15 May 1918

Packard Lepère L U.S.A. C.II in flight.

15 May 1918: The prototype Packard Lepère L U.S.A. C.II made its first flight.

The Packard Lepère L USA C.II  was a single-engine, two-place, two-bay biplane which was designed by a French aeronautical engineer, Capitaine Georges Lepère, who had previously designed the Section Technique de l’Aeronautique Dorand AR.1 reconnaissance airplane for the Aéronautique Militaire, France’s military air service. The new airplane was built in the United States by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. It was a two-place fighter, or chasseur, light bomber, and observation aircraft, and was armed with four machine guns.

A contemporary aviation publication reported:

Flying Qualities—The machine exhibits excellent flying qualities, with ready response of all controls. Longitudinal, lateral and directional stability of the machine is good. In taxying, starting and landing it is entirely satisfactory, and on landing it does not roll more than 300 or 400 ft. [91.4–121.9 meters] All stunt maneuvers can readily be performed, and in general, from a pilot’s point of view, the machine is excellent.

The range of vision is very good, the controls well placed, and instruments so arranged that the pilot need only move his eyes.

AVIATION AND AERONAUTICAL ENGINEERING, Vol. VI, No. 8, 15 May 1919, at Page 426, Column 1.

Packard Lepère L USA C.II, P 54, S.C. 42138 (U.S. Air Force)

The Packard Lepère was 25 feet, 3-1/8 inches (7.699 meters) long. The upper and lower wings had an equal span of 41 feet, 7¼ inches (12.681 meters), and equal chord of 5 feet, 5¾ inches (1.670 meters). The vertical gap between the wings was 5 feet, 5/8-inch (1.527 meters) and the lower wing was staggered 2 feet, 15/16-inch (0.633 meters) behind the upper wing. The wings’ incidence was +1°. Upper and lower wings were equipped with ailerons, and had no sweep or dihedral. The height of the Packard Lepère, sitting on its landing gear, was 9 feet, 7 inches (2.921 meters). The Packard Lepère had an empty weight of 2,561.5 pounds (1,161.9 kilograms) and its gross weight was 3,746.0 pounds (1,699.2 kilograms).

The fuselage was a wooden structure with a rectangular cross section. It was covered with three layers of veneer, (2 mahogany, 1 white wood) with a total thickness of 3/32-inch (2.38 millimeters). The fuselage had a maximum width of 2 feet, 10 inches (0.864 meters) and maximum depth of 4 feet, 0 inches (1.219 meters).

The wings were also of wooden construction, with two spruce spars and spruce ribs. Three layers of wood veneer covered the upper surfaces. Heavy bracing wires were used. These had an airfoil cross-section and actually provided additional lift. The interplane struts were unusual in that they were fully-framed units.

The Packard Lepère was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,649.336-cubic-inch-displacement (27.028 liter) Liberty L-12 single overhead cam (SOHC) 45° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 5.4:1. The Liberty produced 408 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The L-12 as a right-hand tractor, direct-drive engine and it turned turned a two-bladed, fixed-pitch wooden propeller. The Liberty 12 was 5 feet, 7.375 inches (1.711 meters) long, 2 feet, 3.0 inches (0.686 meters) wide, and 3 feet, 5.5 inches (1.054 meters) high. It weighed 844 pounds (383 kilograms).

The engine coolant radiator was positioned horizontally in the center section of the Lepère’s upper wing. Water flowed through the radiator at a rate of 80 gallons (303 liters) per minute.

Major Rudolph W. Schroeder, USAAC, flying P 53, a Packard Lepère L U.S.A. C.II, A.S. 40015, over McCook Field, Ohio, 24 September 1919. (U.S. Air Force)

The Packard Lepère had a maximum speed of 130.4 miles per hour (209.9 kilometers per hour) at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), 127.6 miles per hour (205.4 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), 122.4 miles per hour (197.0 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters), 110.0 miles per hour (177.0 kilometers per hours) at 18,000 feet (5,486 meters) and 94.0 miles per hour (151.3 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters). Its cruising speed was 112 miles per hour (180 was kilometers per hour). The airplane could climb to 5,000 feet in 4 minutes, 24 seconds, and to 20,000 feet in 36 minutes, 36 seconds. In standard configuration, the Packard Lepère had a service ceiling of 20,200 feet (6,157 meters). Its range was 320 miles (515 kilometers).

The fighter’s armament consisted of two fixed M1918 Marlin .30-caliber aircraft machine guns mounted on the right side of the fuselage, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc, with 1,000 rounds of ammunition, and two M1918 Lewis .30-caliber machine guns on a flexible mount with 970 rounds of ammunition.

The Air Service had ordered 3,525 of these airplanes, but when the War ended only 28 had been built. The contract was cancelled.

Six Packard Lepères were used for flight testing at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio, assigned project numbers P 44, P 53, P 54, P 65, P 70 and P 80. One of these, flown by Major Rudolph W. Schroeder, set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Altitude at 9,455 meters (31,020 feet), 18 September 1918.¹ On 6 September 1919, Schroeder flew a Packard Lepère to 8,616 meters (28,268 feet) while carrying a passenger. This set two more World Altitude Records.² Flying P 53, A.S. 40015, he set a fifth FAI altitude record of 10,093 meters (33,114 feet), 27 February 1920.³ On 28 September 1921, Captain John A. Macready flew P 53 to an altitude of 40,800 feet (12,436 meters). On 13 October 1922, 1st Lieutenant Theodore J. Koenig flew P 53 to win the Liberty Engine Builders’ Trophy Race at Selfridge Field, near Mount Clemens, Michigan. Koenig completed ten laps of the triangular racecourse in 2:00:01.54, at an average speed of 128.8 miles per hour (207.3 kilometers per hour).

The only Packard Lepère in existence, serial number A.S. 42133, is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Packard Lepère L USA C.II, S.C. 42133, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

A note on the designation of the Packard Lepère fighter.

In modern times, the Packard Lepère is almost universally referred to as the “Packard Lepère LUSAC 11.” Various terms, such as “Lapère United States Army Combat,” are used to explain the meaning of this designation. TDiA believes that this designation is incorrect, for the following reasons:

TDiA has not seen any contemporary source that identifies the airplane as “Packard Lepère LUSAC 11.” It is only referred to as the Packard Lepère, or Lepère.

The markings on the airplane’s rudder in the photographs above and below are clearly an “L” above “U.S.A.” over “C.II”

Allied Aircraft of the World War I era frequently used letters painted near the top of the rudder to indicate the airplane’s manufacturer, for example, “Bre” for Breguet, “MS” for Moraine Saulnier, “N” for Nieuport. “S” represented SPAD. It is probable, then, that the “L” stands for Lepère.

The marking “C.II” is not “-C 11”. France called its fighters chasseurs. Their type was marked on the the airplane’s rudder with the letter “C.” At this time, the Army Air Service used both SPAD S.XIII C.I and S.XVI C.II fighters, and the Nieuport 28 C.I fighters. It would be expected for the Air Service to use the same type designations for consistency. A single-place aircraft was marked with the Roman numeral I, and a two-place airplane was marked with the Roman numeral II. The Packard Lepère was a two-place chasseur, indicated by “C.II.”

Packard Lepère L U.S.A. C.II, right profile

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 15463 and 15671

² FAI Record File Numbers 15464 and 15675

³ FAI Record File Number 8229

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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