Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Busy Day at Glendale

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

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

Also visible in the photo is Roscoe Turner's Gilmore Oil Lockheed Air Express (NR3057), a parasol-wing variant of the venerable Vega, and just beyond it, the window line of a Lockheed Orion, probably one of Varney Air's Northrop Delta (several folks, including Tim Kalina and John Underwood, wrote to correct me on this one!).

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

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

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

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Ace 300 That's Not a Biplane

2/28 update: aviation historian par excellence sent me an email with a whole bunch of information about this plane, which I'm adding to the bottom of the post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpted from an email received from John
Contrast enhanced, clarifying the model number as "300"
Your picture of X952Y shows Richard Hardin, the designer, one of Douglas' World Cruiser engineers', who had formed his own company to manufacture both the Ace 300 and 2-place Ace 500. The operation involved the acquisition of Ace Airport, which had formerly been Murphy's Airport. Before that it was Calif. Airways; afterwards Sprott's and lastly Telegraph & Atlantic.

The 2-seater, X953Y, was powered by a 60-hp Le Blond whereas the single-seater had a 40-hp Salmson. Hardin and an attorney named Harry Miller, who was also a director of the company, took off from Ace Airport for both the St. Louis and Detroit shows. They were planning to fly East in formation with Frank Barber in the Model 300. In the vicinity of San Gorgonio Pass they encountered terrific winds and what happened next was probably due to wind sheer.

The Model 500 flipped over on its back and Miller was thrown out, possibly because his safety belt was either unbucked or it broke. His chute fouled in the tail and he was killed. Hardin bailed out successfully. All of this was witnessed by Barber, who made copious notes about it in his log book.

I knew the test pilot, Frank Barber. He was a retired AF brig. gen. who'd been sacked by Pacific Air Transport in 1928 for flying one of their Boeing mailplanes into a mountain concealed by a snow storm. He was also one of the 13 Black Cats.

Re Horace Keane. He was in no way involved with the foregoing Ace monoplanes. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Mammoth French Flop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Fueling Ford's X-Plane for the Navy

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

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

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

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

Some links: