboys who’d then deliver them around their neighborhoods. Each boy was instructed to lay out a bedsheet in a nearby field, and Van de Mark would fly over and drop the papers. It’s unclear, though, whether this stunt was performed in his Ryan B-1 Brougham or in the Vega.

Van de Mark had the plane modified at Lockheed into a seven-place 5B, which replaced the Wright Whirlwind J6 with a Pratt & Whitney Wasp, giving it a 50% increase in horsepower. It was later upgraded a step further to a 5C.

On November 11, 1935 Van de Mark sold the Vega to Columbia Airways of Bloomsburg PA. Though a relatively small town, Bloomsburg was a hubbub of aviation activity, centered around the Bloomsburg Flying Club. In June, 1934, the club saw opportunity in their hobby, and organized themselves into Columbia Airways, providing twice-weekly service from Bloomsburg to Philadelphia. Their service proved popular, and they expanded to eleven destinations, including Pittsburgh and New York. The airline few their Vega for a year and a half, selling it (or possibly trading it) to Beech Aircraft in April 1937.

Beech flipped it the next month to Standard Aerial Surveys, in whose colors our photo shows the plane. Standard was established by George J. DeGarmo, Jr., who was a pioneer in developing aerial photography and photogrammetric engineering techniques. When WWII broke out, DeGarmo joined the Navy, and the service utilized his expertise. DeGarmo developed the syllabus used for the first aerial photography course given to Navy cadets, and commanded an aerial survey squadron based in the Pacific, earning an Air Medal for his efforts. When the Korean conflict broke out, he was back, again commanding an aerial photography squadron. Standard was based at Hackensack, New Jersey until 1938, when the company moved to Newark. As our photo has “Newark” including in the company name painted on the side, it’s a safe bet to assume that it was taken after 1938.

The Vega was modified yet again to accommodate large-format survey cameras looking down through a port in the belly. In addition, DeGarmo had the engine modified with a 10:1 supercharger, which allowed the plane to operate quite well at altitudes as high as 26,000 feet (they didn’t bother with a cabin heater, however, and pilot and cameraman had use arctic-style cold-weather suits. The Vega was used primarily for aerial mapping, including producing the first complete set of aerial photographs of the State of Rhode Island in 1939. Before this, all maps of the state relied on surveys performed in the mid-1800s.

Standard kept the plane busy until selling it off in 1943 to well-known broker Charlie Babb. It then drifted through several different owners until being picked up by pilot-adventurer Jimmy Angel in 1944. By this time in his life, Angel was spending most of his time in South America, looking for gold, and using planes to do so. Angel was credited by the media in “discovering” Angel Falls, the highest waterfalls in the world, though he was far from being the first to discover them...they were well-known to locals for years.

Angel and partner Jack Baker took the Vega to Nicaragua, where it was re-registered AN-ABL. It’s uncertain if they used the mods incorporated by Standard for photo surveys for their search for gold, or just used the plane for transport. The end came on February 19, 1945 when the plane was wrecked, and was subsequently written off.

Note: This article was developed from a number of sources, but the chief source is the extensive article at the D-M Register website on this plane. The site includes several technical articles on Standard and their photogrammetric techiques.

A Stout Ford

The history of Bill Stout's business efforts are deeply interwoven with those of Henry and Edsel Ford, which is reflected in today's photo of this Stout Airways Ford Trimotor.

Inscribed on the back: Mr. Jos. Andrews, Chicago, 8-1929.


Stout Air Services, established by William Stout in 1925, operated under a number of names, including the Detroit-Grand Rapids Airline and Detroit-Cleveland Airline as well as Stout Airways, Bill Stout originally designed the "Air Pullman", the forerunner to the Ford Trimotor, and then sold his aircraft manufacturing operation to Ford, while retaining his airline operation. And it shouldn't be confused with the Ford Air Transport Services, Ford's own airline, also established in 1925 and which started off flying Stout-built planes. Stout carried passengers, while Ford carried Ford car parts (at first) and then airmail starting in 1926. In 1928, Stout bought Ford's airmail contracts (CAM-6, Detroit-Cleveland and CAM-7, Detroit-Chicago).

On April 29, 1929, Bill Stout cashed out, selling the line to United Aircraft and Transport Corp, who was going around the country gobbling up small carriers left and right. United continued operating the service under the Stout brand, however. In September 1930, as part of the big corporate shell game that United was playing, another carrier they'd just purchased, National Air Transport "bought" the Stout division from the parent company. A year later, all these little airlines were rolled up into the new United Airlines.

