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9 July 1910

Walter Richard Brookins. (Empire State Aerosciences Museum)
Brookins’ Wright Flyer over the Atlantic City pier, 9 July 1910.

9 July 1910: Walter Richard Brookins flew his Wright Flyer to an altitude of 6,175 feet (1,882 meters) at the Atlantic City Aero Meet at Atlantic City, New Jersey, becoming the first pilot to fly higher than one mile. He broke his own altitude record of 4,380 feet (1,335 meters) set at Indianapolis, Indiana, less than a month earlier.

Brookins took off in a Wright Model A at 6:07:30 p.m. The ascent took just over 56 minutes as he made a gradual climb in 2-mile circles. The altitude was recorded by a Richard Frères recording aneroid barometer (or barograph), serial number 48188, which had a measurement range of 0–5,000 meters (0–16,404 feet). The descent from the record altitude took approximately seven minutes, as Brookins circled in a steeply-banked spiral and landed at 7:11 p.m.

In addition to the barograph carried aboard the Wright Flyer, a team of engineers and surveyors from the civil engineering firm of Ashmead & Hackney of Atlantic City measured the height of Brookins’ airplane bt rriabulation, using transits set up approximately 2½ ¹ miles (4 kilometers) apart. At 7:03:55 p.m., Brookins’ crossed the surveyors’ base line.

Civil engineers’ trianglulation measurements. Altitude: 6,175.48 feet (1,882.29 meters).  (American Engineer)

The engineering team reported:

“Gentlemen, —We beg leave to report that we have determined the height of the undersides of the runners of the Wright biplane occupied by Mr. Walter R. Brookins at the time of crossing the established base line between the two instrument stations (7h. 03m. 55s. p.m., July 9th, 1910) to have been 6,175 ft. (nearest even ft.) above sea-level.”

Flight, No. 86 (Vol. II, No. 34.), 20 August 1910, at Page 677, Column 2

Brookins was awarded a prize of $5,000.00 offered by the Atlantic City Aero Club.

Walter Richard Brookins (Library of Congress)

A contemporary newspaper reported the event:


     Atlantic City, July 9.—Walter Brookins, in a Wright biplane, broke the world’s altitude record here this evening, when he attained a height of 6,175 feet. He used his last drop of gasoline at his highest altitude and was still climbing when his engine missed explosions. The daring aviator brought his machine back to level to get the last drop of fuel out of the storage tank to reach the line of vision of engineers on the beach. Reaching the imaginary line, Brookins started to glide to earth and his engine stopped entirely when he was at 5,600 feet and still over the ocean. His circling glide to the beach which the crown believed to be a bit of fancy flying was done to save himself from diving into the sea.

     Brookins was ready to collapse when he reached the ground and did not tell of his plight in the air until midnight, after he had partly recovered.

     Officials at midnight gave 6,175 feet as the exact height of the flight from calculations of engineering experts. The barograph record is 6,200 feet, leaving but 25 feet difference. It is expected that the record will stand without protest.

Wins $5,000 Prize.

     By his feat today Brookins wins the $5,000 prize offered by the Atlantic City Aero Club for breaking the world’s record, unless a higher altitude is reached here before the end of the present meet.

     Brookins spent one hour, two minutes, 35 15-100 seconds in the air, according to the official timing of Chairman Henry M. Neely and Recorder Augustus Post, of the Contest Committee of the National Council of the Aero Club of America. About 57 minutes of this time was made in a circling ascent, the rush of over a mile to the ground consuming less than seven minutes.

     Fear that Brookins at his highest point had not crossed the line of vision of the expert engineers in charge of securing his height by triangulation startled officials and spectators until it was discovered that the failure to secure a record of his crossing the imaginary line on which his record will be based was on two swings at a much lower altitude than at the final highest point.

Makes Final Start at 6.08 P. M.

     Brookins, after waiting all day for the brisk southerly wind to die out, made a practice spin of a little over 15 minutes, reaching an altitude of 1,900 feet. His final start was made at 6.08 o’clock p. m., with the weather absolutely clear and much of the force of the wind gone in the lower altitudes.

     His rise was made from alongside one of the ocean piers, He pointed his machine to the west and then swung out over the ocean, where he started his spiral flight over the ocean and city.

     News that Brookins was really attempting to break the altitude record reached hotels and city people, and when he reached a height of 1,520 feet the greater part of the city was on the beach. It is calculated that nearly 100,000 people watched the flight and cheered Brookins when he descended at 7.11 p. m.

     Men and women in the great throng threw up hats and handkerchiefs and the police had trouble keeping back the crown until Brookins made a run from his machine to his dressing room on the pier.

Waves Roses to Cheering Crowd.

Miss Eva Goffyn, sister of Frank Goffyn, Brookins’ fellow aviator, pushed a bunch of roses into his hands which he waved to the cheering crowd as he mounted to the deck of the pier.

     Brookins declined to receive callers and rested for 10 minutes before he left for his hotel in an automobile. He again went into seclusion, after stating that he found the air currents steady at his highest altitude and that he turned toward the earth when his aneroid barometers showed an altitude of over 6,000 feet.

     Glenn Curtiss made several short flights while Brookins was preparing to ascend for his final trial, but descended without attempting any altitude flight over the 50-mile course which he expects to cover tomorrow.

THE READING EAGLE, Vol. 43, No. 164 Sunday 10 July, Page 1 at Column 3

Recording baraograph chart of Brookins’ altitude record indicates 6,200 feet (1,890 meters). (American Machinist)

The Wright Model A, produced from 1907 to 1909, was the world’s first series production airplane. It was slightly larger and heavier than the Wright Flyer III which had preceded it. It was a two-place, single-engine canard biplane built of a wooden framework braced with wires and covered with muslin fabric. A new system of flight controls allowed the pilot to sit upright rather than lying prone on the lower wing.

The dual horizontal elevators were placed forward and the dual vertical rudders aft. The biplane was 31 feet (9.449 meters) long with a wingspan of 41 feet (12.497 meters). The wings had a chord of 6.6 feet, and vertical separation of 6 feet. The airplane had an empty weight of approximately 800 pounds (363 kilograms).

A Wright vertical four-cylinder engine at teh Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Sanjay Acharya/Wikipedia)
A Wright vertical inline four-cylinder engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Sanjay Acharya/Wikipedia)

The Model A was powered by a single water-cooled, fuel-injected, 240.528 cubic-inch-displacement (3.942 liter) Wright vertical overhead-valve inline four-cylinder gasoline engine with 2 valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 4.165:1. It produced 32 horsepower at 1,310 r.p.m. During three years of production (1908–1911) Wright “4-40” engines were built that operated from 1,3525 to 1,500 r.p.m. Power output ranged from 28 to 40 horsepower. These engines weighed from 160 to 180 pounds (72.6–81.6 kilograms).

Two 8½ foot (2.591 meters) diameter, two-bladed, counter-rotating propellers, driven by a chain drive, are mounted behind the wings in pusher configuration. They turned 445 r.p.m.

The Wright Model A  could fly 37 miles per hour (kilometers per hour).

Walter R. Brookins and his Wright Model A at Atlantic City, New Jersey, 9 July 1910.

Walter Richard Brookins was born at Dayton, Ohio, 17 July 1888. He was the second of four children of Noah Holsapple Brookins, a salesman, and Clara Belle Spitler Brookins.

Brookins, then working as a chauffeur, married Miss Grace M. Miller, a governess, on 7 February 1907, in Hamilton County, Ohio. They divorced 18 May 1911, in Cincinnati, Ohio. (An earlier divorce decree, issued in Dayton in 1910, was set aside.)

Walter Richard Brookins was the first civilian pilot trained by Orville Wright. He was in a group of five pilots trained for the Wright Brothers’ Exhibition Team at their training camp at what is now Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama.

Brookins was then hired as an instructor and finished training the last two men in the group. He was given a two-year contract with a salary of $20.00 per week, plus $50.00 per day for each flying day. Any prize money won—such as the $5,000 prize at Atlantic City—was turned over to the company.

All-In-One Liquid Measure. (Automobile Trade Journal)

From May 1919, Brookins, with his brother Earl, owned and operated the Brookins Manufacturing Company, Inc., in Dayton, which produced their invention, the All-In-One Liquid Measure. The first version was patented in 1924, and improvements followed.

Brookins married Mary Lamke, a secretary at McCook Field, Dayton, 12 April 1921. She held the position of corporate treasurer for the company. They remained together until his death.

In 1930, Brookins was self-employed in the financial industry. He and Mary relocated to California, living in Beverly Hills.

Brookins partnered with David R. Davis ² to form Brookins-Davis Aircraft Corporation, Los Angeles. In 1931 the company had applied for a patent for an airfoil profile designed by Davis, and which would become known as the “Davis Wing.”  The patent was issued 1934. Mrs. Brookins had known Major Reuben Hollis Fleet at McCook Field. (Fleet was the founder and president of the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation.) This led to meetings between Brookins, Davis and Fleet which resulted in the airfoil being licensed to Consolidated. It was used on the B-24 Liberator and B-32 Dominator heavy bombers.

Walter Richard Brookins died at Los Angeles, California, on 29 April 1953. His ashes were interred at the Portal of the Folded Wings, Valhalla Memorial, North Hollywood, California, 17 December 1953.

The Portal of the Folded Wings at Valhalla Memorial Park, North Hollywood, California. The remains of many pioneers of aviation are interred here. (Dignity Memorial)

¹ The actual length of the base line was 13,394.29 feet (4,082.58 meters). Brookins’ trangulated altitude was 6,175.48 feet (1,882.29 meters).

² Davis had previously co-founded the Davis-Douglas Company, which would become the Douglas Aircraft Company.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 June 1942, 0900: First Contact

Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina
Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina, 1942. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command 80-G-K-14896)

3 June 1942: At dawn, twenty-two U.S. Navy PBY-5A Catalina patrol bombers launched from Midway Island to search for a Japanese fleet which was expected to be heading toward the American island base. One of them, 44-P-4, (Bu. No. 08031) commanded by Ensign Jewell Harmon (“Jack”) Reid of Patrol Squadron 44 (VP-44), sighted Admiral Raizo Tanaka’s Midway Occupation Force, 700 nautical miles (1,296 kilometers) west of the atoll, shortly before 9:00 a.m.

Chart of sightings, 3 June 1943. (U.S. Navy)

The Catalina scouted the enemy task force, which they believed to be the “main body” of the Japanese fleet and radioed information back to their base. The task force consisted of 1 light cruiser, 12 transports carrying 5,000 soldiers, 11 destroyers, 2 seaplane tenders, 1 fleet oiler and 4 patrol boats.

Standing, left to right: AMM2c R. Derouin, ACRM Francis Musser, Ens. Hardeman (co-pilot), Ens. J.H. “Jack” Reid (aircraft commander) and Ens. R.A. Swan (navigator). Kneeling, left to right: AMM1c J.F. Gammel, AMM3c J. Groovers and AMM3c P.A. Fitzpatrick. (U.S. Navy).

The Consolidated PBY Catalina made its first flight on 28 March 1935, with chief test pilot William B. Wheatley in command. It was a twin-engine flying boat produced from 1936 to 1945. It was utilized primarily as an anti-shipping and anti-submarine patrol bomber and for search and rescue operations.

Consolidated XPBY-5A Catalina, Bu. No. 1245, at NAS Anacostia, Washington, D.C., 18 December 1939. (Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress)

The PBY-5A was an amphibious variant equipped with retractable tricycle landing gear. It was 63 feet, 10-7/16 inches long (19.468 meters) with a wing span of 104 feet, 0 inches (31.699 meters) and overall height of 20 feet, 2 inches (6.147 meters). The parasol wing was mounted above the fuselage on a streamlined pylon and supported by four external braces. The wing has 6° incidence and the center section has no dihedral or sweep. The outer wing panels are tapered. There are no flaps. The total wing area is 1,400 square feet (130 square meters). The PBY-5A had an empty weight of 20,910 pounds (9,485 kilograms), and gross weight in patrol configuration of 33,975 pounds (15,411 kilograms). Its maximum takeoff weight (land) was 35,420 pounds (16,066 kilograms).

The PBY-5A was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,829.4-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S1C3-G (R-1830-92) two-row 14-cylinder radial engines. These were rated at 1,200 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. at Sea Level for takeoff. The maximum continuous rating for normal operation was 1,060 horsepower at 2,550 r.pm., up to 7,500 feet (2,286 meters). The engines drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard controllable-pitch propellers with a 12 foot, 1 inch (3.683 meter) diameter through a 16:9 gear reduction. The R-1830-92 is 48.19 inches (1.224 meters) long, 61.67 inches (1.566 meters) in diameter, and weighs 1,465 pounds (665 kilograms).

The PBY-5A Catalina had a cruise speed of 124 miles per hour (200 kilometers per hour). Its maximum speed was 169 miles per hour (272 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 179 miles per hour (288 kilometers per hour) at 7,000 feet (2,134 meters). The service ceiling was 14,700 feet (4,481 meters) and maximum range was 2,545 miles (4.096 kilometers) at 117 miles per hour (188 kilometers per hour.).

