25 November 1920: Lieutenant Corliss C. Mosely, U.S. Army Air Service, won the first Pulitzer Trophy Race flying an Engineering Division-designed-and-built Verville-Packard R-1, serial number A.S. 40126. The race, the first of a series, started at Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York. Turning points were at Henry J. Damm Field, near Babylon, and Lufberry Field at Wantagh. The total length of the race was approximately 132 miles (212 kilometers).
Weather was cold and cloudy, with a threat of snow. The New York Times reported that, “With the sun for the most part of the time concealed behind snow clouds, it was possible to watch the contest without suffering eye strain. . . .”
Still, more than 25,000 spectators watched the race at Mitchell Field, and several thousand more at each of the turns.
The race began at 11:30 a.m. The 34 entrants took off at intervals for spacing. They would race against the timer’s clock. The first to take off was Captain Harold E. Hartney, U.S. Army Air Service, flying a Thomas-Morse biplane.
Again, from the New York Times:
“The interest to the spectators seemed to centre in the much heralded Verville-Packard, which has been undergoing secret tests. . . This machine was the last to start. A cheer went up as the dark gray machine with lightning-like speed mounted into the air, its course being marked by a stream of smoke several hundred feet in length. For a few moments it was lost in the haze and then the powerful craft swooped again into view, crossed over the starting line headed for the Henry J. Damm Field.”
Of the 34 airplanes to start, 11 dropped out from mechanical trouble and 1 was disqualified.
Lt. Moseley’s airplane covered the first lap “in eleven minutes six and seventy one hundredths seconds.” The Verville-Packard R-1 won the race with an elapsed time of 44 minutes, 29.57 seconds, for an average speed of 178 miles per hour. Captain Hartney finished second with an elapsed time of 47:00.03.
The Chicago Daily Tribune wrote: “At last the pride of the Army air service, the Verville-Packard chasse biplane, has established its worth by romping ahead of thirty-four starters in the first Pulitzer trophy aeronautical race, held Thanksgiving day at Mitchel field, Mineola. . . Never in the history of official flying in America has a man traveled with such great velocity. . . .”
Corliss C. Moseley rose to the rank of major. In 1924, he was assigned as the first commanding officer of the 115th Observation Squadron based at Clover Field, Santa Monica, California. This was the first aviation unit of the California National Guard. Mosely left the military and in 1925, he founded Western Air Express at Los Angeles, which would become Western Airlines.
The Verville-Packard R-1 was developed from an experimental fighter, the Verville-Clark Pursuit (VCP-1), designed for the Army by Alfred Victor Verville, and was the first racing airplane built for the U.S. Army. A single-place, single-engine biplane, it had a plywood monocoque fuselage with wood wings covered with fabric. The R-1 was 32 feet (9.75 meters) long. (Other dimensions are unknown at this time.)
In the original configuration, the VCP-1 was powered by a liquid-cooled Wright Hispano-Suiza V-8 engine producing 300 horsepower. The R-1 Racer substituted a Packard Motor Car Company 1A-2025 engine. The 1A-2025 was a 2,025.44-cubic-inch-displacement (33.177 liter) liquid-cooled, 60° single overhead cam (SOHC) V-12 engine with four valves per cylinder. The engine was rated at 540 brake horsepower (b.h.p.) at 1,800 r.p.m. at Sea Level, 379 horsepower at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and 299 horsepower at 15,000 feet (4572 meters). The total dry weight of the 1A-2025 was 1,142 pounds (518 kilograms).
Two VCP-1 airplanes were built but the second, A.S. 40127, never flew.
© 2015, Bryan R. Swopesby