Because this photo doesn't show the plane's registration number, it's hard to know which plane it is, as Stout operated at least six 4-AT Trimotors (as well as several later 5-ATs, but this photo shows the 4-AT windshield configuration). According to Larkin's The Ford Trimotor, the planes were:

  • 4-AT-5, NC-1879, which carried Stout fleet tail number 3. It operate from 6/23/27 to 5/12/31.
  • 4-AT-8, NC-880, tail #6, from 2/18/28 until it crashed on 10/13/28 at Detroit.
  • 4-AT-9, NC-1076, from 10/6/27 to 1/16/29 when it crashed near Toledo, OH.
  • 4-AT-18, NC-4806, from 5/10/28 to 11/7/30.
  • 4-AT-28, NC-6892, from 8/17/28 to 11/7/30.
  • 4-AT-34, NC-7120, tail #9, from 9/14/28 to /1/13/31
Since 4-AT-8 and -9 both crashed before our photo was taken, the plane shown is either 4-AT-5, -18, -28 or -34.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Birth of the American Flying Wing

One hundred years ago today, one of the Navy's first tailless flying wings, a most unusual airplane, set a new US altitude record of 10,000 feet. The plane, serial AH-10, was a Burgess-Dunne BD-2 flown by Lt. Patrick L. N. Bellinger, and the story of these almost forgotten aircraft, which were hailed as one of the most significant developments in aviation at the time is what we'll delve into on this centenary. It can arguably be said that British aeroplane builder Lt. John W. Dunne was the inventor of the tailless flying wing, and that being the case, W. Starling Burgess was the stepfather of the improved and Americanized flying wing. The archive recently acquired a number of original photos of Burgess-Dunne aircraft, and in researching them, I've found that there's a lot of sketchiness to the information about their history out on the net, and downright inaccuracies and confusions, with planes and designations often mixed up! So, this is my attempt to provide some unique photos plus a concise history in one place of the history of this remarkable design (corrections and comments are invited and encouraged via the comments box at the bottom of the article).

The Navy's second Burgess-Dunne, serial AH-10, the 18th aircraft purchased by the US Navy. It became the first American airplane to reach an altitude of 10,000 feet on April 23, 1915. Note the staggered wings, which differentiates AH-10 from its earlier sister, AH-7. (Backstamped as Official US Navy photo, 8x10 print)

Dunne had been obsessed with the idea of designing an airplane that was so stable that virtually anyone could safely fly it. After all, the press of the day, in their ever quest for sensationalism, loved to trumpet how aviation was unsafe, would come to nothing, and was a collossal waist of time and money. Solve the problem of safety, Dunne figured, and the rest would take care of itself. As a British Army officer, he was allowed the time and resources to develop his ideas from 1907-1909, resulting in several gliders and powered aircraft, all tail-less swept-wing biplanes. When he left His Majesty's service, he was allowed to keep his experimental planes (the British Army seeing no future in fixed-wing aviation and only being interested in lighter-than-air-craft), and he and several friends formed the Blair Atholl Aeroplane Syndicate to pursue his design ideas.

The keys to the stability of Dunne's designs was to both sweep the wings in order to put the tips farther aft than the rear of the nacelle, and the incorporation of washout in the wings. The wings were constructed with a fore and aft spar, and the forward spar was mounted with an anhedral (early publications called it an inverse dihedral), while the rear spar was level. This resulted in a lower angle of incidence at the wing tips; in addition, the center of the wings had less camber than the outboard regions. This feature, combined with the 30 degree sweep, resulted in an effect where, at slow speeds, the center of the wing would stall and drop while the outboard sections, including the control surfaces, were still flying. Dunne also progressively changed the camber of the wing from almost nothing at the center to its maximum outboard.

The controls were of a novel design, as well. There were a pair of what today we'd call elevons (he called them "wing flaps"), one on each side of the upper wing (later, wing flaps were added to the lower wing as well), and each side's control surfaces moved independent of the other side's. The pilot then had two controls, one on each side of him. Pull both back or push both forward, and the four control surfaces acted like elevators and moved to pitch the plane. Move the controls in opposite directions, and the surfaces acted opposite each other, like ailerons, rolling the plane. They could also be locked in place, with the pilot flying only by use of the throttle. At the wingtips, "wing curtains" acted as vertical stabilizers; there were no rudder surfaces mounted to them, however.