The patrol bomber could carry 4,000 pounds (1,814 kilograms) of bombs or depth charges, or two torpedoes on hardpoints under its wing. Two Browning M2 .30-caliber air-cooled machine guns were mounted in a nose turret with 2,100 rounds of ammunition. A third .30-caliber machine gun was positioned in a ventral hatch with 500 rounds of ammunition. Two Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber heavy machine guns were mounted in the waist with 578 rounds of ammunition per gun.

3,305 Consolidated PBY Catalina’s were built, of which 802 were the PBY-5A variant. In addition to United States service, many other countries operated the Catalina during and after World War II. The last PBY in U.S. service was a PBY-6A which was retired 3 January 1957.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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19 April 1919

Dayton-Wright DH-4, A.S. 30130, at South Field, Dayton-Wright Airplane Company, 1918. (Dayton-Wright Airplane Company/Wright State University Libraries)
Dayton-Wright DH-4, A.S. 30130, at South Field, Dayton-Wright Airplane Company, 1918. (Wright State University Libraries)

19 April 1919: Captain Earl French White, Air Service, United States Army, and H.M. Schaffer, “his mechanician,” took off from Ashburn Aviation Field, Chicago, Illinois, at 9:50 a.m, Central Standard Time, in the Dayton-Wright DH-4, Air Service serial number A.S. 30130. At 5:40 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, the airplane and its two-man crew landed at Hazelhurst Field, Mineola, Long Island, New York. They flew 738.6 miles (1,188.7 kilometers) in 6 hours, 50 minutes at an average speed of approximately 106 miles per hour (170.6 kilometers per hour).

The New York Times reported the event on its front page on the following day:

. . . Captain White had great difficulty in taking to the air in the soft ground of Ashburn Field, the take-off grounds approved by the Aero Club of Illinois. The ground there was soft and the heavy army plane, with her load of more than 190 gallons [719.2 liters] of gasoline, cut into it deeply, but after the aviator had had his plane dragged to a drier and harder spot in the field he managed to take to the air.

Circling over Chicago, Captain White ascended to a height of more than 10,000 feet [3,048 meters] and throughout his flight he did not go below this level until he was ready to land, and at intervals he flew as high as 12,000 feet [3,658 meters] He followed the route of the New York Central Railroad for the greater part of the distance, and cities along the route reported seeing him flying at great height and at high speed.

About 5 o’clock yesterday persons visiting on the ships of the Atlantic Fleet in the Hudson River and pedestrians on Riverside Drive saw a dark blue airplane come down from the north at high speed, turn sharply to the east when it was about opposite Fiftieth Street and then gradually came to a lower level as it circled about over the city.

All thought it was only one of the many airplanes and seaplanes that take their daily practice flights over the Hudson River and Manhattan Island, but it was Captain White and the first Chicago-New York non-stop airplane, bearing the army number 30,130.

Plane a Standard Army Machine.

After sailing over the city for about ten minutes, Captain White turned his machine toward the army aviation field at Mineola, where he landed at about 5:40 o’clock. Colonel Archibald Miller, Director of Aviation in the Department of the East and one of the commanders of the Hazelhurst Field, was waiting there to meet captain White and his mechanician, H.M. Schaefer, and they were taken to the field headquarters where an informal reception was held.

Officers at the Hazelhurst Field said that the biplane used by Captain White in his flight was one of the standard De Havilland Four machines constructed for the use of the army in France, and that it was equipped with a twelve-cylinder Liberty motor of about 400 horsepower.

The New York Times, 20 April 1919, Page 1, Column 4, and continued on Page 9.   

Captain White’s flight was observed by members of the Aero Club of America. The time of White’s departure from Chicago was telegraphed to New York. The flight was certified by the Aero Club, which represented the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) within the United States. This was the first non-stop flight between Chicago and New York, and was the longest non-stop flight that had been made anywhere in the world up to that time.

The Dayton-Wright Airplane Company DH-4 was a variant of the British Airco DH.4, designed by Geoffrey de Havilland (and commonly known as the de Havilland DH.4). It was a two-place, single-engine biplane intended as a bomber, but served in virtually every capacity during World War I and the years following.

American-built DH.4 airplanes were produced by the Boeing Airplane Company, Dayton-Wright Airplane Company, Fisher Body Corporation, and Standard Aircraft Corporation. Most were powered by the Liberty L12 engine. Following World War I, many DH-4s were rebuilt by Boeing and Atlantic Aircraft. An improved version, the DH-4M, used a tubular steel framework instead of the usual wood construction. DH-4s remained in service with the United States Army as late as 1932. At McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio, the U.S. Army’s aviation engineering center, DH-4s were commonly used as test beds for engines and other aeronautical equipment.

The Airco DH.4 had a crew of two. It was 30 feet, 8 inches (9.347 meters) long with a wingspan of 43 feet, 4 inches (13.208 meters) and height of 11 feet (3.353 meters). Empty weight was 2,387 pounds (1,085 kilograms) and loaded weight was 3,472 pounds (1,578 kilograms). British-built DH.4s were powered by a 1,239-cubic-inch-displacement (20.32 liter) liquid-cooled Rolls-Royce Eagle overhead cam 60° V-12 engine which produced 375 horsepower. A gear-reduction system kept propeller r.p.m. below engine speed for greater efficiency.

The Liberty L12 aircraft engine was designed by Jesse G. Vincent of the Packard Motor Car Company and Elbert J. Hall of the Hall-Scott Motor Company. It was 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). This engine was produced by Ford Motor Company, as well as the Buick and Cadillac Divisions of General Motors, The Lincoln Motor Company (which was formed by Henry Leland, the former manager of Cadillac, specifically to manufacture these aircraft engines), Marmon Motor Car Company and Packard. Hall-Scott was too small to produce engines in the numbers required.

Dayton-Wright DH-4, U.S. Army Air Service serial number A.S. 30130, was built at the Dayton-Wright Airplane Company factory in 1918. It was used for engineering tests at McCook Field, and carried project number P78 painted on its rudder. What became of the airplane after Captain White left it at Hazelhurst Field is not known.

Hazelhurst Field was renamed Roosevelt Field in 1920, in honor of Lieutenant Quentin Roosevelt, 95th Aero Squadron, son of former President Theodore Roosevelt, who was killed in aerial combat during World War I.

Earl French White was born at Minneapolis, Minnesota, 12 July 1888. He was the son of Clarence Otis White, a manufacturing engineer, and Harriet (“Hattie”) Isabel French White. He enlisted in the United States Army, 8 October 1910, and was assigned to the 11th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Myer, Virginia. In 1915 he transferred to the Aviation Section, Signal Corps. He completed flight training 27 March 1917.

Earl French White, U.S. Air Mail pilot. (Smithsonian National Postal Museum)

Earl French White was commissioned as a Captain, Aviation Section, Signal Corps, United States Army, on 8 November 1917, and qualified as a Reserve Military Aviator in January 1918. In August 1918, Captain White was assigned to Wilbur Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, and later, the Technical Flying Field in Dayton.

On 1 July 1919, Captain White was one of three pilots who flew the inaugural U.S Air Mail Service route from New York City, New York, to Chicago, Illinois. Captain White flew a DH-4 on the route segment from Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, to Cleveland, Ohio. He carried 6 pouches containing 330 pounds (150 kilograms) of mail, and arrived at Cleveland at 9:30 a.m.

Earl French White married Miss Mary Esther Edmondson at Sarasota, Florida, 26 February 1923. Miss Edmondson had served in France during World War I as a civilian aide with the American Red Cross. They would have a daughter, Patricia.

From 14 April 1923 to 30 June 1925, White flew for the U.S. Air Mail Service at Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, North Platte and Omaha, Nebraska, and Cheyenne, Wyoming. He flew scheduled night air mail from July 1924 to July 1925.

From 1928 to 1931, Earl White was a pilot for Pan American Airways in the Caribbean area.

Pilot Earl French White (left) and flight engineer/mechanic Henry Gerstung with Vanderbilt’s Sikorsky S-43, circa 1937. (Vanderbilt Museum)

In 1935, White was employed by William Kissam Vanderbilt II to fly his Sikorsky S-43 amphibian, NC-16825. Vanderbilt described White as “one of the most reliable and resourceful aviators in the game.”

William K. Vanderbilt II’s Sikorsky S-43 amphibian, NC-16925, serial number 4314. This airplane was impressed by the U.S. Army Air Corps 14 September 1941 and designated OA-11, 42-001. It was destroyed in a crash landing at Corcorite Bay, Trinidad, 5 November 1941. All five persons on board were killed.

As of 11 February 1937, White had logged a total of 5,370 hours, 50 minutes, of flight time.

During World War II, White was employed as a delivery pilot for the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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