During a flight demonstration of Lt. Dunne's powered D.5 version on December 20, 1910, Orville Wright watched in fascination. Eventually, the D.5 was damaged in a crash, and was rebuilt as the D.8, which in 1913 flew across the Channel to Paris. Dunne also tried to adapt the design concepts to a monoplane configuration, without much success. By then, though, Dunne was suffering from ill-health, and became discouraged by a general lack of interest in his ideas of aerodynamic stability. He licensed the design of the D.8 to both Nieuport in France (Nieuport flew one at the 1913 Paris Airshow) and the Burgess Company in America, and by 1914, had left aeronautics, preferring to develop new fly fishing techniques and dabble in philosophy (fans of time travel should check out his unorthodox convictions).

Meanwhile, in America, W. Starling Burgess was a natural-born engineer and inventor, and owned a small shipyard which produced his innovative yacht designs in Marblehead, Massachusetts. By 1908 he had become fascinated with the new field of aeronautics, and formed the Herring-Burgess Company with aeronautical pioneer Agustus Herring, who had just left his partnership with Glenn Curtiss. They worked on both in-house designs, as well as obtained a license from the Wrights to build planes commercially. Two years later, Herring was gone, replaced by Greely Curtis (note just one "s") and they formed the awkwardly-named Burgess Co. and Curtis. With his background as a naval architect, Burgess naturally tried to figure out how to turn land planes into seaplanes, starting with the Wright. This upset the paranoid Wright Brothers, however, who insisted as a condition of their contract that licensed-built aircraft not be modified in any way, and the addition of floats violated that condition.

A Burgess-Wright Model F, on take-off, location unknown. The Model F was a license-built version of the Wright Brothers' Model B, and first flew on April 12, 1911. Burgess built an estimated 60-100 model Fs.


In late 1913, Starling Burgess sailed for England to look into the Dunne design, and see if there would be potential for license-building that aircraft in America. With J.W. Dunne amenable, with license terms not as restrictive as the Wrights, Burgess started to build his first flying wing based on the D.8, though incorporating some improvements. The first plane, the BD-1A (sometimes referred to as the BD-1A, you'll see why in a minute) was single-place and convertable between landplane and seaplane. After some initial testing as a land plane, Burgess removed the cumbersome wheel-and-skid landing gear and replaced it with a flat-bottomed, single-stepped pontoon (likely borrowing the idea of the Curtiss Triad's design but adding the step that was just coming into use) which was about 17 1/2 feet long and three feet in beam, with two smaller non-stepped pontoons on the wing tips. Dunne had been initially skeptical about the idea of adding a pontoon, thinking that the added drag would compromise the plane's inherent stability. Burgess also designed a more enclosed nacelle for the pilot (this was a single-seat airplane). Whereas Dunne had used engines ranging from 60-80hp in his D.8, Burgess initially used a 100hp Curtiss OXX-2. 

(A note on the model designations: Burgess didn't have a strict naming or numbering scheme for his planes, and seemed to refer to them in different ways at different times. The scheme used here, starting with BD-1 and running through BD-12, was devised after-the-fact by historians, led by the Massechusetts Aviation Historical Society - which gathered much of their information on the development of the line from company pilot Clifford Webster - in order to bring some sense to the evolution of the designs.)

On January 16, 1914, Burgess climbed onboard to make the plane's first flight. Unfortunately, he misjudged his takeoff run (or rather, misjudged the length of the harbor), and when it looked like he was going to run out of room, he pulled both control levers back to the stops. With insufficient speed to fly away, the nose pitch up severely, stalled, and the plane came down and hit chunks of floating ice, causing quite a lot of damage.

A few parts were salvaged and used in building the BD-1B, which flew successfully on March 4, 1914. Burgess dispensed with the enclosed nacelle, and instead made it a two-place aircraft where the pilot and passenger essentially sat on an open platform, like the original Dunne D.8.

By all accounts, the attempt to create a safe and stable aircraft was wildly successful, and though to us today the unique control system may seem cumbersome, it wasn't seen that way at the time, and in fact was noted as being intuitive and efficient. Time and again, Clifford Webster would put the plane though its paces for astonished observers - laymen and aviation experts alike - on the ground. One of the demonstration flights, which took place on May 2, 1914, was for a delegation from the Aero Club of America. The distinguished gentlemen took their place in a small boat in the middle of the bay, and despite 40 mile-per-hour winds, Clifford Webster took to the air to show off. The following narrative comes from the Aero Clubs official report of the event:

The Burgess-Dunne solves the problem of inherent stability and represents an important development in American aeronautics. The demonstrations began at 10.57 A. M. A stiff northwestern wind of about forty miles was blowing; it was thirty-two miles per hour from Blue Hill Observatory. The sea was choppy with whitecaps showing. The pilot, Mr. Clifford Webster, started from the dock where the seaplane was moored, 'taxied' out a few hundred feet, the rode in the air and flew toward the observers' boat, which was then about on and one-half miles from shore and two miles from the starting point. The observers, who watched the manoeuvers with powerful field glasses, saw Mr. Webster take his hands off the controls as he approached and the machine continued its flight without the slightest change of evenness. Then followed four circular flights, at a height of about 200 feet; during the fourth circle the pilot took his hands off the contols and held them over his head. The seaplane descneded in a spiral, during which the plane was but slightly inclined. Then rising to a height of about 500 feet, the pilot took his hands off the levers and glided in a stright line toward the boat of the observers. At a height of about fifty feet he reassumed control, threw the machine to a steep angle of descent, then straightened it and landed lightly within ten yards of the point first touched and 'taxied' to three yards from the observers' boat.

At 11.27 Webster cranked the motor, climbed to his seat and 'taxied' to a point 200 yards away, where he turned the seaplane, facing the observers and took his hands off the levers. The machine glided for about 250 feet, then rose in the air, the pilot's hands still off the levers, where they remained until the seaplane had reached a height of about forty feet.

Following the speed tests, which showed 58 3/4 miles per hour, the seaplane rose to a height of about 400 feet, described a wide half-circle, then flew in a straight line for a distance of about two miles, then described four circles, just over the observers' boat, during which the machine banked at a steep angle. In the last two circles aviator Webster held his hands over his head to the amazement of the observers, in turns when the machine banked even keel. At the end of the last circle, with the wind still blowing at forty miles an hour, Webster rose to a height of 1200 feet, then cut off the power, and took his hands off the control. The seaplane glided down at a slight angle; at about forty feet from the water Webster reassumed control, forced the machine to a steep angle of descent, then straightened and landed lightly a few feet from the observers' boat. The time occupied by the glide was 43.1 seconds.

In the afternoon, between 1.40 and 4.30 o'clock were given demonstrations in passenger-carrying, taking passengers and gasolene [sic] from boats two miles from shore. Among the passengers carried were four members of the committee, and one woman, Mrs. Elliot Benedict.

During the flights the members of the committee had occasion to study the operation and action of the seaplane at close range, and were amazed at the extraordinary demonstrations of inherent stability, airworthiness and ease of operation. In all the turns the seaplane mantained its height without the slightest drop; during the flights uncontrolled by the pilot the machine corrected its lateral deviations mechanically and maintained even flight; in landing it glided lightly on thewater, appeared easily controlled and floated well.

The unanimous opinion at the end of the tests was that the Burgess-Dunne solves the problem of inherent stability and represents an important development in American aeronautics." (Boston Evening Transcript, May 9, 1914)
This is probably the BD-1B while being demonstrated. Note that the pilot's hands are off the controls. Sadly, the Archive's copy of the photo is not an original print, and is not as clear as one would like.


Initially, the company used this first plane for in-house testing and training, as well as making demonstration and sales flights. At this point, the story of this plane gets a bit weird, and it becomes a memorable symbol of the nation of Canada.

That nation was about to send its First Canadian Expeditionary Force off in October 1914 to join their English brethren in The Great War, and wanted an aeroplane of their own to contribute to the effort. One particular enthusiast for aviation was a guy named E. L. Janney. He was provisionally commissioned with the rank of Captain and sent off with a check for $5,000 in his pocket to look for a suitable aeroplane in the US which could be delivered quickly. He visited several manufacturers in New England and pretty much struck out before arriving at Marblehead on September 17, 1914. The only thing that Burgess and crew had flyable at the moment was the BD-1B, and it had had a lot of hours put on the engine, and really was in need of some TLC, and so Starling was rather reluctant to sell it. But in the end, Janney prevailed, and bought the plane (on the pontoon) plus the land undercarriage, but no other spares. Because the Canadian wasn't yet trained to fly, Burgess' chief pilot Clifford Webster agreed to make the delivery flight to Quebec. The plane was given some cursory maintenance, then put on a railroad flat car for the ride to Isle La Motte, Vermont. Reassembled there, on September 21 Webster and Janney took off for Valcartier, Quebec.

They didn't make it far, and the engine pretty much self-destructed, requiring the pair to set down on the Laurent River at Deschaillons. For an additional $2,500, Burgess sent a replacement engine and a mechanic to do the work, and the plane was flyable again on September 28th. They were so late, though, that they bypassed Valcartier and headed for Quebec City, landing in the harbor. With no time to waste, the plane was craned onto the deck of the SS Athenia for the trip across the Atlantic. However, the only precautions taken were to lash the plane to the deck...nothing was covered, nothing was protected, and the storms encountered on the voyage took their toll. Once in the UK, the plane was set aside (remember, no one had bothered to purchase any spare parts to repair anything, nor was anyone in the Canadian contingent really trained to fly the thing!), and there it sat, on the Salsbury Plain, again completely unprotected from the elements. And it pretty much rotted away, never to make another flight. With no plane to fly, Janney resigned his commission and went home. And yet, to this day, the BD-1B is celebrated by Canadians as their first warplane, and even has had it's own commemorative postage stamp.

The US Navy, still very much experimenting with the potential that airplanes could bring to the fleet, decided to try the B-D design, and acquired two, the first a BD-2 they designated AH-7, and the second a BD-5 designated AH-10. It is important to note that the designations "AH-7" and "AH-10" were serial numbers (or in contemporary Navy parlance, Bureau Numbers), not model numbers, as is often mis-reported on the internet. When the Navy started to buy airplanes in 1911, they started giving them individual alphanumeric numbers (starting with the first Curtiss Triad, which was A-1; click for a list). In 1914, after having acquired 14 aircraft, they changed their numbering system, renumbered thirteen of the fourteen (AB-1 through AB-7, AH-1 through AH-6; list), and then kept going from there. Thus, the Navy's two B-D aircraft were their fifteenth and eighteenth airplanes overall.

AH-7 on a takeoff run during Navy sea trials. Note the unstaggered wings and tandem seating, which distinguishes AH-7 from AH-10. Not sure which ship that is in the background. 

AH-7 first flew on October 10, 1914, and was delivered to Pensacola shortly thereafter. At one point, it was modified with bomb racks under the left wing, and there is some indication that for a time it wore a lavender and green camoflage paint scheme (which must have been quite a sight! Sadly, vintage black-and-white photos often don't convey such chromic brilliance). It was gone from the Navy's records by January, 1916.

AH-10 entered the record books on April 23, 1915 when Lt. Patrick L. N. Bellinger piloted her to a new US altitude record, 10,000 feet, over Pensacola during a 1 hour, 19 minute flight. Bellinger, who was Naval Aviator No. 4, was one of the first Navy pilots to see combat, in Vera Cruz, Mexico, and was nominated for a Medal of Honor (though ultimately not awarded). He later flew Curtiss NC-1, one of the three Nancy Boats to attempt to cross the Atlantic (only NC-4 made it; Bellinger and NC-1 had to put down near the Azores due to heavy fog, and the plane was damaged beyond repair by the heavy seas). Bellinger ultimately retired in 1947 as Vice Admiral after serving as Commander, Air Force, Atlantic Fleet.

The US Army Signal Corps had shown interest in the design as early as 1913, and when Burgess started building them, they placed an order, receiving hydroaeroplane BD-3 (marketed as the "Burgess-Dunne Military Aeroplane"), powered by a nine-cylinder Salmson radial engine, as Army serial number 36. It was delivered December 30, 1914 to North Island, San Diego. Unlike the early models with their flat decks on which the pilot and passenger sat, the BD-3 had a rather boxy nacelle, complete with 1/8 inch thick nickel steel armor plate, making this the heaviest version yet built. It was also equipped with a machine gun at the forward crew station (the pilot sat in the aft) and so although this wasn't the Army's first airplane (they'd bought a number of Wright flyers), since it was armed it was hailed in the contemporary media as the Army's first "warplane". In the spring of 1915, it was modified as a land plane and assigned to the Army's Coast Artillery for use as fire control support. It had been dropped from inventory by October 18, 1916.

An ad from 1915, featuring the BD-3
BD-4 became known as the "Russian Burgess-Dunne". Built by the company as a military demonstrator aircraft, it was powered by a Gyro 110 hp rotory engine. A New York agency by the name of Gaston, Williams and Wigmore visited Marblehead ostensibly at the behest of the Czarist Russian government, looking at the possibility of purchasing aircraft for Mother Russia. There were lots of reports in the contemporary media that BD-4 and possibly other production aircraft were sold to the Russians, but there is no conclusive evidence that this was true. However, Burgess ads which repeatedly appeared in the industry magazine Aeronautics claimed to have furnished B-Ds to Russia.

A BD-6 beached, probably at Pensacola. Note the dog. And any guesses as to the name of the gunboat in the background would be appreciated. (Backstamped as Official US Navy photo, 8x10 print)
In May, 1915, it was announced that the Navy had decided to purchase three more Burgess-Dunne aircraft of an updated configuration, which the factory called the BD-6, assigning them Bureau Numbers A-54 through A-56 (the service re-doing their numbering scheme yet again, beginning with A-51). Rather than the side-by-side seating arrangement of earlier aircraft, the BD-6 featured a bullet-shaped nacelle with tandem seating and was powered by a liquid-cooled 140-hp V-8 Sturdent 5A. The shape of the main pontoon had matured, as well, becoming more aerodynamic.

Flight testing began in September, 1916, when the cruiser USS North Carolina arrived off of Marblehead. The ship had been detached from the Atlantic Fleet specifically for use in testing seaplanes. While this turned out to be the fastest of the Burgess-Dunnes, hitting 80 mph, there were problems with this new design, however. Initial testing performed by Webster showed an unexpected longitudinal instability (ie, the exact opposite of the conditions that Dunne was after in the first place), which was most pronounced in terms of uncontrollability in a dive. The Navy returned all three aircraft, and the Burgess engineers went to work to figure out the problem, using the new wind tunnel at MIT.

A BD-6, probably A-54, takes off with the cruiser USS Columbia (C-12) in the distance on March 3, 1916, off shore from Pensacola. The Columbia, at this time, was serving as the flagship of the Atlantic submarine flotilla, and typically would transit between sub bases on inspections. Her presence in this photo suggests that AH-54 was taking part in sub patrol evaluations at this time. (Backstamped as Official US Navy photo, 8x10 print)


What they found was that by re-positioning the wings slightly, and readjusting the planes center of gravity, the instability went away. Here, the vagaries of time have introduced some uncertainty. One aircraft was modified with the fix, and accepted by the Navy. One source says that this was serial A-54, another says that it was A-55 (based on what I know about the sources, I'm leaning toward it being A-54; but I'm open to input and discussion); in any case, whichever it was, it was struck from the Navy's inventory in December 1917 (why is not clear). The cost of modifying the other two aircraft was deemed too high, and the Navy rejected them. Again, more vagaries in the story - depending on what source you refer to, some say that this rejection was the end of the story, whereas others indicated that the contract was funded once again in January 1918, and that A-55 and A-56 were ultimagely accepted. These two were, were removed from the inventory by October 1918, which pretty much ended the military's use of flying wings until Jack Northrop re-introduced the concept to the Army Air Corps in the 1940s.

The civilian market for Burgess-Dunnes was starting to pick up, as well, and out of the blue, the manufacturer scored big with one of the most influential customers in New England. Vincent Astor, son of and heir to tycoon and Titanic drowning victim John Jacob Astor IV, became fascinated with the Burgess-Dunne concept (which is entirely possible when you inherit the fortune of one of the richest men on earth) and ordered one. The BD-7 started out as a break from the traditional Dunne configuration and melded the wing concept with a Curtiss-style flying boat hull. Astor started flying lessons with Clifford Webster on April 27, 1915, while his plane was still under construction.

But the new BD-7 was destroyed during flight testing when Webster hit a seawall while trying to land on Marblehead Harbor. When the replacement was built, Burgess reverted to the tried and true pontoon configuration, finally delivering the new plane in August. The wings of this configuration were built modularly in four sections, which allowed for ease of disassembly for shipping. BDs with this feature can be identified by the short non-swept center section of the upper wing. Astor being Astor and needing a place to keep his BD, also commissioned the company (remember, they had roots in building boats) to build a very unique floating hangar on a small barge hull, which could be towed behind his yacht Noma to Florida in the winter.  It had an overhead crane ("trolley" is what they called it) which would lift the plane out of the water and pull it inside.

In the fall of 1915, Astor and his BD-7, as well as a speedboat, participated in an exercise off of New London, Connecticut, where they "hunted" two Navy subs which, in turn, tried to avoid detection. The combined air-speedboat team managed to find one of the subs and direct a Navy destroyer to it, and it was judged a kill.

And Astor wasn't the only upper-crust gentlemen to purchase a BD plane. Thoroughbred horse breader Harry Payne Whitney purchased one similar to Astor's, but without the sectionalized wings, designated a BD-8; he based the plane at Manhasset Bay, Long Island. The most sales, though, were of the BD-9, again very similar to Astor's reconfigured BD-7 (Burgess advertised the BD-7 thorugh -9 as the "Sportsman" model). One of the principle differences was the relocation of the radiator to the rear of the engine, cutting down on drag. At least six were built, the first one going to industrialist (and founder of the Aero Club of New England) Godfrey L. Cabot, who named it Lark. With war afoot in Europe, fears of U-Boats were rife on the east coast, a number of these richest of the rich reacted accordingly, and used their resources to bolster local militias. Cabot organized the Independent Aviation Corps (try doing something like that today!) in 1915, which became part of the Massachusetts Naval Militia the following year. In that capacity, he would fly the BD-9 with Clifford Webster patrolling Massachusetts Bay and Boston Harbor. Webster and Cabot made one notable flight over Boston on May 27, 1916 in conjunction with the Boston Preparedness Demonstration. During the flight over the city and the parade below, Cabot dropped thousands of leaflets urging a greater effort for preparedness for war.

Both Norman Cabot (a famous ivy-league college football player from the 1890s, no relation to Godfrey) and Eben Draper Jr (son of the two-time Massachusetts governor) were also members of the Massachusetts Naval Militia, and also bought BD-9s, which suggests that this militia also doubled as a rich-boys' flying club of sorts.

Astor joined the New York Naval Militia, part of the New York National Guard, and with his influence, that organization started to look at acquiring some armored BD-9s. These were paid for by raising subscriptions from a number of wealthy New Yorkers, including Astor, Commodore Foreshew and others. The Aero Club of America also pitched in some cash for the effort. When the first one was ready for delivery, on May 20, 1916, Astor brought a delegation from the Second Battalion to Marblehead on the Noma to evaluate the plane. They were quite pleased with what they saw, and brought the first of two back with them on the yacht a week later. The Second Battalion set up its aviation headquarters on Astor's estate at Rhinebeck, on the Hudson River, with their first BD-9 as well as Astor's BD-7.

On July 1, with 350 invited guests at a gala at the foot of Brooklyn's 52nd Street, Mrs. Astor christened the first BD, and the committee that purchased it formally presented it to the State of New York. There is some indication that the Militia bought a third one for themselves, but I've not seen confirmation of that. Aerial Age Weekly, for July 10, 1916, spoke of the ceremony in lofty terms. "When Mr.s Astor had broken a bottle of champagne on the shell the official guests were taken to he United States Ship Gloucester, formerly J. Pierpont Morgan's yacht Corsair, which is now used as a training ship for the Second Battalion, to watch the first official flight. Alongside the Gloucester...was Vincent Astor's yacht Noma. While the guests were being transferred to the yachts by launches, a giant crane lifted the new air machine into the water. Vincent Astor, in the uniform of an ensign, supervised the towing, and when out in midstream, Ensign Samuel Pierce started it under its own power. The plane rose gradually and traveled about six miles at a rate of thirty-five miles an hour. ...Pierce had sent it skimming over the water and then taken it 800 feet in the air, while passing boats whistled a salute."  The New Jersey Naval Militia bought a BD-9 as well.

A Burgess-Dunne BD-9 Hydroaeroplane flies over the SS Asbury Park. The Archive's copy of this photo is a glass magic-lantern slide. It's hard to determine which plane this is, but it is most likely the single BD-9 which served with the New Jersey Naval Militia. 

The ship was operated by the Jersey Central Railroad from when she was new in 1903 through the end of the summer season in 1916, helping establish a cutoff date for when this photo could have been taken. The ferry, amazingly, was rebuilt several times from the waterline up, and lasted until she was finally scrapped in 2009!


In August, 1916, the Burgess Company hosted a flight test program using a BD to try to develop a wireless radio system for aircraft. Radio still used morse code, and the biggest challenge was for the pilot to be able to hear the signal above the roar of the engine mounted right behind him. For this set of experimental flights, which was done in cooperation with the firm of Cutting & Washington (the principals being two young Harvard engineers), a generator, sending and receiving equipment and a trailing antenna were added to one of the company's demonstrator aircraft. The key, as described in Aerial Age Weekly, is that "the radio operator in the machine wears a brass helmet, which is designed to be as nearly as possible soundproof. It completely covers the head and sits on his shoulders." Sounds quite uncomfortable!

The Army took one more stab at using a Burgess-Dunne, ordering one for a special research project on September 27, 1916, which became the BD-10 (sometimes referred to as a Burgess Dunne H), and carrying Army serial number 136. John Jays Hammond, Jr. was an inventor who is widely regarded as the father of radio control. A protege of Alexander Graham Bell, Hammond had devised a method of radio controlling a torpedo, and the Army wanted the Burgess-Dunne for the project, and planned on equipping the plane with state-of-the-art radio gear. The Army cancelled the contract on June 18, 1917, using a Curtiss R-4 instead. It's unclear whether the BD-10, which was to have staggered wings, was actually completed. The BD-11 (or BDH-11) also was designed with staggered wings, as a military demonstrator. While it was built, there is no record of a military sale.

The Collier Trophy in all its glory. The lower
base is not ususally displayed at NASM, sadly.
This was taken at the ceremony awarding the
trophy to another tailless Navy aircraft, the
X-47B, the team I've been privileged to be a 
member of.
The final Burgess-Dunne built, finished in the fall of 1916, was the BDF-12 (sometimes just BDF), which was a second attempt (after the crashed initial BD-7) to mate a Curtiss boat hull with the BD wing structure. It, too, had staggered wings.

For his work in maturing the original Dunne design, Starling Burgess was named the 1915 recipient of the the Aero Club of America Trophy (later renamed the Robert J. Collier Trophy in 1944). The Award was established by Collier, the son and heir of P.F. Collier, the publisher of the popular magazine Collier's Weekly. The younger Collier was an avid sportsman and aviation enthusiast (he was the first person to purchase a plane, a Model B, from the Wrights for personal use), and used his upper-crust standing to help promote the young industry with the award. The trophy is awarded annually by the National Aeronautics Association "for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles, the value of which has been thoroughly demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year." Burgess was the fifth recipient of the award, following Glenn Curtiss (twice), Orville Wright and Elmer Sperry.

The first 16 recipients of the Collier Trophy
All tolled, Burgess built 26 Dunne-type aircraft. Though the Burgess Company was busy building airplanes, Starling still kept his hand in the marine world, too, designing a 14-foot sailboat (aka cat boat) called the Brutal Beast, which became had excellent sales and became a very popular boat in the region. In March 1916, a month after the Collier award ceremony, Burgess sold the company to John N. Willys, who in turn sold it to Glenn Curtiss, which then became the largest aircraft manufacturer in America, producing ten planes a day. The Marblehead operation was operated for a time as an independent entity from the Curtiss Aeroplane & Motor Co. Starling Burgess stayed on until 1917, when he joined the Navy and helped them design airplanes. In 1918, the Marblehead factory burned to the ground, effectively bringing the history of the Burgess company to a close. After WWI, Starling Burgess continued to design yachts, and built three defenders of the America's Cup (Enterprise, 1930; Rainbow 1934; Ranger, 1937). As a naval architect for ALCOA, he helped introduce corrosion resistant aluminum as a feasible, lightweight material for yacht hulls. During WWII, he served as a civilian engineer to the Navy, working on anti-submarine warfare techniques. He passed away on March 19, 1947.

But even though the Burgess-Dunnes disappeared into obscurity, that wasn't the end of the story. I suspect that, in the back of his mind, Glenn Curtiss knew what he'd bought when he absorbed Burgess' company. The late teens just wasn't the right time for a super-safe, inherently stable every-man's airplane. But then along came the roaring 20s, barnstormers, and Charles Lindbergh, and the world had grown up, and suddenly flying - as opposed to rail travel - was all the rage with the upper crust, and where the rich go, the middle class inevitably follow. I can imagine Curtiss pondering that finally, the time was right for a simple, safe and affordable airplane. Maybe there was something to that revolutionary, Collier-winning design that had been shelved all those years earlier (Curtiss wasn't alone in thinking that a flying wing would fit the flivver bill, as several others were pursuing the same thought at about the same time, including Waldo Waterman and his Whatsit, as I wrote in an earlier post).

Curtiss teamed with J.W. Davis, who had once worked as an engineer at Burgess and with whom Curtiss was involved in real estate investment, as well as retired USMC Maj. B.L. Smith to form the Safety Aircraft Corporation. Called the Arrowhead Safety Airplane, or B-2 (how's that for irony?), the concept kept the basic Dunne layout, but modified the control system to incorporate conventional pilot controls connected to split elevons mounted to the top wing only. The small plane was powered by a three-cylinder Szekely engine. The design was targeted for a purchase price of a mere $1,000. Two were built, NX899Y and NX10405, the latter making up to 34 flights before the project, like so many others, fell victim to the Great Depression. So maybe Curtiss was wrong...the time still wasn't right. Before the first flight could take place, though, Glenn Curtiss died on July 23, 1930.

Caption pasted to the back of this slightly retouched news release photo:Glenn Curtiss' "Air Flivver" Successful. Miami Fla: The last invention that took the entire attention of the late Glenn Curtiss, pioneer aviator, makes its first official flight at Miami, Fla. Shortly before his death Mr. curtiss worked day and night with confederates on this "Air Flivver" believing it to be the future Ford of the air. It is a paradox in design, having no tail. It has a landing speed of 19 m.p.h. and cannot loop, spin or dive. Mr. Curtiss believed it could be manufactured to sell at $1,000. The  plane is powered by a three cylinder motor and is known as the "Aerohead Safety Plane". Photo shows the tailless Safety Plane taking off in Miami, Fla. Note the absence of a tail. it is very small, measuring less thatn 35 feet across the greatest spred of its wings. Mar. 4, 1931, Miami News Service. [Note...the first flight actually took place in December, 1930]






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